Advent invites us into four weeks of uncomfortableness unlike any other time in the Church year. Not only is it a season of waiting, which I know I am exceptionally bad at, but it also is a season of prophecy, and prophecy has always been a call to repentance, and repentance is a topic nobody likes to talk about because it has to do with sin. Repentance is the way we translate the Greek word “metanoia” and the Hebrew word “shoob” which both refer to the action of turning around. In order to get to repentance – to turning around – we have to admit that at some point we turned the wrong direction, and most of us don't like to admit such things. The season of Advent is just a really uncomfortable time.
But throughout there are glimmers of hope. There are reminders of why we wait in the first place. Glimpses of the amazing thing that happens when we 1) admit we were wrong and 2) turn around to rightness. This week, we get that fleeting vision in the lesson from Baruch, an apocryphal book attributed to the secretary of the prophet Jeremiah. The portion we heard read this afternoon is from the section entitled, “Jerusalem is Assured of Help” and it gives us, I think, a different spin on repentance.
“Take of the garment of your sorrow and affliction... and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.”
As hard as it is for us and individuals to admit to our sinfulness, it isn't hard to see the results of a world full of sinners. Turn on the five o'clock news and you'll get at least 26 minutes of stories that will make you keenly aware that we don't have it all right. Drugs, murder, sex, money, power, corruption, violence, war, politicking, the list goes on and on. Even the most starry-eyed among us is hard pressed to say that the world, by and large, isn't a pretty ugly place filled with sorrow and affliction. And it is so easy to sit and wallow in that ugliness throwing the world's largest pity-party to which everyone is invited.
But that, my friends, is my definition of sin – forgetting that God is ultimately in control. The devil would like nothing more than for us to heap upon shoulders the unbearable weight of garments of sorrow and affliction; piled so high that we collapse under their pressure, fully consumed by their overwhelming sadness. Sorrow, affliction, sadness – these things are not of God.
“Take off the garment of your sorrow and affliction... and put on forever the beauty of the glory from God.”
God is all about freedom, release, restoration, and beauty. True repentance is the handing over of our self-made cloaks of sorrow, affliction, brokenness, and ugliness so that God can offer us back the garment of glory.
Advent may be four weeks of uncomfortableness. It may be filled with images of waiting and sin, but the good news is that in Christ God has taken care of all the messiness, and all we have to do is be willing to give up the sorrow in return for joy. May this season be one of turning away from our self-inflicted sinfulness and toward the God of our salvation. Amen.