Monday, December 14, 2015

Advent XVI

The problem with the way so many of us do religion is that we make the practice of religion our duty.  John the Baptist is not exactly the kind of guy we would expect to point us in a different direction.  There is something about him that makes us envision a fundamental Bible-thumping fire and brimstone preacher who sees nothing but your black and white duty to live right before God.  But, as we hear him preaching, "Bear fruits worthy of repentance," he takes us somewhere else. 

Fruit speaks of something that is produced in a natural way.  Fruit is not the result of a plan.  It has nothing to do with determination or duty.  Like the fruit of the Spirit, fruits worthy of repentance come from a changed heart that is now facing in a different direction and, therefore, expresses itself in a way that previously would have been perceived as unnatural.  While it is always true that divine grace is the first step in any transaction of change in the human heart, it is also true that the first step for any of us is the step of choosing to face toward God in such a way that the Holy Spirit finds a heart that is now pliable and changeable.  As we bear fruits of repentance, we do so with the knowledge that it is more about the Spirit at work within us than our making something different happen ourselves.

The fruits of repentance are, therefore, not something we seek, but something we experience as the result of grace at work on a changed heart.  We bear them not because we plan to do so, or because we ought to do so, but because God finally has something with which to work.  When kindness and compassion and self-sacrifice begin to be seen in our life, it will not be because we have accomplished our duty, but because our life has been abandoned to God. 

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