“Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.”
I’m indebted to preacher and pastor Rob Bell for a fuller understanding of the meaning of “repent.” For a few decades now we’ve all been trying to rescue this word from it’s typical meanings of ‘feel bad, very, very bad,’ and bring it back it’s historical and etymological meaning of ‘turn around.’
Rob Bell has in various places taken the time to put this word in, what I think may be, it’s correct context: the language of exile.
The story of the Bible is the constant story of exile and homecoming. From the day we were kicked out of Eden, we were cast into exile. Then we were kicked out of ‘East of Eden.’ Then we were scattered from Babel. Then off to Egypt. Then off to Babylon.
Woven into the geographic exiles are the strains of spiritual and moral exiles.
The People of God are always going astray. Geographically and figuratively.
And, the call of the scriptures – the call of God – is always: Repent. Turn around. Come home.
It’s what Israel did when led by Moses through the Red Sea and the wilderness. They went home.
It’s what the great city of Nineveh did when Jonah preached the shortest sermon in the history of preaching. They returned to God.
It’s what the Prodigal Son did. He repented. He turned back. He went home.
Thus, when Jesus begins his preaching career, he summons the language of exile, and tells his people, the People of God, to “come home.”
Why? Because the Kingdom of God is near.
What does that have to do with anything?
The Kingdom of God IS our home.
If we’re honest with ourselves, we really don’t like to think of God and Heaven being close. We don’t like it being all that far away either, but we like to keep Heaven at arm’s length. We like to keep God at arms length.
It’s why when people curse around me they feel the need to apologize. They think they’ve just sinned a little too close to someone they think is closer to God than they are.
(Oh, boy. I must put on a good show!)
It’s why when people come into church after a long time away they make jokes about the roof caving in, or lightening striking. They think they’ve crossed a holy barrier, and gotten closer than maybe they should be.
I think it’s one of the reasons why we like Christmas – because Jesus is just a little cute baby. The little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes.
AND he isn’t asking us to DO anything either. And that’s nice.
I think that if we thought about it, the two most comfortable days of the church year are Christmas and Holy Saturday.
Because on those two days Jesus is out-of-reach. He’s either a powerless infant, or dead in a tomb.
Either way, on those two days we’re ‘safe.’
But, Jesus’ proclamation is “it’s close.” God is close. He’s with us always, even to the end of the age.
If we could only get our heads around the fact that he’s our HOME, turning around, repenting, would be so much more an event of joy.
For repenting is our homecoming.