A new way of thinking

There is one line that is central to the three rich readings we have today, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is close at hand.’ Don’t let this familiar sentence slip away. Try to tease it out. What is it saying? All three readings huddle round it and support it.


First, the kingdom of heaven is something new. Before John the Baptist, the Jews thought of ‘kingdom’ in terms of the restored kingdom of David and Solomon. ‘Make Israel Great Again’ might have been their slogan. But Isaiah doesn’t buy that. For him the kingdom is about truth, integrity and justice, about ‘not judging by appearances or hearsay’.  And it is just around the corner if we grasp the moment. And he gives this poetic fable about the lion and the ox, tsuro and gudo, Jew and gentile; they no longer compete but feed and lie down together.

This is the vision too of Paul. He says we should never give up, never lose hope, that this vision of truth and integrity will come true; the patriarchs and the pagans will share the same inheritance.

Then we come to the gospel. All the drama – ‘you brood of vipers … the axe is laid to the roots of the tree’ – is an explosive warning about something new. It is good news but people need to be shaken up before they can receive good news. Someone once said, ‘people can handle bad news, they are used to it. Good news is much more difficult to receive.’ Well, the good news is about the kingdom and it does not make the headlines. People yawn and move on.

But, actually, the joy of our vocation as Christians is that we are building a new world through all the actions of creativity and kindness that we do each day. God is doing it and we are doing it. We are doing it together. He takes our water and transforms it to wine.

Finally, the word ‘repent’. What does that mean? Repent of our sins? Well, maybe, but that is not the main meaning. It comes from a Greek word needing five English words to translate it: ‘Change your way of thinking’. Change how you see people and things! If before you are self-centred, open up to others. If you look down on the poor, the handicapped, the migrant, any person who is ‘different’, change how you see them.

When we all do that the kingdom of heaven will have arrived.

4 December 2022   Advent 2A     Is 11:1-10   Rom 15:4-9     Matt 3:1-12

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