Repentance and Love


“My father’s going to kill me!” We’ve all said those words, most likely as teenagers. Guilty of some infraction of parental law, staying out past curfew or playing ball in the house (something always breaks, doesn’t it), we were convinced that the end of our lives was imminent. I doubt any of us could give details on how this murder would take place, but that doesn’t mean we were any less convinced it would happen. Our first instinct was to evade discovery or to cover the fault (rummaging through drawers looking for superglue). But then, at a certain point in those years, we came to the realization that it was better to be upfront and honest. Admitting our fault, we finally understood, did not mean death, but forgiveness (not to mention a far lighter sentence).

This Sunday, we are confronted by John the Baptist. He cuts an imposing figure. Living in the desert, dressed in camel’s hair, feeding on locusts, he promises the coming of the Lord who will “gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Mt 3:12). John walked the walk and talked the talk. Not surprisingly therefore, vast crowds “were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.” Seeing this man, hearing the force of his preaching, they knew their faults, they could list them, and, somewhat terrified, they confessed them all. Scared, they were repentant; but this was only the first stage. John was preparing them to receive the Christ. He was preparing them to receive God’s love, which would come to them as mercy.

As we go through the season of Advent, we are conscious that this is a season both of expectation and repentance. Those two go hand in hand. The one we are looking for, preparing for, is the Christ child. With eager anticipation we await his arrival. But we don’t find him among the lights, celebrations and gifts. All of those are good, but it is not where the infant God is receiving people. If we would find him, we must look to our own poverty. To prepare for his coming, we must rediscover our need for him. We find him especially in our need to be forgiven. The repentant heart is ready for him; the repentant heart discovers him.

Confessing slip-ups and peccadillos to our parents, we discovered that they loved us. They didn’t vent murderous rage upon us, but rather mercy and counsel (along with a healthy dose of grounding). Forgiveness is the highest expression of love, but we can only find it when we are willing to ask for it. We should never wait. Now is the season.