He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3).
Last year for Christmas I gave my wife a Garmin GPS system. That was great gift for three reasons. For one thing, she told me what she wanted. Second, she was still excited to receive it. And third, I’ve been able to use it too. That gift will be hard to top this year.
The GPS helps us to our selected destinations by a voice that speaks directions with an English accent. At some point my kids started calling the GPS “Fred.” He sounds more like a Nigel or a Jared – but the name stuck. When we’re on the road, Fred is a member of the family.
There are occasions when I’ll select a road or route that deviates from Fred’s instructions. Typically this happens when I’m using Fred to get to a location I’ve been to before – a familiar place. Why use Fred at all if that’s the case? I honestly have no idea. But on such occasions I’ll think Fred has it wrong. I’ll ignore his instructions and that always prompts him to say “recalculating.”
Recalculating. That’s what Fred does to assess the direction I’m going against the desired destination. It’s a valuable life skill, one we would do well to practice often without a GPS. You might even call it a spiritual discipline. Sometimes we need to take a look at the direction of our life, the way we’ve chosen, the road we’re on – and we need to recalculate. Is this getting me where I want to go?
John the Baptist was a fiery preacher with a fairly short sermon. “Repent.” Somehow this word has fallen into disrepair in our time. We may hear it as an angry word, the rant of pious finger-pointer. We may hear it as a word that speaks to our feelings, suggesting primarily a sense of remorse or shame. We may hear the word as a moralistic term that means we’re doing something wrong or bad.
Repentance may involve all of those things, but those meanings alone leave us with a stunted understanding of repentance. Repentance is about direction. The word means to turn around, “a complete alteration of the basic motivation and direction of one’s life.”*
Our destination is the life God intended us to have from the beginning of creation. That’s what Jesus came to give us: life to the full or “abundant” life. We’re all trying to find who God made us to be. Sometimes that quest leads us down some strange roads, sometimes to dead-ends; sometimes we’re just plain lost.
The invitation offered to us is simple: recalculate. Once we’ve done that we’re ready to respond to John’s sermon. We’re ready to change direction and chart a new course. That’s repentance.
Advent is great season of the year for recalculating. It’s a wonderful time to look at where you are and where you’re going against the desired destination of God’s design for your life. Advent reminds us that when we’re lost, God comes looking for us. And the good news is, no matter where you’ve gone, no matter where you are right now, there’s a way to get to the place God wants you to be. John told us how. Repent.
Speak your word of direction to my life today, O Lord. Give me the courage to assess the road I’m on, the path I’ve chosen. Grant to me the grace of repentance. With each new day I want to turn toward you, ever becoming the person you made me to be. Guide me through this day, I pray. Amen.
*(From The New Bible Dictionary, IVP / Tyndale, 1982, pg. 1018)