Today’s first reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah continues the central theme of this Advent season, namely, hope. During this time the Assyrians have annihilated all of the area north of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was therefore living in fear and trembling that it should be next. While not pointing to the condemnation of those who contributed to all that suffering – the Assyrians, the kings who led people astray as well as those among the people who followed them –, the prophet gives hope to those who remained faithful to God. He promises them God send them a leader who would lead his people to justice and peace. Their consolation was on the way.
The same message of hope is at the heart of today’s gospel. However, here John the Baptist focuses on the relationship between hope and repentance. Undoubtedly, the Son of God is coming to redeem his people, but repentance is the key to participation in the joys of the kingdom. The kingdom of God is at hand, it depends on us to embrace it or not.
John the Baptist does not just call to repentance understood as simple recognition or acknowledgement of one’s sins and shortcomings. In today’s gospel there are two steps for true repentance: acknowledgement of sins and the implication of this in every day’s life, every tree should bear good fruit. So our hope for redemption and participation in the kingdom that is at hand is a function of deep repentance whose tangible expression is seen in the good fruit we bear. God is sending us a Savior to lead us and to transform our mourning to joy; but before that we are expected to repent, to leave our old ways of life to embrace the true life of the children of God.
Sometimes we think that the call to repentance in today’s gospel pertains only to some extremely bad people. Not at all. To repent means to change positively. If we know we have not been as good as we or God would like us to be, we should do something about it; we decide to make a change. It could be our behavior that needs to be changed or it could be our attitude. We might even not be doing bad things, but it might that we are not doing anything really good either. Look at the image of the tree: it should be cut down if it does not bear good fruit. Repentance tells us therefore that it is not enough to avoid evil to experience the kingdom that is at hand, we have to do good.
And let us continue to pray for one another and for our parish family.