Why am I writing about repentance at this late stage of Advent? For three reasons. One is that this time of year is still a penitential season in the Byzantine tradition, notwithstanding the several feasts and mitigations of the fast that make it “lighter” than the Great Fast of Lent. As far as I am aware, the penitential character of Advent in the Latin rite has been quietly suppressed since Vatican II, in favor of a spirit of prayerful waiting—which is important, but one approach need not (and should not) exclude the other.
The second reason is because the one who insisted that we bear fruit that befits repentance was
Let’s get back to the Forerunner. No one could pull the wool over his eyes. He could easily see through the hypocrisy, ostentation, and sham righteousness of the Pharisees and Sadducees, who had decided to come to him for baptism—lest they seem “out of the loop” of the great religious revival John had inaugurated. They were the religious “professionals” after all! But
“We have Abraham as our father,” is a kind of Jewish “once saved, always saved” mentality. They erroneously thought that simply being a blood-member of the chosen people was sufficient for righteousness, just as some Christians erroneously think that a single profession of faith is sufficient for salvation, regardless of the way one lives one’s life. But John makes two essential things perfectly clear: you must repent, and you must prove that your repentance is genuine by living accordingly.
John knew that the interest of the Pharisees in his baptism was merely formal and external. They had to publicly manifest their piety if they were to keep up appearances as the spiritual authorities of
What kind of fruit befits repentance? For starters, go to Galatians 5:22-23 for the fruit of the Spirit. This is essential for any Christian life. Fruit that befits repentance is any sort of virtuous behavior that manifests one’s change of heart, one’s change of direction toward God and the will of God. It proves that one’s Christianity is more than a veneer of Bible jargon or of holier-than-thou snobbery. It is faith working through love, practicing what you preach, living what you believe, manifesting your faith by your works (James 2:18), in short, proving that your repentance is genuine by not continuing in your former sin—let alone justifying it, as people tend to do when they’ve given up the struggle.
So as Christmas approaches, let us examine the extent to which our deeds reflect what we believe and profess. Let us realize that bearing good fruit is not an option if one wishes to “flee from the wrath to come,” to avoid being cut down like a dried-up tree, good for nothing but firewood. In bearing love, joy, peace, and the rest of the fruit of the Spirit, we will have gifts to bring to the newborn King, and He will bless us, seeing that we have done what is true and have come to the Light, that it may clearly be seen that our deeds have been done in God (see John 3:21).