Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand: A Christian Perspective

Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at Hand:  A Christian Perspective
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Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes

The Reverend Dr. Morar Murray-Hayes is the Minister of Maple Grove United Church, and is a member of the Interfaith Councill of Halton. A chatty extrovert with a conversational preaching style, a multi-tasker who is a “multi-worrier” when it comes to caring about people’s problems, and a leader who treasures teaming with the lay people in her church, Morar says that at Maple Grove she has experienced “a deeper level of ministry than I thought possible.” Anyone who has personally received Morar’s deeply compassionate caring and wise counsel will testify to what an inspirational, healing and encouraging ministry it is.

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Just as Jesus began preaching by saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” John the Baptist began his ministry of preaching with the same words: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” So John has earned his place in our attention during Advent.

Repent: Turn Away!

Repentance is more than saying, “I’m sorry,” for past sins, more than regret or remorse. For John, repentance is a turning away from the past way of life and the beginning of a new one.

What is the kingdom of heaven that John points to?

The kingdom of heaven is justice, equity, peace: it is social, political, economic, relational and individual. The kingdom of heaven affects the cosmos and the individual heart.

What does the kingdom being ‘At Hand’ mean?

It seems that the people of John’s and Jesus’ time couldn’t recognize the time for faith when the kingdom of heaven was ‘at hand.’

  • at hand: soon or immanent. If the kingdom of God is coming soon — Here the message is clearly, things have to change and they have to change now.
  • It can also be geographical. The kingdom of God is near you. Right here!

If John was calling people to repent because the kingdom of heaven was near, then it must have been because people didn’t act like the kingdom of God was near. They must have been misbehaving in some significant ways if both John and Jesus arrived on the scene and the first word out of their mouths is “Repent!”

Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is within you — among you.’ Luke 17.20-21.

So it’s even more shocking to think, that even though the kingdom was right there — within and among them, that people didn’t notice and kept on misbehaving.

What does Repentance mean for us?

Repentance means allowing God into every part of our lives — our personal, social, economic, political lives.

Most of us fall down here. We allow God into parts of our lives.

Think about those folk who achieve in one aspect of their lives, only to be brought low because of some other aspect of their lives. There are so many, they are legion.

  • Some of us let God into our prayer lives, but resist God’s presence in our relationships,
  • or into our relationships, but not into our economic or work lives.
  • Some of us believe in social justice, but leave God out of our personal lives. We insist that governments and political parties be reformed. But it rarely strikes us that we may be as unjust in our own relationships as the principalities and powers are in theirs.

Everything from solitude to social justice is essential in our relationship to God.

When we open ourselves fully to repentance, well, the possibilities are endless.

What is the kingdom of heaven for us?

If we restrict the entry of God into our lives, we cannot help but limit the power of God’s grace.

The coming of Christ is an event for all creation. It is global, national, for all races and creeds; it’s relational and personal.

When we are fully open, we welcome God to embrace all of us, every part of us.

We Christians must be about the reform of our nations as well as of ourselves, families, church, communities.

What does ‘At Hand’ mean for us?

You cannot expect to see the kingdom of heaven coming. The kingdom of God is within you. The kingdom of heaven is within and among you.

Listening to John the Baptist at this time of year calls us back to God and to living a life that is aware of the kingdom of heaven within and among us, permeating the whole of life, and not just a part.

And when you can see the kingdom of heaven present even in the darkest holes of life, then God will work a great work in you.

Nelson Mandela is one who let God into every corner of his life — — perhaps that openness is what gave him such possibility when in prison it was hardest to see how the kingdom of heaven could possibly be at hand. A lifelong Methodist, when in prison Mandela opened himself in every way he could to the kingdom of heaven within himself and in his relationships with guards, other prisoners and the great thinkers of all times. He attended all the worship services, no matter what denomination — hungry to open himself to the kingdom wherever he might find it.

And his openness to repentance moved him from a supporter of violent response to oppression to the power of the prisoner whose faith could not be shackled and transformed the world.

“You will achieve more in this world through acts of mercy than you will through acts of retribution.” he wrote. There is a repentant heart!

John the Baptist reminds us that Advent is a time of multiple preparations

  • for a baby to be born;
  • for a person to begin his ministry; and
  • for Jesus, crucified and resurrected, to return.

We have some spiritual preparations to do so that when he arrives, we will be ready. Repentance prepares our hearts to recognize the kingdom when we see it and to work out of that kingdom so our lives are transformed.

John challenges us to ask ourselves, “in what way are we preparing the way of the Lord, and making straight a path for our God in our own and other’s lives?”

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