The Gospel reading for the Sunday after Theophany ends: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” Jesus’ audience didn’t understand that so well in those days, maybe we don’t understand it even now after two thousand years.
When the LORD is saying: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” He is saying, “turn around.” It seems to me that every time people hear the word “repent,” they think it means that we are supposed to manufacture some kind of an emotional reaction with tears and loathing. For sure tears come but if we don’t have them we don’t have them. Repentance has to do with turning about from the darkness towards the light, away from selfishness towards selflessness, away from death towards life. When this turning about takes place, it is often characterized by more than shame. To repent is to respond with joy. Yes, there’s some sadness, regret about things done, said and thought.
The picture of repentance we need to have in mind is the one that Jesus gave us in the Prodigal Son. Jesus tells the story about a son that, essentially, wished his father dead by taking his inheritance early. One of the best parts of the story (and the best part of our own story) is when the son “came to himself.” He woke up and I will go all in and say that the prodigal son wasn’t dragging his heals to return to Father. He probably left immediately. Returning to the Father was the best idea he ever had. It was probably very energizing to realize that he had a home and even though he had drifted very far away he knew that the Father was good and would take him back no matter where he had gone or what he done. The worst-case scenario, being a hired servant, was better than his life without the Father.
To repent is to have hope that the Father is good. To repent is to wake up. To repent is to feel joy for the first time in a long time. To repent is to believe.