Repent and Prepare the Way of the Lord
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:1). In these weeks of Advent looking forward to Christmas, this voice of John the Baptist crying out in the desert rings afresh in our ears today.
The Precursor of Jesus urges us to contritely admit our wrongs and failings before God and seek his mercy, to change our sinful ways and minds and come out of the darkness and live in the light. Centuries before, the prophet Isaiah had spoken of John, just as he was speaking of Jesus when he said, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who lived in a land of gloom a light has shone” (Isaiah 9:1).
Jesus Christ is the light. He is the light of the world. Whoever follows him, whoever turns their lives around, whoever makes his path their path “will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
There are lights too in the Church which signify his abiding presence in the world, such as the sanctuary lamp near the tabernacle. Another is the light of the confessional. This light is a beacon of love, care, concern and safety. It says the Lord is inside ready and waiting to receive you and embrace you. The sacrament of Confession, of repentance and sorrow, of reconciling with God and pardon, is the story of God’s merciful love that never turns away from us.
This holiday season which extends from Thanksgiving to Christmas to New Year, is also a time of extensive travel. People and entire families are moving all over the country to visit relatives and friends.
If you are at the airport during these weeks, you will see many travelers getting bogged down at the security checkpoint because they have so much luggage. Then, when they finally get through, they struggle as they pull their bags behind them, scurrying to their departure gates. No doubt they would like to be able to travel much more lightly so as not to miss their flight and to be sure to get to their destination.
We can see in these experiences something of a metaphor for life in general. The sobering and sad fact of life is that all of us at times carry heavy “baggage” that we would like to unload. Some time ago when I was at the airport, a man in his mid-thirties saw my Roman collar and asked me about getting rid of all the excess baggage we carry around. What he was talking about was the sacrament of Confession and he wanted to know more about this wonderful grace that lifts our self-created burdens, gives us a fresh start, and allows us to get to the right place in our life’s journey.
Confession serves a real human need that has not diminished with the passage of time. Jesus was born in Bethlehem to reveal the merciful love of God and bless us with the gift of forgiveness because our Lord knew, as we do, that each of us from time to time sins. As much as we would like to follow Jesus perfectly, we too often fall and I for one am grateful that I can make the admission, “I am a sinner,” in the sacrament of Confession. It makes for a happier life.
Those who do seek this sacramental mercy come out of the confessional routinely saying that they feel like a great burden has been lifted from them. What a joyous relief.
The Good News of Jesus Christ is precisely that we do not endure the struggles of the human condition alone, but rather we are accompanied by a Redeemer who comforts us when we suffer and forgives when we sin.
Jesus says to us, “Here, let me take some of that weight, some of that “excess baggage” from you. Let me give you light so you can see and let me show you the way.” We simply need to admit to ourselves and to him our Savior that we need his help and want his help. We need simply to repent and say that we are sorry that we have been going in the wrong direction. It remains one of the marvels of his endless love that he would make forgiveness and spiritual renewal so readily available to us.