In one of the most beautiful carols that we sing at this time of year, we declare with the heavenly host that we will “fall on our knees.” Or more precisely, we call each other to fall on your knees.
To prepare for the coming of God: either first on that Holy Night of the incarnation, or as we do in Advent, his second coming on the clouds because this is—like all feasts—a time when time collapses into itself; to prepare for the coming of God will require of us that we fall on our knees.
We will have to bend. We will have place our knees in the dirt to hail our coming King.
The Bible has a word for this, the state of being where we judge ourselves inferior to the Lord and cede him control over every part of our mind, soul, heart, and strength. It calls it repentance.
We read Christmas readings in the Old Testament about rough places being made smooth and the hills being cast down and valleys lifted up (Isaiah 40). If we give them a second thought beyond the sentimental then I suspect we see these as delightful promises that the darkness and struggle of our lives under the pitiless sun will end in the day of the Lord.
I don’t think we’re wrong to do so, God will come against the structures and sins of the world, against the very powers and principalities, the malign spiritual forces that run and world and often rule over us. But I think we miss its dual force: this is aimed at me. Not just because the root of the tree of Hell we encounter in the world grows from the human heart, but because my heart needs to be cut-and-filled to make the highway of the Lord.
As Fleming Rutledge says, “repentance is for the strong.” It takes will—often empowered first by the Spirit of God who sits under all our endeavours—to admit that we need surgery, to step forwards and take responsibility for our part in the slow dripping death of reality, and to cast a long look at our painfully rotten cores before casting ourselves on the mercy of God.
Advent is for repenting. Advent is for asking others to forgive you. First God, and then those in your life you have wronged. Because that is the way of Jesus: forgiveness and repentance.
It’s easy to know who should ask you to forgive them—though stop thinking that thought and start forgiving them, friend (he says to himself).
It is harder to go to those you love, your family and friends, and repent. Tell them that you are sorry, own well what you did, then by the grace of God begin to change. It’s vital that we do though.
When we get down on our knees, when we repent, we prepare ourselves for the coming of God. As we prepare ourselves for the coming of God, both today by his Spirit and in the future in bloodied-handed glory with the hosts of heaven, bend your heart and repent.
Advent is the season of waiting and Lent the season of contrition, you might be thinking. Sure, from a certain way of looking at things I think that’s true. More importantly though, the way of Jesus is the way of repentance.
So, put down your phone, step away from the laptop, and begin to ask God that brave and terrifying question: Father, what do I need to repent of today?
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