Summary: Repentance is about preparing the way for our Lord, for the King. This Advent sermon uses the metaphor of road work to explore repenting of sin and unforgiveness.
Today is the second Sunday of Advent. Traditionally, the second Sunday of Advent belongs to John the Baptizer…the one whose job it was to announce the imminent coming of the Christ.
In all four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—the ministry of John the Baptizer prepares the way for the ministry of Jesus Christ.
In all four Gospels, John the Baptizer is identified as the one who is prophesied in Isaiah 40. “A voice of one calling: ‘In the desert prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.” (Isaiah 40:3)
The King is coming!
The King is coming! Prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God. Fill in the valleys. Level the mountains. Smooth out the rough ground, because the King is coming.
Preparing for the coming of the King means taking on a huge civil engineering project.
Preparing for the coming of the King means going over every inch of the road with a fine tooth comb. Every boulder that has fallen into the road must be removed. Every place where the pavement is cracked must be repaired. Every pothole must be filled in. Even the loose gravel and sand that has accumulated must be swept away.
That is the message of the prophet Isaiah. That is the message of John the Baptizer. That is the message of Advent.
When the crowds came out to see John, he told them: The King is coming! Prepare the way. Repent.
In all four Gospels, John the Baptizer preaches a message of repentance and offers a baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
Repentance is a churchy word. You don’t hear it much outside church circles. “Normal” people don’t usually talk about repentance.
Repentance simply means turning away from sin.
Hmmm…sin is a churchy word too. You don’t hear it much outside of church circles. “Normal” people don’t usually talk about sin.
Sin, at its core, is anything that turns us away from God and the path that he would have us follow. Alternatively, sin is anything that keeps us away from God by barricading our way into his presence.
Repentance means turning away from that which turns us away from God. Repentance means taking down the barricades that keep us away from God.
Sin breaks down our relationship with God.
Repentance prepares us for restored relationship.
Repentance is about preparing the way for our Lord, for the King.
It’s no accident that John the Baptizer links the idea of building a highway in the wilderness for the coming of the King and the idea of calling individuals to repentance.
When the King comes again—which is what Advent is all about—every valley shall be filled, every mountain and hill shall be made low, the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth. The injustice of this broken world will not last forever. Things will be made right. Everything that obstructs justice will be removed. Everything that corrupts will be made right. That is a promise.
This isn’t just a promise for the distant future. This isn’t just a promise for society. This is a promise for you and me too. For every person who accepts the Lordship of the King, the Lordship of Christ, the Holy Spirit is active, bringing about this promise for us.
The Hebrew word used most often in the Old Testament to talk about repentance is ‘shuv’. It means to turn around, to return. It means to stop going in the wrong direction and turn back in the right direction. It means to stop going away from God and turn around so that we can go towards God. In Malachi 3:7, the Lord of hosts says to his people: “Return to me [shuv to me] and I will return to you.”
In the New Testament, the Greek word most often used to talk about repentance is ‘metanoia’. It means to change your mind, to be converted from one way of thinking to another way of thinking. In Luke 24:46-47, Jesus tells his disciples to preach repentance and forgiveness to all people—metanoia and forgiveness. In Peter’s first two sermons in Acts 2 and 3, the call to metanoia—to repentance—figures prominently. In Acts 17 and 26, it’s Paul who is preaching of metanoia to the philosophers and kings.
If you’re like me, when you think about repentance, when you picture repentance, you picture that first big major turning...when someone whose life is completely away from the Lord, someone who doesn’t know the Lord, someone who has rejected the Lord, someone who is living completely out of the path that the Lord would have turns for the first time, comes to know the Lord and receives Him as King, as Lord, as Savior. They turn for the first time, they repent, and their life begins to change as God’s grace works on them.