Zuccarelli, Francesco, 1702-1788. John the Baptist Preaching, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=56714 [retrieved December 18, 2021]. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Zuccarelli,_Saint_John_the_Baptist_Preaching.jpg.

RCL Year C, Advent 3
Zephaniah 3:14-20, Canticle 9 [Isaiah 12:2-6], Philippians 4:4-7, Saint Luke 3:7-18

Saint John the Baptist commands: “Bear fruits worthy of repentance.”[1] Today’s Gospel, which begins immediately where last Sunday’s Gospel ended, includes a fuller picture of repentance than we saw last week. And John’s command highlights that fuller picture.

John knows, as I said last Sunday, that we all are aware that we have done wrong. He exhorts us to repent, and that repentance includes two major areas. Those of us who repent cover them both. The first major area is sorrow for wrongdoing. That was the main point of the Gospel last week. We all have done wrong. Most of us know it; most of us know we need a Redeemer. If we truly are sorry for our sins, we shall go on to the second major area of repentance. We shall go on to amending our lives. We shall recognize that it is not enough to feel sorry for what we have done. We must change our ways. We must stop offending our neighbor and God.

John was able to attract huge crowds with his awareness that all have sinned. Once he gathers the people together, he tells them what repentance requires them to do: “Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” Feel sorry for what you have done, he seems to say, and go on to change your ways.

To his general follower, John commands sharing clothing and food with anyone who has not these things. To the tax collectors, John commands collecting no more than the law requires. To the soldiers, he commands extorting no money and living within their means. The people marvel at this teaching, and they begin to wonder whether he is the Messiah. John quickly subordinates himself to the Messiah. He baptizes with water only, but Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.

Repentance usually occupies us during Lent. But John correctly knows that making room for Jesus in our hearts involves getting rid of the things, the memories and the guilt, that hinder us from receiving Christ with open arms. Advent allows us time to prepare to welcome the Lord when he comes again to be our Judge. We may think that our focus is on the manger in Bethlehem, but our true focus is on the Lord and being ready to accept him as Our Lord and Our Savior. Remember Thomas on the first Easter Even, how he welcomed the Lord once his doubts had been removed. We can similarly greet the Lord when we have repented, fully repented, including amending our lives.

The Lord’s justice is his mercy. His justice is that we all need to repent. His mercy is his love for all of us who have repented. As Zephaniah prophesies for the Lord in the First Lesson: “for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes.”[2]

[1] Saint Luke 3:8.

[2] Zephaniah 3:20.