“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he [ John the Baptist] said to them ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.’” Matthew 3:7-8 NIV
On the second Sunday in Advent, the preacher at church reminded me that there are two things we hear every year around this time in the lectionary: repent, and bear good fruit. The simplicity of this Advent command reminds us that between his first and second coming, you and I are called to repent and bear good fruit, not only in Advent but all year long, every day.
But what does that actually look like? In my own journey to greater health physically, emotionally, and spiritually, I’ve been arrested by three simple words capturing the essence of this command: stop, challenge, and choose.
Stop. The word for repentance, metanoia, means “to change your mind” and therefore implies a change in the direction of your life. If you don’t slow down or even stop altogether when needed, you can’t change directions easily. Turning around at high speeds makes you likely to crash. The Advent call to repentance reminds us to slow down as we follow Jesus. This means walking at His pace! Especially for those of us in ministry, it means going at about 3 miles per hour instead of 90. For all of us, it means that we slow down or stop long enough to genuinely face the habits, hurts, and hang ups separating us from Christ and his Kingdom, to see where Jesus is and wants us to be, and then to change directions if we need to.
But that’s only the beginning.
Challenge. John the Baptist’s challenge was painfully blunt. “You brood of vipers,” he started off. How honest are we willing to be as we stand before the cross of Christ and examine our hearts and habits to see what is not pleasing to God or good for our souls? In my own journey, I’ve had to stop and challenge my habits of over-consumption, especially with food, that were compromising God’s call on my life. I had to become brutally honest about what was in our pantry and refrigerator and even discard what wasn’t healthy. God is challenging us this Advent to do a thorough “housecleaning” of our thoughts, our habits, and our hearts, so that we may do the final thing that separates mere remorse from genuine repentance.
Choose. God says “Today I have given you the choice between life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.” (Deut. 31:19 NLT). Joshua said “Choose this day whom you shall serve, but as for me and my house, we shall choose the LORD. “ (Joshua 24:15). Elijah said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him…” (I Ki. 18:21 NIV). Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” (John 14:6). The Bible is full of choices we can’t avoid, but they come with gracious promises, as we see in the readings for the third week of Advent. There is a highway of holiness that God has miraculously placed in the desert for those he has and will redeem (Isaiah 35:1-10). God promises strength, healing, rescue, and everlasting joy to those who choose this highway: “Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” (35:10) And along the highway made by Jesus Christ there is even more fruit than the way walked by the Old Covenant people of God. Walking on this way, we are given the power of the Holy Spirit to produce fruit in keeping with repentance, as John preached.
What “highway” is God calling you to choose this day in his extraordinary grace? Have you stopped long enough to see it or slowed down enough to switch paths if you need to? Have you challenged the hurts, habits, and hang-ups that prevent you from taking it?
In a season of our own transitions, the American Anglican Council has been able to contemplate where we’ve been and where we’re going. We’ve had an astonishing year. In 2019 we launched new Clergy Leadership Training Institutes here in North America, raised up leaders to mediate conflicts within the church, launched an Anglican Lawyers Network, and provided resources to multiple congregations and leaders for church revitalization. We have developed and equipped young Anglican leaders from Uganda to Bangkok to Brazil. We have helped create the very structures for a new Biblically faithful Anglican “communion within the Communion” in the Cairo Covenant.
In the process, we have reported an astonishing amount of news to you and at a pace we’ve had difficulty maintaining. Therefore, during this season of change, we’ve decided to lesson our pace and provide all who have subscribed to our domestic and global newsletters with one weekly mailing every Tuesday, reducing the amount of email to your inbox but unifying and streamlining the way you receive news from around the Anglican world. We will alternate between a Domestic Report one week and an International Report the next. Canon Mark Eldredge and I will spend time reflecting on domestic news, so that we can provide a gracious, hope-filled Kingdom perspective on what is happening here. New global voices will be joining us for our international updates to help put the worldwide news in perspective.
It’s all part of an Advent rhythm God is calling us to embrace: to stop (or at least slow down!), challenge, and choose, doing so under the gracious and transforming love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!
With Advent blessings to our coming King,
~Phil Ashey +