December 11: Stopping for Directions

MATTHEW 3:1–3

In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”
The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said,
“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
Clear the road for him!’”

Consider This

We’re halfway through our Advent mission, so let’s take a look at our trajectory so far. We remember that Advent breaks into our present darkness with hope from the future, where Jesus will come back to remake the world he created. Until he comes back, we are to live as though it’s already happened, bringing the good news to everyone.

Sounds simple enough. So then why aren’t we there yet?

I think it’s more mission failure. We mean well, and we want to follow Jesus in his mission now. But our sins, brokenness, and distractions keep pushing us off course, leaving us wondering where we’re going.

So what do we do? We begin where the prophet John did when he announced Jesus’ mission with repentance: Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.

Remember, Advent is a season to help us reorient our lives to Jesus, and repentance is where we start. The problem is, many of us have a distorted definition of repentance. We tend to think of it as feeling guilty for what we’ve done, promising not to do it again, and then working hard at behavior management to keep that promise.

We look at repentance as walking away from something, but actually repentance is reorienting us to something. In this case, someone.

John’s idea of repentance would have been formed by its Hebrew word shub, which means, “To turn back and retrace your steps, in order to return by the right way.”

Here’s what that looks like: I have no sense of direction. None. Zero. Even when the sun is setting, I get confused which way is west. I get lost in my own house. It’s even worse on the road, especially if I have to go to a new part of town. “It’s just a couple of minutes north of the mall,” my wife will say.

Okay. I’ve been to the mall . . . I can do that. I pass the mall . . . it’s been two minutes. Or was it two miles? Now it’s been five minutes. Now seven. Now I’m in another town.

Turn around. Go back by the right path.

Wait’that McDonald’s looks familiar. I think I should have turned there. Make another turn. Two minutes. Four. Six. Not it.

Turn around. Go back by the right path.

Once, when driving from Dallas to Tulsa, I made a pit stop halfway through the trip. I got back on the highway and drove for another hour. As I crossed the state line back into Texas, I realized I had turned south instead of north.

Yep . . . one hour in the wrong direction. Turn around. Go back by the right path.

Before the iPhone, I would have stopped at a gas station for directions after the third or fourth U-turn. Now I pull over and try to figure out where the little blue dot on Google Maps says I am. But sometimes I go a while before I realize I’m not where I was intended to be.

I asked my wife how she always knows which way we’re going, can find a new way to get there, and still never get lost. “Easy,” she said, “I just remember which way is north, and then I can tell which roads will go what direction to get me there.”

“I wish I could do that,” I said. She pointed at the little digital compass mounted in my rearview mirror and said I can always start there to reorient myself.

This is why we take a season, not just a day, to prepare for Christ’s return. Because repentance is not about working up more guilt or a redoubling of sin management efforts. Repentance is remembering and reorienting ourselves to the right path, which is Jesus . . . who is the way, the truth, and the life. It’s a constant stopping and turning around on the highway of holiness.
But we can’t do it alone.

Christ was born. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again!


. Achtemeier, ed., The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary.