“Eccentric” means off-centre, unconventional, deviating from normal conduct in peculiar ways. During holiday gatherings, such as Christmas, we sometimes meet some of our more colorful and eccentric relatives.
In one of our Advent texts for Sunday, Dec. 7 (Mark 1:1-8), Jesus’s coming is announced through an eccentric messenger named John the Baptist. John’s dress, hair, and diet are eccentric. So is his favorite abode—the wilderness. And also eccentric is his message about the present world ending, and a new world from God ready to break in, which everyone can be a part of provided they do one eccentric thing—“repent.”
Literally, our word “eccentric” comes from two Greek words, ek-kentros, meaning “out of earth,” or, “not having the earth as the center.” And “repentance” literally means “turn,” like a satellite dish turns to receive signals from deep space. That’s what repentance does. It turns us away from preoccupation with the values of earth, and toward the values of God. Repentance de-centers us from conventional and accepted patterns and values, and re-centers us on the one coming from God, whose narrow way of suffering love is an alternative to the wide self-seeking ways of the world.
To rapt crowds, John the eccentric says: the messenger from God is almost here. Do you want to receive him? If you do, then wake up, sit up, repent, turn around, leave the beaten path, become eccentric, de-center yourselves from earthly things.
What would it mean for you and me to become a little ek-centric this Advent season? To “repent” by de-centering ourselves from the busyness and consumerism all around us, and by doing something unconventional and against the norm this Advent? We need to be a little eccentric, John says, so that when the God-sent one finally comes he can walk right through our door.