Advent is a season that calls us to repent (which means to “change our understanding) reflecting deeply on our lives and the world. I know from experience that repentance requires such reflection. Thirty-six years ago, I was a young man with a desire to serve God, but I’d never engaged in any meaningful repentance. At the time, I was doing a poor imitation of a missionary in Honduras. Next to Honduras is El Salvador, which was then experiencing a bloody civil war. Many were fleeing their homes and coming to refugee camps across the border in Honduras. I decided to visit one camp to see what was going on. I had no idea what I’d see there. I arrived in the camp right after a slaughter had taken place. Salvadoran Helicopter gunships had crossed the border and fired on the refugee camp. The dead and wounded were all women and children. Those helicopters and the crews that flew them were supplied and trained by my government. My tax dollars had supported the slaughter of women and children. Before that, I’d seen the world only through the lens by which I had grown up. Now, I saw the world differently. I was humiliated. I had to repent. I had to change my whole understanding.
Dom Helder Camara wrote: “I have the impression that God knows the importance of humility. God knows our weakness, our pride, and God purposely sets in our path each day four or five humiliations and in the course of our life, four or five great humiliations. If we do not comprehend them, if we do not accept them, it is a serious matter. But if we accept them, then we learn the generosity of God.”
It’s God’s generosity that allows us to see the world with God’s eyes; to see ourselves and the world in the context of God’s love, mercy, and compassion. Humility, sometimes even humiliation, is the necessary precursor to such sight. As we see the world around us with God’s merciful eyes, a whole new world opens. It humbles us. We learn to confess that we’ve been wrong about how we’ve seen ourselves and the world.
Repentance also helps us to place less importance on the ways we define other people. It demands we begin to see others as sacred creations whom Jesus came to love and save. It brings us to a point where we care less about being right and more about doing right. The more we practice it, the less we care about a person’s political persuasions and the more we care about the fruit produced from that per¬son’s life. The more we practice it, the more we see the world through God’s eyes. That means we’ll be less worried about the earth’s fate. That’s not to say we’ll have a naive worldview. Just because we try to see the world as God sees it doesn’t mean we need to deny reality. God, of course, has never been in denial about the reality of the world. The cross of Jesus is God’s declarative statement that God has accepted the world as it is. And the resurrection of Jesus is God’s clear exclamation that the world (as it is) is unacceptable to God.
Advent calls us to look again at ourselves and the world; to understand that if we believe the world is only the way we have always seen it, then it simply means we have not yet repented. Our repentance requires us to see the world through God’s eyes and that will definitely change us.