As has been abundantly clear through the first week of these Advent reflections, self-examination and repentance are important preparatory disciplines when anticipating the coming of Christ. There has been at least the hint of promise and hope, without which the encouragement toward renewal would be rendered powerless. Today’s texts make clear that once the choices between righteousness and unrighteousness have been made, the Lord will act. That sounds a bit radical in some ways, does it not, by suggesting that God’s action is in any way contingent on what we do. Let’s examine it.
The readings for today are Malachi 4:1-6, Luke 9:1-6, and yet another reading of Zechariah’s Song in Luke 1:68-79.
All three of our texts point to the day of the Lord’s coming as either a great destruction or a great blessing. One group of people will be destroyed without remainder; the other group will dance in joy. The whole purpose of pointing to, and even accentuating, our sinful actions and exposing the things we never even thought about in moral terms is so that we might repent of them and act justly.
In today’s world we hear little of calls for repentance. We hear calls for judgment aplenty, always from those who are self-convinced or self-deceived into assurance of their own innocence. We are victims of the sins of the other, not violators ourselves. But actual calls for repentance in light of what God is really looking for are seldom heard. We are accused of offending by even suggesting that something is morally amiss with today’s person.
It is debatable as to whether that is any different today from what it was in almost any other day. The prophets surely didn’t find a receptive audience; and I don’t know that the disciples sent out by Jesus found it much different. The former spoke of a then-future coming of the One who would bring that judgment with him. The latter pointed to a climax of the drama, an unfolding point which would culminate all of God’s work in making redemption possible. We look back to that same Christ-event and anticipate its completion. But the call is the same: we must choose between righteousness and unrighteousness, between repentance and continuation of business as usual. One option will result in the eventual unraveling of everything we have attempted to build, no matter how impressive it now appears; the other will turn out to be the joyful realization of everything we thought we were aiming at in the first place.
Today Christ’s disciples continue to announce–and to leave the decision to be made by those who hear. They are not immune from the temptations to return to destructive ways, and therefore need to hear again the Word of the Lord. The anticipation of what is to come, the acceptance of the promise, the decision to live by faith in its hope—all of this is made possible by Christ’s coming and by nothing else. Zechariah’s Song recognizes this. There release from the oppression of others to be realized, yes. But salvation is from our own sins. The words of the Advent carol ring in the ear: “From our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.” The release is coming near. Embrace it.