The Promise of Change
The Good News of Jesus Christ is all about CHANGE. POSITIVE CHANGE. RENEWING CHANGE, LIFE-TRANSFORMING CHANGE! Christ offers hope that it is possible for everybody, and anyone, to believe that their life can change. IF we commit to following Jesus Christ, and allow His Spirit to guide us, we can be led out of the darkest and seemingly most hopeless depths of despair, and realize that change is possible!
One of the saddest things I see in life is when someone is in a dark place in their life, and they’ve given up hope for change. They no longer believe they can change. Maybe life has knocked them down a few too many times. Maybe they’ve made some poor choices that have had serious consequences, and they can’t forgive themselves. Maybe they’ve turned away from God, and gotten lost in the darkness of life. Whatever happened, it is extremely sad when I see people who simply think their fate is sealed. They can’t possibly see any hope for change in their lives.
Well, the Good New of Jesus Christ is that all people can change! Christ wants to lead people to a new place in life, to guide them away from despair and into hope, out of the darkness and into the light, far from fear and into His secure and eternal embrace of love!
Such change begins, however, with one word. REPENT! Today, on the day after Epiphany, when we remember the baptism of our Lord by the great Forerunner and Prophet John the Baptist, we turn to his words to the crowds in the desert of Judea – “REPENT, for the Kingdom for Heaven is at hand!” These were also the first words Jesus used when he began his public ministry.
“Repent” basically means “CHANGE,” “TURN AROUND,” “TAKE A NEW DIRECTION. The Greek word for repent, “Metanoete,” implies a radical 180 degree turn, a fundamental change, a new direction in life! It implies reorienting our lives away from the self-centered, egotistical path that leads to darkness and despair, and instead turn towards the kingdom of heaven, into the presence of God, and in the eternal place of divine light and love.
Repentance doesn’t simply mean feeling sorry for some mistake or failure or sin. Instead, it calls for a conscious and courageous change of life, a transformation into a new way of being.
And yet, our society doesn’t like to hear too much about repentance. We don’t like to be told we did something wrong, or that our actions and words are “sinful.” How often do you hear the self-help gurus of our “feel good” society speak about our fundamental need to repent?
Too often, society’s influential voices tell us to “feel good’ about who we are and what we do. Since they reject any standard of absolute truth which may make us feel uncomfortable, they blur the line between good and evil, and thus, ignore any need to fundamentally change. Instead, they say that whatever anyone does is OK, as long as they are sincere about it.
In contrast to this worldview, St John the Baptist, as well as our Lord Jesus Christ, clearly proclaim to the crowds “REPENT!” Repent, and change your life. Repent, and your life will change. Repent, and you will find hope in a new life.
Repentance is the beginning of the Good News precisely because it is the beginning of acknowledging a need that we all have. No matter who we are, and where we’re at in life, no matter how we have failed to fulfill our divine potential and no matter how we have fallen away from God’s divine image within, there is always another chance to change, a second and third and fourth chance to turn back.
We have a merciful and gracious God who is always waiting for our return. And He is ready to help us fundamentally change, and fulfill the God-given potential He placed within each of us.
We hear today’s Gospel talk about people living in darkness. Our world is full of darkness – the darkness of ignorance and sin. Now, it is interesting to talk about the darkness of ignorance in our contemporary society because we live in an age of incredible knowledge. Science, medicine, and technology are only a few fields that boast advances in knowledge that previous generations couldn’t even dream about. We live in the age of the internet, where unimaginable information is available at our fingertips within seconds. Not too many people would accept the accusation that our contemporary society lives in the darkness of ignorance. And yet, we must take care, for ignorance can come in many forms. A brilliant surgeon may know absolutely nothing about car mechanics. A successful banker or businessperson may know nothing about psychiatry. A world-renowned art historian may know little about mathematics. Ignorance comes in many forms.
When Jesus talks about darkness, He refers primarily to the darkness of the soul and the path that leads into the Kingdom of Heaven. How many brilliant physicians and scientists and professors and businesspeople and other such “successful” people of the world know very little about the authentic spiritual life and their journey towards “theosis” or union with God?
I remember talking at a retreat on the theme of confession, and after my talk a very successful elderly man came up to me and said, “Father, look, I’ve never gone to confession in my 70 years of life, and to be honest with you, I probably won’t ever go, because I don’t need to. I’m a good person who hasn’t done any terrible things. I don’t feel the need to go to repent or go to confession. This man’s attitude reflects the outlook of many people who live spiritually shallow lives. Such people compare themselves to the darkness of the world around them, and since they haven’t killed anyone or committed adultery or done some other evil act, they think they are good.
Goodness in the eyes of God, however, has a radically different meaning. True goodness means becoming like God and acting like God, for only God is good. When we hear in today’s Gospel, “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,” we are talking about people who see, for the first time in history, the divine light of God incarnate, in the person of Jesus Christ. With the coming of Christ, people can now be enlightened with divine knowledge because anyone who wants to understand true goodness and love need only look at the person of Jesus.
Are we “good” when we compare ourselves with Jesus Christ? Absolutely not. Anyone who thinks they have no need of repentance and change in their life has never carefully read our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, and reflected upon His words, “Be perfect, as my Father in Heaven in perfect.” Keeping this in mind, and reflecting on how we fall far short of the glory of God, we need to then return to the Gospel’s opening words, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” For any of us who seriously want to journey towards God and into His heavenly Kingdom, repentance, change, must be our first step. And in order to sincerely repent, we must come to a proper knowledge of who God is and what He expects in our lives, and then reorient our whole beings towards Him.
Repentance means not only turning away from our sin but also returning back to God - changing the direction of our lives from whatever darkness we have embraced, and struggling down the difficult, narrow path that leads to divine love. Change is possible, for each and every one of us. Yet it begins with Repentance. “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
Facing Our Uncertain Future
We Value Life
Our Orthodox Faith
The Sacraments: The Meaning and Importance of Liturgical Life