The more things remain the same, the more they change

Subtitle: A single, simple theological and liturgical observation in the season of Advent

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John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1.4)

St. John the Baptist baptizes the people, Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665)

The baptism John proclaimed and practiced was that of his day and time – a demonstrable and repeatable outward act signifying one’s desire, one’s determination to change, being cleansed of sin and recommitted to following God’s Law in preparation for the coming of the Messiah.

How different, how vice-versable is the baptismal practice of the Christian church; proclaiming that forgiveness of sins is solely an act of God’s initiation to which repentance is the human response and baptism, the once-for-all-time expression.(1)

At first, even second glance, this, it seems to me, is no grand surprise. History is replete with examples of the modification of traditions inherited or adopted from a prior times and places.

Still, as a Christian, as I continue to prepare myself spiritually for the coming Christmas celebration, I am grateful for having the belief and, in that belief, the knowledge that there is nothing I can do on my own, even my repentance, that deserves, much less demands God’s forgiveness. Truly, I believe and know that God, who is Love, alway is ready, far more ready to forgive than I am to repent.

So, I pray: O Lord, my God, believing, knowing that you are Love and that, as Love, you forgive, may I, in gladsome response, alway hasten to repent. Amen.

 

 

Footnote:
(1) Here, I do acknowledge that within the realm of Christendom’s denominations, there have been and are a variety of baptismal practices, in some places and in some cases, commending and calling for re-baptism.

Illustration: St. John the Baptist baptizes the people, Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665)

2 thoughts on “The more things remain the same, the more they change

  1. Paul,

    It really can be difficult to Repent…. I wanted to see how Webster defined this tough word, so here it is ……

    intransitive verb
    1 : to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life
    2 a : to feel regret or contrition
    b : to change one’s mind”

    I love the part, to turn from…. because that for me is what makes it hard, turning away from something that for some people may be an addiction can be almost impossible.. sometimes it can be just “stubbornness” which I suffer from at times!

    What prompts me to change when I need to is LOVE, my love for those with whom I’m in a relationship AND of course my love for God. I guess we just all need a little push at times when it comes to repenting!

    Much love!

    Like

  2. Thanks, Loretta, for sharing Webster’s definition of repent/repentance. In one respect or another, I think, the dictionary has conflated one or two concepts (not that that is a bad thing, for it isn’t, I don’t believe).

    In my view, the definition #1 and #2b are in the same field. For the Greek term, “metanoia,” which, generally, is translated into English as “repentance,” literally means “to turn the (one’s) mind around,” that is, 180 degrees or to do an about face. (Here, I add that for the ancients “mind” did not refer simply or only to human intellect or human reason or the human capacity to think. Rather “mind” was the reference for all of the inner constitutive aspects of one’s humanness, i.e., thought and emotion and intention – all that lead to action.) So, in the religious realm, to repent meant for me – with all that I am and all that I have – to turn around from following my way and to return to following God’s way.

    Back to Webster… Definition #2a, “to feel regret or contrition” is, generally, what is termed or considered penitence; that is, the capacity and willingness to feel/be sorry for a wrong committed (or a good omitted).

    In this distinction, the difference between penitence and repentance is vast, particularly, I think, in the course of human relationships. For, I think, how often have I felt sorry that I did or said something that I believe I shouldn’t have done or said (or didn’t do or say something I believe I should have done or said), but my sorrow did not lead (for whatever reason or reasons) to my amendment or change of life, so to assure that I didn’t repeat the wrong? I confess that many have been the times I’ve been penitent or sorry, but that didn’t lead me to change. (And more truth to tell, there have been times I’ve sorry, but not because I did or said what I shouldn’t have done or said or because I didn’t do or say what I should have done or said, but only because I got caught or called out or reprimanded for my failure. This distinction, I believe, is what the Apostle Paul is getting at when he talks about “godly sorrow” (or grief) that leads to repentance and “ungodly sorrow” (or grief) that leads to (spiritual) death – 2 Corinthians 7.9-10.

    All this said, for me, your last word is the word, the capstone or foundation stone that holds this entire enterprise of repentance together, that makes it make sense: “What prompts me to change when I need to is LOVE, my love for those with whom I’m in a relationship AND of course my love for God. I guess we just all need a little push at times when it comes to repenting!” And as for your point, “…we just all need a little push at times…”, yes, I agree. For that is what, who John the Baptist is. God sent and sends him to push (and not a little!) us to repent!

    Love you

    Like

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