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Summary: John the Baptist (and John Wesley, too) said that repentance would bear fruit in a changed life. Preparing for the coming of Christ means living and life of repentance and bearing the fruit that reflects that repentance.

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Merry Christmas. Here’s your orange. No joke. An orange was a pretty common Christmas gift in years gone by, especially during the Great Depression. A child would awaken on Christmas morning to find a stocking stuffed with an orange, and apple, perhaps a banana, a few nuts, and if especially blessed, some hard candy. That was Christmas…that, and a trip to church on Christmas morning. Yet, that fresh fruit represented a sacrifice for the parents. Not much fresh fruit in the wintertime, unless you lived in southern California or Florida. If there were other gifts they were usually homemade or handmade. And, they were special. It was a time when it truly was the thought that counted. Getting fruit for Christmas was a big deal, and might I suggest this morning, giving fruit for Christmas is a big deal.

When I say fruit, I’m not talking about apples and oranges, although go online and type in “fruit for Christmas” on google, and you’ll get 111 million results, and at least the first three pages will be websites selling fruit baskets for Christmas, so there must still be lots of fruit given at Christmas time. No, I’m talking about the fruit of repentance of which John the Baptist speaks, and which we read a few moments ago. John the Baptist was working to prepare the way for the coming of Christ, and part of the preparation was repentance.

John the Baptist preached repentance, and the words we heard today are some pretty harsh words, but when people heard the words, they were cut to their hearts. We hear this gruff character with his wild clothes and wild diet proclaiming what sounds like to us a “turn-or-burn” message. Seriously, nowhere in the Dale Carnegie book How to Win Friends and Influence People does it ever suggest you begin your message by calling your audience a bunch of snakes. But, it worked for John! People were responding to his message. When you boil his message down to its essence you find a very simple imperative—repent. Repentance prepares the way for the coming of Christ.

What do we mean by repentance? Well, John the Baptist was not “politically correct” in the way he talked about repentance, but that doesn’t change the necessity of repentance if one was going to be ready for Christ. God is a holy God, and God desires a relationship with us, but we let sin get in the way. Repentance is an acknowledgement that we’re on the wrong path. That’s what John was saying to his first century audience, and when they heard John, they knew something was missing. They all wanted to know, “What should we do?”

When we talk about repentance, we’re not simply talking about saying “I’m sorry.” It’s not enough to feel sorry in your heart for wrongs committed. It’s not enough to regret choices made that didn’t honor God. Something needs to be done. Outward actions must accompany inward decisions. Repentance is not simply a private, personal choice that one makes in the quietness of a solitary moment. Repentance means changing directions. Repentance is not simply coming to the realization that “I’ve made some bad decisions…I’m sorry for getting in this mess!” No, repentance means ‘turning around’, getting on a different road, getting things right with God.


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