Mark 1. 1-8
Today is the second Sunday in Advent, Peace Sunday, it is the second week of the Christian year which began last Sunday. Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of Christ and has been celebrated in the church since the 4th century. It is a time of preparation and anticipation. It is a time to open our hearts and imagine the possibilities of a renewed relationship with Christ. It is a time to dream of what can be for us as individual Christians, as families, as a congregation, and as the Body of Christ.
I invite you to now pick up a Bible and turn to the first chapter of Mark.
This is not the gospel story we read on Christmas Eve. It is not the gospel story authors use to create children’s Christmas books. It was not part of the Youth Drama last week. Where are the angels, the shepherds, the manger, Mary’s song?
Matthew’s gospel gives us an account of Jesus’ birth from the perspective of Joseph. Joseph was engaged, found out his fiancé was pregnant, was visited by an angel in a dream, he took Mary as his wife, and when she gave birth to a son he named him Jesus.
Luke also includes the conception and pregnancy from Mary’s perspective. The angel comes to her and tells her what will happen and she accepts. She goes to visit her relative Elizabeth and sings the Magnificat. Jesus birth story in chapter 2 includes: no room in the inn, the manger and a visit by shepherds.
John’s gospel starts at the beginning of time but Jesus arrives on the scene as an adult coming toward John the Baptist as he was baptizing at the Jordan River. No infant Jesus or angels in John’s gospel either.
Each gospel gives us a different perspective of Christ. Each helps us build a more complete picture and understanding of our Lord. Each gospel writer had different ideas about what was important to communicate to the world. But it very interesting that while only 2 of the 4 gospels tell the Christmas story, all 4 of them include John the Baptist. John the Baptist is a very important part of Christ’s story.
Mark begins with: “The beginning of the good news.” The beginning of the good news and good news means gospel. Mark was the first to write a story of Jesus. He was the first to call it the good news of Jesus Christ. He was the only one to name it, “Gospel.” But we have come to know all four accounts including Matthew, Luke and John also as Gospel, as Good News.
Mark starts his Gospel by looking back hundreds of years to the prophets Isaiah and Malachi and by pointing to Moses. The act of Jesus’ birth did not institute Christianity. It was not as if there was nothing and then there was Jesus. Jesus was born into a story that started long before his birth, he was born into an ancient religion, into a family with a long line of ancestors, into a community and world with a long history of destruction and building, of violence and of peace.
So before Mark introduces the Prince of Peace, he turns to look back at some of the preparations that took place. I invite you now to also look back with me in the Old Testament, to the Prophet Isaiah, chapter 40. 1-5.
It is believed that these words of comfort and hope were written among the Jewish deportees in Babylon after they were forced from their homes and community in Jerusalem. Isaiah imagined for the broken and hurting community a nation restored, a city rebuilt, and a people reunited in peace. For the prophet, the people’s sin did not explain the level of suffering and disaster they had endured. “Comfort, comfort my people.” God is speaking through Isaiah saying, Take care of my people who have suffered double for their sins. Speak tenderly to my people. Cry to my people that their penalty is paid, their suffering is over, peace is theirs now. “Comfort, comfort my people.”
I have heard these words in a new way this week as my heart has been heavy for my black brothers and sisters who have paid more than double for their sins. I have heard these words as if they were being spoken by God to the communities of Ferguson, New York, Phoenix and Cleveland. I have heard these words knowing the situations in which we find ourselves all over this nation and the world can only be resolved with the guidance and wisdom of Christ Jesus, the Prince of Peace, on whom we wait with great anticipation. —Isaiah continued…“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord…, make a straight highway, make level the uneven ground…, because the Glory of the Lord shall be revealed and ALL people shall see it together.” Get ready! He is not going to baptize with water, he is going to baptize with the Holy Spirit. —
In our text today, John appeared in the wilderness. Just appeared – “Shazam!” A more complete picture is given to us by the other gospel writers – that his parents were elderly. His father was a priest named Zechariah and his mother, Elizabeth, was related to Mary. That an angel reported to his father that he would have a son and should call him John. But Zechariah’s did not believe and so his ability to speak was taken from him until John was born.
But in Mark – John simply appeared — in the wilderness wearing a camel hair garment with a leather belt and eating locusts and honey. He was dressed like some prophet of old. As John spoke of the coming of Christ, he reminded the people through his clothing and lifestyle of the teachings of the prophets of ancient times. Even as people flocked to him from the whole Judean countryside and all of Jerusalem, he did not point to himself, he did not try to take any credit or glory. As he prepared the way for the Messiah, he pointed behind him to those who also prepared the way. As he prepared the people for “the one who is more powerful, whose sandals he was not worthy to untie,” he also reminded the people from where they had come.
We need John the Baptists in the world today. We need people who always point us toward Christ with their words and with their lives while at the same time reminding us of where we have come and who has come before us. We need John the Baptists in the world today. We need to BE John the Baptists in our world today.
As we look with our daughters to a time when there will be no sexism; then they will not have to endure demeaning words or treatment because they are female, we must lift up the women in the past who marched and protested, spoke out and were arrested so that today women have opportunities they could only dream of.
As we look with our family and friends of color to a time when there will be no racism; where they will not have to endure a system of injustice, we also must remember great black leaders of the past who marched and protested, prayed, spoke out and were arrested so that it is possible today for a black man to be the President.
As we look with our family and friends who are gay or lesbian to a time when there will be no discrimination against gay people; we also remember the gay men and lesbian women of the past who spoke out and marched and suffered so that today it is possible to be a gay NFL player or mayor or actor or singer.
We must stand with and for our family and friends who suffer injustice and oppression looking forward to the kingdom of God – where all people are free, living in peace, surrounded by God’s love. We must prepare the way, we must level the mountains and fill in the valleys so that all people have the same path to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
We must be John the Baptists – willing to go to the desert places in the world – to uncomfortable places, marching and speaking and standing for peace in a violent world. We must be John the Baptists who speak words of hope in hopeless situations. We must be John the Baptists because we already know the Lord – we already know Christ – we already have salvation and hope and peace that we carry in our hearts.
God is calling us to be John the Baptists in the world today – to point the people in our family and in our community toward Christ – toward the one whose sandals we are not worthy to untie. God is calling us to be John the Baptists – to remind the people how far we have come and all the work that has already be done by those who have gone before. God is calling us to be John the Baptists, to testify to the light, so that all might believe through us. God is calling us to be John the Baptists, each in our own way, using our gifts, seeking and reflecting God’s spirit in our every word and action.
God is calling us to be John the Baptists to prepare the world for Jesus – the one who was born in a barn and laid in a feeding trough; for Jesus – the one who loved and healed lepers and demoniacs; for Jesus – the one who ate with tax collectors and sinners; Jesus – the one who was out in the streets and among the people and who then died on a cross among lowly criminals. Jesus is the one we follow – the one we worship and he was never about sitting by while healing and peace and justice was needed. The one we worship calls us out of our warm homes with wonderful smells to stand with the broken and the suffering and to bring comfort – to bring comfort and hope.
Advent is here – Christ the Lord IS coming. Let us prepare the way by raising up the valleys, by bringing down the mountains, by making the path through the deserts straight – so that all of God’s people can walk in peace. Advent is here – Christ will come bringing the power of the Holy Spirit. Advent is here and Christ is coming – let us prepare the way for the Lord.