We are still in the wilderness, still confronting the depth of our sin and failure, but today, with Isaiah’s prophecy and the appearance of John the Baptist, a new note is sounded. We repent, not in order to win God’s forgiveness but because we have already been forgiven. That is the great comforting (= strengthening) that Isaiah proclaims in chapter 40; that John proclaims with such hope and joy when he announces the coming of the Messiah (cf Mark 1.1-8); that is what we look forward to eternally (2 Peter 3.8-14). It is the source of our Advent joy, but it is a joy we must share with others.
Very often our repentance is a bit piecemeal. We want to be at rights with God, but there are a few things we do not want to deal with just yet. Forgiveness of x or y may be one of them. We wish them well in a vague sort of way but, if we’re honest, we’ve not really forgiven: we’ve just put them on probation. That is not God’s way, and it ought not to be ours, either. True repentance means not only welcoming God’s forgiveness of ourselves but welcoming the forgiveness of others also, setting them free, and incidentally, setting ourselves free, too. Unforgiveness chains us to an imperfect past, whether as the one who refuses to forgive or as the one who is unforgiven. Forgiveness opens both parties up to the wonder of God’s love and holiness, making us just a little bit more like him. Isn’t that a comforting and joyful thought to inspire us on this Second Sunday of Advent?