“He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” (Luke 3:3)
He changed his mind. It was a good thing that he did. If he didn’t change his mind about what he was doing, all would be lost. Life would not be worth living. But he changed his mind and life was new and fresh for him.
Hollywood actor, Dennis Quaid, said he used two grams of cocaine a day in the 1980’s. Then in order to come down from this high he said that he used alcohol. Now drugs and alcohol are a dangerous combination. Quaid was hooked, addicted, and it became a daily habit.
But what led Quaid to change his mind? He said that he had one of those white light experiences where he saw himself dead and lost everything he had worked for. That fear of death and that loss of material goods was enough to wake him up from his drug habit. It was enough to change his mind about doing drugs. When that white light experience happened, Quaid put himself in drug rehabilitation. Quaid changed his mind. (See Fox News for more on Quaid.)
Isn’t it difficult to change our minds? If we are Tennessee Vols fans, wouldn’t it be difficult to change our minds and root for the Crimson Tide? If we are Democrats, wouldn’t it be difficult to change our minds and join up with the Republican party? And since we are Christians, wouldn’t it be difficult to change our minds and practice an Eastern religion like Hinduism or Buddhism?
This is all to say that changing our minds, our opinions, our direction in life is not an easy thing to do. It takes a mind-blowing, earth-shattering, shaking the foundations of our lives to do so.
But this shaking up of one’s life in a religious sense was at the heart of John the Baptist’s preaching. He called people to change their minds or to repent. In today’s gospel reading, St. Luke wrote this about John, “He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin.” (Luke 3:3)
Repentance literally means to change one’s mind. It means to turn around and go in another direction. It means to turn back. It means to turn from sin and turn to God. Another translation of that word repentance is conversion.
So when John the Baptist preached to the folks in their villages near the Jordan River, he called them to repent, that is, to change their minds, to turn their lives around, or be converted by letting go of sin and turning to a gracious God.
But what would be a sign of that change or conversion? It would be baptism. It would be a washing in the Jordan River to signify that one was clean spiritually by confessing their sins and holding onto God’s forgiveness.
Now a washing with water in a religious ceremony was not unfamiliar to the Jews. They had practiced ritual washings for centuries. So when John preached about baptism or a washing in a religious sense, that clicked in the mind of the Jews. (See Sacra Pagina, the Gospel of Luke by Luke Timothy Johnson, The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 1991 for a discussion of Luke 3.)
But there was something more to John’s baptism. As people were baptized, as they repented, and as their sins were forgiven by God, it was a moment of preparation. It was a moment to prepare for the One to come.
Who was that One to come? It was none other than John’s cousin, Jesus. He was the Messiah. He was the anointed one. He was the one promised to save Israel and all people from their sins. In fact, John said that Jesus would come and baptize with the Holy Spirit. (Luke 3:16)
Since it is so difficult for us to change our minds with our own power or strength, Christ gives us the Holy Spirit. With the Holy Spirit we are led to change our minds, that is, to let go of sin and hold onto Christ’s promise of forgiveness and new life. In fact, in his catechism, Martin Luther wrote that we cannot even believe in Jesus Christ or come to him by our own power or strength. But it is the Holy Spirit who “calls, gathers, enlightens, makes us holy, and keeps us in the one true faith.”
With the Holy Spirit, we can change our minds about about hating someone who did wrong to us and work toward forgiveness and love. With the Holy Spirit, we can change our minds about being jealous of what our neighbor has that we don’t possess and be kind to our neighbor in need. With the Holy Spirit, we can change our minds and let go of grudges and look forward to reconciliation.
Thank God we are not left to rely on our own strength to turn to God and do good works. We cannot do it all by ourselves. It takes the gift of the Holy Spirit to turn our hearts and minds to repent and live in Christ for new life. It takes the Holy Spirit for us to change our lives to love God and to love our neighbors.
Winston Churchill said, “To change is to improve; to be perfect is to change often” (See keepinsiring.me). With the Holy Spirit washing us clean from sin and coming to us daily, we do indeed change often. With the Holy Spirit stirring us up, we repent and hold onto Christ’s promise of forgiveness each day. We change daily and life is then truly made new. Sin is drowned and we are raised up to new life.
Now that change of mind is something we look forward to every day.
Thanks be to God.