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By Peter J. A. Cook

It is important that we take Advent seriously. It not merely anticipates the first coming of the Christ child. It anticipates also his second coming at the end of the age. Advent is very much about our preparation and amendment of life, in readiness for final judgment.

For me, the Prayer Book preface to Advent sums it up best. Our hope and prayer is that "...when he shall come again in power and great triumph to judge the world, we may without shame or fear rejoice to behold his appearing."

If seasons of the Christian calendar are taken seriously by secular culture it is to commercialize them. Safe to say, we need not fear commercialization of Advent, especially its themes judgment and repentance. Note Barbara Brown Taylor, in Speaking of Sin , on Ash Wednesday: "Hallmark will never spend much money on research and design. There is no apparent danger that repentance will ever catch on with the culture at large, especially since it does not sell all that well in church."

That's true. Many Christians have stopped speaking of sin, judgment and the need for repentance. When they think of God they go straight for grace - forgiveness, maybe later. That's why the parable of the prodigal son is such a favorite. It assures us that no matter what we have done, our heavenly father always stands with arms wide open to receive us.

What we forget is that when we abandon the language of sin, judgment and repentance, we also weaken the language of grace. The full impact of salvation cannot be felt apart from the full realization of what we have been saved from.

When scripture speaks of sin, it goes way beyond occasional rule breaking, the need to rationalize away guilt feelings, or a failure to follow Christ as role model. Guilt is not just about feelings, often it is only too real. We really do need a place called Calvary to lay down the burden called guilt. When thoughtful counseling simply peels back layers of guilt, and attaches labels to them, this does not seem to cut it. Likewise, when wrong choices become enslaving habits.

There is also the commitment that real repentance clearly requires. Sometimes we actually prefer our guilt feelings. Chronic guilt is the price we seem willing to pay in order to avoid change. It is easier to accept from others their sympathy, or even punishment, for the mess we make of life. Far more difficult is it to let another person uphold and mentor us in the hard work of transformation.

Then again, when Jesus came to bring healing to those who were sick, and offer forgiveness for repentance of sin, it was not just so that as individuals we could experience salvation and wholeness of life, it was so that we could be a blessing to others. The gift of forgiveness is merely the prelude to the gift of regeneration. We are to be redeemed, made holy, so that we might serve as priests in God's kingdom. "To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father, to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen." (Rev.1:5b-6)

---The Rev. Dr. Peter J.A. Cook, M.A., is rector of St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church, in Lake Charles in the Diocese of Western Louisiana. He writes occasional Devotionals for VOL. For more of Dr. Cook's devotionals go to: www.virtueonline.org


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