Rector's Blog

Advent II

On two Sundays in Advent our Gospel readings look at the character of John the Baptist, Jesus’s cousin, who travelled around the region proclaiming a message of repentance, calling on people to prepare for the arrival of the Messiah.

When I was a child there was a man used to stand at the end of what was then Warwick Road , now Sir Matt Busby way, in Old Trafford on match days, wearing a sandwich board – on it was emblazoned  the words Repent: the End is Nigh.   He would even call out to the crowds surging towards United’s ground “Come on lads repent!”.  I wonder if many people responded to his call.  I sort of doubt it.  Most of us would shy away from such a person, never mind wearing one of those sandwich boards ourselves and calling others to repent.

My brother once told me that he didn’t like religious people because they tried to tell others what they were doing wrong.  Now that may be true of some but my experience as a priest is that the big problem many people is that they are only too ready to blame themselves – to keep on confessing the same mistakes and sins, often year after year.  Over and over again. People beat themselves up about not being good enough.  They find it hard to believe that God has forgiven them. They clearly cannot forgive themselves. Of course looking around at the world today there is much to lament and repent about  – but  what really matters is how we are facing up to what we feel is wrong in our lives,  and what are we doing about it.

The word sin in the Hebrew is hattat.  It is best translated as meaning “missing the mark” and comes from a term used in archery.  The word sin speaks therefore of aiming at a target and missing or maybe aiming at the wrong target altogether.  But if we don’t hit a target we usually try again.  And if we do have another go we need to look at where we want to hit and adjust our aim.  Aim for the centre of the target.  During Advent it’s a good time to think about what targets we are aiming at. Are we settling in aiming for something that doesn’t require too much of us?  Are we afraid to align ourselves more closely to what God might want us to do in our lives?   

And if we do find ourselves going over old wrongs are we buying into the idea God cannot love us because we aren’t good enough? Well we might be missing the target – we might have missed the target big style and hurt people in the process but God loves us, just as we are and it is never too late to make a new start.

And when we adjust our aim we repent.  The New Testament Greek word in the Gospels for repentance is metanoia which means a change of mind or heart. Looking at things differently. Not beating ourselves up and dwelling on past wrongs but living with the Good News that we can encounter the Risen Christ in our lives.  That is far more about sharing tea and cake and love rather than pointing out someone’s faults.

Learning a new way of life is about living life in all its fullness.  We are here to share in the joy of the Good News.  I don’t think that man outside Warwick Road on match days had the right idea about sharing the Gospel really. But that is not to say we are not to share the message that Jesus brings – John the Baptist took his message out around the region – but the best way for us to do that is to understand that God loves us, just as we are, forgives our faults, uses each of us, however weak and feeble our faith sometimes feels.  We don’t need that sandwich board, we don’t always need words or a long speech – but we need, as the candles at our baptisms symbolise– to shine as a light in the world. Andrea Jones – Rector