HOMILY for the Second Sunday of Advent St Austin Dec 8, 2019
John the Baptist appeared, preaching in the desert of Judea
and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
This prophetic call for repentance, that we hear early in our observance of Advent, is not meant only for the original audience thousands of years ago and thousands of miles from here. Brothers and sisters it is also addressed to us. To you and to me and to all of us here. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
It is straightforward and simple. It is not complex. Yet sometimes we have some difficulty understanding exactly what is called for.
Anyone here ever feel guilty? Of course. Guilt is a pretty common experience. If you have never felt guilty either you are truly a saint, having never done anything to feel guilty for, OR you are a psychopath without human emotions. The great majority of us, however, have experienced the pangs of guilt.
Now this is important: NO WHERE IN THE GOSPELS DOES JESUS EVER TELL US TO FEEL GUILTY! Guilt is an emotion that keeps us chained to the past and replaying old tapes.
What Jesus calls us to, and what John the Baptist also calls us to, is REPENTANCE. Repentance is a firm resolve to go forward doing better.
Guilt looks back. Repentance is about living and moving forward. Jesus and John the Baptist call for repentance. Guilt comes on its own. It is a feeling. Repentance has to be chosen. Repentance is an act of will. Repentance means consciously changing direction and purposely going in a new direction. Guilt does not help. Repentance is the way to new life.
So, say you do something stupid. You lie. You steal. You cheat. You tell your friend’s secrets. You gossip. You practice bigotry. You have an affair. You harbor envy and resentment in your heart. Whatever, you sin.
Later, when you are more rational and objective you recognize what you’ve done. You feel lousy. “How could I do such a thing?” you ask.
“How can I live with myself? Oh what a terrible person I am.” And on and on. We’ve all been there.
No amount of beating yourself up is going to help. Guilt only gets in the way. The way forward is a firm purpose of amendment, and repentance. Repentance means being sorry for what you did or failed to do, and working to change that tendency to sin in yourself. Repentance means admitting your guilt, saying you are sorry, accepting your punishment, and striving to move forward and not do that again.
It is easier to just feel guilty, and wallow in guilt. But that doesn’t help.
Repentance is a gift of the Holy Spirit. God’s own Spirit leads and guides us to repentance, but only if we are open to it. If we are lazy, or afraid of repentance, and refuse the promptings of the Spirit in our hearts, the Lord will not force repentance on us. We must choose to repent.
But repentance is the way to life. Repentance is the way to wholeness and holiness. It is the pre-requisite for opening ourselves to the Kingdom of God in our hearts. It is the beginning of holiness.
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”