It is a dark and foggy night and you are driving along following the red tail lights of an unknown car in front of you. Suddenly a strangely dressed man appears on the road frantically waving a stop sign and saying, “Turn around, you are going the wrong way!”
2 Advent B
The Rev. Valerie Ann Hart
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church
Imagine that you’ve spent the evening at a friend’s house somewhere East of Byron. When you leave to come home you discover that it is a dark and foggy night. You get in your car and drive along, carefully following those little yellow dots that show where the middle of the highway is. You have been driving for quite a while. Your spouse, sitting next to you, is complaining that things don’t look right, shouldn’t there have been a turn back there, etc. You mutter back something about back seat drivers and continue on.
Now you are making a little better time because there is a car in front of you, at least there are those two red lights to follow. You know nothing of the person driving that car, or where they are headed, but at least there is someone to follow. Then, suddenly, you see a strangely dressed man standing in the road holding a stop sign, waving and jumping up and down to get your attention. With hesitation, you stop and role the window down just a little.
“Turn around! You are going the wrong way!” he says.
You look confused.
“Turn around! If you keep going this way you will hurt yourself or someone else,” he repeats.
“But I’m being careful” you respond.
“Turn around! The lights you are following belong to a drunk who could lead you off the road, who will lead you only to death!” he states with great drama.
“Who are you and why should I trust you?” you ask.
“Turn around” he keeps saying.
Finally, he brings out a bucket of water and pours it over your windshield. To your surprise, it is no longer foggy outside. What you had thought was fog, was really all the dirt on your own windshield. Now that you can see outside you realize that you are very far from home; you have no idea how many hours you were going the wrong direction. It dawns on you that you are totally lost.
You also notice that the car you were following is about to go off into a ditch. You turn to the man beside you to thank him and ask him how to get home.
“Follow that one over there,” he says as he points to a light in the distance.
As you pull away you ask your spouse “Who was that?”
“Oh, I think he was a workman preparing the road, making the highway in this desert straight.”
John the baptizer proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Repentance, what is repentance? The word is a translation of metanoia, a Greek word that means to know again in a new way, be transformed, to turn around. When someone calls for repentance they are telling you to turn around, to turn around because you are going in the wrong direction, to turn around so that you can see things in a new way. Baptism of repentance would be a baptism that provides one an opportunity to see things in a new way.
How much of our lives we spend as if we are wandering lost in the fog? We have no sense of where we are going, we don’t see the dangers ahead, and sometimes we follow something or someone without knowing where it will lead.
How many of us wake up one morning and begin to question what we are doing with our lives? We follow a path set before us, school, marriage, job, whatever, without thinking about whether it leads to where we really want to go. Perhaps we seek wealth, money for its own sake, without thinking about why we should be trying to get rich, and then we find, once we have some money, that we still feel empty inside. Perhaps it is power that you followed after. Perhaps it was the dream of your own home and that fantasy middle class life. Once you have achieved it, then what?
Maybe you have a gone down a road of addiction to alcohol, or drugs and one day you woke up to realize that this road leads nowhere. Maybe you idealized someone and followed them until you found that you had lost your own sense of identity.
Any time we make anything more important than God, more important than loving God and our neighbors, we are going in the wrong direction and sooner or latter will find ourselves lost and at a dead end.
When we discover we have gone the wrong way there is only one thing to do, turn around. To repent, to turn around, means to acknowledge that we have been going the wrong way, to acknowledge that we have done things we shouldn’t have done and not done things we should have.
To repent of our sins means to open our eyes and acknowledge the mistakes we have made, to see ourselves in a new way, to acknowledge that we are lost, to turn around and to follow the one for whom John was preparing, to follow the true light that can lead us home.
Advent is a season with two themes. The first is the joyful anticipation of the birth of Christ, the incarnation of our Lord. The second is the preparing for the second coming of Christ. Both involve a sense of preparation, of self study, so that we are ready to receive the incredible grace that God bestowed upon the earth on the first Christmas. We need to prepare to be able to let in just how much God loves us. We need to be prepared to open our hearts and receive the gift of love that is the Christ child.
How do we prepare? By opening our eyes and hearts, by washing away the dirt of our past that keeps us from seeing the truth, by repenting and letting ourselves be transformed, so that when we see the true light we are ready to follow Christ home.