We meet John the Baptist at the beginning of each of the gospels – today in Matthew 3:1-12. He comes bearing news. But only if one’s heart is in the right place. John wants to see everyone around him benefit from what he has to offer. As we read about John the Baptist’s preaching, it’s very clear that he wasn’t concerned about being Mr. Popular, we see he was a straight talker, no filler words or smooth talking with John; and he wasn’t afraid to offend people to tell them the truth.
We hear John tell his listeners in verse 8, “if you are repentant, produce the appropriate fruit.” That is, if you repent, then there must be something to show for it. It MUST affect the way you live.
It might be helpful in this great season of our Church, to ask ourselves the question, what fruit are we bearing in this Advent season?
“producing the appropriate fruit” means that our lives reflect a lifestyle, action, and choice pattern which are consistent with having repented of sin – that is – with having made a declaration against the destructive things of this world in favour of aligning ourselves with the things of the Kingdom of God.
We are all being called to bear fruits that are worthy of the gift of repentance. The New Living Translation of the Bible breaks it down a little more for us, it says “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones.” (Luke 3:8)
John the Baptist is telling us to live in such a manner befitting of having repented. Repentance is an integral part of the Christian life. Repentance is not a onetime act of confession or a onetime recital of a certain prayer or creedal statement.
Repentance is the attitude of the heart, which is thankful for the grace of God…
The season of Advent marks a time of preparation and hope for the coming of Christ. So how do we prepare? Well John has laid the foundation for us. One of the first steps will be to repent. And because God isn’t through with any of us, we might have to do it several times a day.
Preparation takes various forms. Some include praying, staying grounded in the Word of God because you can’t live by it if you don’t know it. One cannot practice what’s not embedded in them.
The second thing we can learn from John – is to seek God. None of us are entitled to God’s grace, favour and mercy. John reminds us ever so profoundly that God could chose whomever God wants.
We heard in last week’s gospel “That two men will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. And we are charged to keep awake for we do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” If we are seeking God daily, we don’t have to worry.
Preparation and continuously seeking God helps with the third thing John teaches us today and that is humility. John remained humble in his ministry recognizing that he was not Jesus; and that his purpose was significant and different from that of Jesus. John exemplifies humility in the leadership he provided as Jesus’ forerunner.
When we prepare ourselves and consistently seek God daily we live lives that reflect a humble attitude of gratefulness to God for God’s love and mercy. And we become more able to bear fruit for the Kingdom of God!
We at the penitential rite at the beginning of Mass or in the confessional are each offered an opportunity to repent. We are offered the chance to turn back from those thoughts and habits and actions that take us out of step with God. We are invited to move back again in harmony with God’s vision for us and for our world as we remember the saviour who died for our sins and rose again and will come again.
One carol sings, “Love Came Down at Christmas.” Along with that love comes the kingdom of heaven. Both are joined together as our God turns toward His creation and His people. Now, the season of fruitfulness is at hand.
The Holy Father, Pope Francis, put it this way: “Before all else, the Gospel invites us to respond to the God of love who saves us, to seek God in others and to go forth from ourselves to seek the good of others.” The Baptist spoke of this mystery as producing good fruit as evidence of our repentance. It is our God who has turned toward us in Emmanuel; now we can bear the good fruit that is a sign of the kingdom of heaven come near. Come and heal us and forgive us, and nurture us with the Bread of Life, that our lives and all your Church may bear those good fruits of your eternal love.