Repentance as Memory
One of my favorite subjects in school was English. I loved the reading and the writing. Yes I even enjoyed grammar. Today’s readings struck me as something that could be used to teach grammar, specifically how to understand tenses. Especially in Isaiah and the psalm we moved from past tense to present tense and future tense and back and forth very fluidly the ways that these tense changes happened almost denied the linear nature of time. I found myself wondering what this tense potpourri had to do with our advent experiences.
During advent we focus on the future coming of God in his world. We surround ourselves with biblical readings about the future, many of which are often connected to the end times, and connect them to our experience of the incarnation of God, God becoming a person and living among us. The focus is on the future, however in anticipation of God’s future we are also called to remember God’s past and live as God’s children in our todays. Last week I talked a little about forgetting what we know about God’s work in Jesus Christ and I do believe that we need to let God surprise and amaze us. But perhaps this doesn’t mean that memory can’t play a role in our preparations also.
I am reminded of the years that my family held the Rand family reunion for a few years at our place on the island. One of the things at least that us children would do is to watch the video from the previous year’s reunion, yes for a while we were one of those families who videotaped everything.
Watching the videotape did a few things for us, not the least of them was to remind us of those jokes that Uncle Lenny and Uncle Ed told year after year, we could impress them by knowing the punch lines of the jokes that seemed to never get old to those two.
In all seriousness watching the video reminded us of how fun and exciting these reunions were. We were than motivated to help my mother and father with the cleaning, cooking, and moving of furniture that it took to hold a Rand family Reunion. Without a reminder of how special the coming guests are we would never want to do the housework that these guests deserved and warranted. We were willing to invest ourselves when we were reminded how wonderful this day was going to be.
In today’s OT reading Isaiah reminds us what God has done while telling us of God’s coming. We are reminded that the God who is coming has already made himself known to the world. If we look at the lessons the things that are past are things like redemption and sin. God tells the prophet to remind Israel that she has served her term and the penalty ahs been paid. The author of today’s psalm writes of God “You have forgiven the iniquity of your people and blotted out all their sins”. We are called to remember our sins and that God has forgiven them. Waiting for God’s arrival in no way negate God’s past grace. But remembering that past grace can help us prepare for whatever God has in store now.
John the Baptist called for repentance as preparation. I believe that repentance is a kind of remembering, the same kind of remembering that was found in Isaiah and the Psalmist’s proclamation. I believe that John’s call to repentance was also the call of the Prophet’s and it the call we hear during Advent season; a call to confess our sins and remember them before God.
It is not fun or easy to remember our sinfulness. But I don’t think this the primary purpose of repentance. The end result of repentance isn’t us saying to God and others “look at me a poor miserable sinner I deserve nothing”. The end result of repentance is God saying to us and others “Look, you are my children and I have forgiven your sins and I will give you everything”. Brothers and sisters repentance, the memory that is called for during advent, is less about our sinfulness and more about the goodness of God.
John the Baptist’s call to repent doesn’t end with the confession or the absolution of sins; but the announcement of the one who is coming. Our confession of sins and words of absolution that recall the graciousness of God are bound up in the announcement of the coming of God’s anointed one. They are means of which the coming of the messiah is known and felt.
The amazing thing about repentance brothers and sisters is it is a kind of remembering that leads to a kind of forgetting. In our remembering our sins God decides to forget them, blot them out, like they never existed. In this holy forgetting we are called and empowered to live as Children of God, disciples of the coming Messiah.