.This is Luke’s introduction of John Baptist as a typical prophet, preaching the need for repentance. John is what everyone, then and now, recognises as a ‘real prophet’ and how dreary is it? Nothing separates the old world view and the new so much as the cluster “sin, repentance and forgiveness”.
Sin is what ‘separates us from God’, repentance means turning around and forgiveness is what God graciously bestows, (in theory unconditionally but the teaching strongly implies a different view).
If God is God, then it is impossible for anything to separate us, or indeed any part of creation, from God. We might, and emphasize might, displease God, but history shows that what does or does not please God, according to His ministers down the years, is a very moveable thing, as with children who can displease daddy by being noisy when he wants peace and quiet and another day be as noisy as they like and have fun with him. Present uses of the Bible and the laws therein attest to the way that we play fast and loose with divine commands. As a very simple example, being in church on Sunday reciting “Remember that you keep holy the Sabbath day, six days you shall labour etc.” I watch and wonder how many other people are thinking about all the work they want to get on with once they get home, or when it comes to the prohibition against adultery how many of the congregation stick to that rule! We are very fluid in our understanding of what is sin.
Repentance means turning around, or away. If we turn around from what is displeasing, we turn towards what is pleasing but the inference is that groveling, self-denial and a lack of delight is what we are called to turn towards. Such a turning does not make for joy, kindness or happy healthy humans. What does make for a healthy, happy human? A sense of self-worth, being appreciated, feeling safe, these being firmly rooted in the psyche promotes, gratitude, generosity, kindness; the sense of self-worth is imperative. The teaching of the prophets emphasized human worthlessness in the face of the divine mercy, Jesus, on the other hand, had a very strong sense of His own worth, and He is the model we are meant to emulate. His sense of self-worth was grounded in the knowledge of the love of God. For us from very early on, we are given the message of the love of God so strongly mingled with divine displeasure if we don’t get things right that we have a perpetual confusion that prevents the real knowledge of self as always ‘acceptable in the Beloved”.
The preaching of the prophets of any age has two hugely significant deficiencies, it lacks joy and it lacks kindness. This is where the teaching of Jesus is the New Wine, and is so different from what everyone expects from a religious preacher. The centuries have proved that human nature, perversely, prefers the grim, joyless religious model of the old wine. The language of much church worship still lays heavy accent on our sinfulness and need for forgiveness, demonstrating that the concept of God as a loving father has not kept up with the evolution of human consciousness. The average ordinary dad, these days, is a better model of parenting than the Father God promoted by the traditions, which has never really, consistently, taken Jesus’s way of knowing God on board.
It is fascinating that patriarchal religion has such an agenda about sin. I recall meeting a very prominent Christian writer, an Episcopalian priest, a lovely man whose writings were very sound and influential in the seventies. He stunned me by saying,” I have no right to be happy while any one of my brothers or sisters on earth is unhappy”. What earthly use is that? I cannot believe in a God who would approve of that. “God is happy and wants us to join in”. Really happy people make such a grand contribution to daily life on the planet, happiness is the point of the Incarnation. Being happier, more grateful, more generous is our best Advent preparation for the coming of the Christ Child.
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