I think I’ve said those words at least a few dozen times to family and friends just within the last week. And, I’ve meant them. And I was told “I forgive you.” But often times, while hearing “I forgive you” is much needed and comforting, it’s sometimes a difficult phrase to believe – especially when we know we’ve hurt someone else. How can we be forgiven by simply saying “I screwed up. I’m sorry.”?
We often feel as if we need to do something more than just say those words and mean them. We feel we need to make up for our mistakes. This is even true when we ask for forgiveness from God. We’re told we’re forgiven. And yet, that forgiveness is often difficult for us to believe in, or to hope for. All we did was simply repent.
And yet, that is the key. Repentance. When we repent – when we say that we are sorry, and truly mean it – we are not simply saying “oops, I screwed up” and then go about our lives making the same mistake without a second thought. We are instead changing – we are recognizing that our behavior or action was wrong, and that we should not do it again. Repentance changes us on the inside.
This of course isn’t to say that we won’t repeat the same mistake. And sometimes repeat it several times. But it does mean that we recognize our error and are trying to change that within ourselves, with the help of God. It means we are asking God not only to forgive us, but to help us change that behavior.
In the Gospel of Luke, we’re told that John is preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This is the baptism we have all received. Through this baptism, we understand that we are forgiven for our sins, both past and future. We’re given hope through this baptism of repentance. And this hope is not only for us, but for our world.
This gospel reading continues on by quoting from Isaiah – “every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation.” This text paints a pretty picture in my mind, and yet it is so much more than just a winding road going over hills and valleys. It is so much more fantastic than that.
Through repentance and forgiveness – through us, with God’s help, changing our hearts and actions – we are given the hope that the proud will be humbled and the broken will be lifted up. The winding, crooked, rough ways of our world will be made straight and right.