Advent 2-Enter: John the Baptist. For those who thought that December was only about Baby Jesus, meek and mild, they never read the lectionary. To get to Christmas Eve, you have to encounter Jesus’ cousin, usually twice in December, and you get to meet up with him again on the Sunday after the Epiphany when it is the Baptizer’s Sunday. So it is Advent–last Sunday the Gospel told us to -“Keep Awake!”–this Sunday we hear the word: “Prepare the Way!”
- On this Sunday, the Old Testament Lesson and the Gospel lesson are perfectly matched. Isaiah’s prophecy of Israel’s return to the Promised Land is poetic and poignant. It is the text for one of my favorite pieces in Handel’s Messiah. “Comfort, O Comfort my people says your God.” Then there is that message that we hear repeated in Mark: “A voice cries out:”In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD,make straight in the desert a highway for our God.Every valley shall be lifted up,and every mountain and hill be made low;the uneven ground shall become level,and the rough places a plain.” The prophet preaches the coming of a savior who leads with a strong arm and power and yet is like a shepherd who gently leads the sheep. It is a powerful word for a people in great need in the 6th century BC, it is a powerful word for a people who are in great need in the 21st century AD, and who await the coming of the Shepherd/King.
- The Psalm deserves to be sung in some form or fashion. The words that appear in the song of the ancients include: Grace, Forgiveness, Faith, Peace, Salvation, Mercy, Truth and Righteousness. For just a few verses, the Psalm is rich. It shares the sentiments of the coming savior in Isaiah.
- The Epistle Lesson from the letter of Peter is also a word of preparation–prepare for the coming of the Lord–prepare for God to fulfill God’s promises–prepare for things being made new. Don’t give up on God who keeps different time than we do (a thousand years is like a day)–look at God’s patience as something good for you. God is giving us time to prepare–use it.
- It is significant that Mark’s Gospel starts with the story of John the Baptist rather than Jesus’ birth narrative. For Mark, Jesus’ baptism and ministry are a priority. The birth narrative, as good as it is, is not as important to this Gospel writer as the life and ministry of Jesus. The Gospel says it very quickly and concisely at the beginning–Jesus is coming, get ready–prepare the way! Prepare the way for the promises of God, that go back deep in our history, to come to fruition.
- John is one of those truth-tellers who offends our sensibilities. We don’t especially like hearing a word from from folks who don’t look like us. They are not dressed correctly, wear their hair correctly, eat like us, act like us. (I am reminded that as I write this there is a collection of folks occupying Wall Street who are being dismissed for some of the same reasons we would dismiss John the Baptist). Words of truth come from a variety of sources, we should be careful about dismissing folks who are different–sometimes they hit the nail on the head.
- Here’s an easy exercise: watch the movie: The Matrix (1999) Morpheus recognizes (and wonders about) Neo as “the one who is to come.” (See reviewby John D. Banks at Hollywood Jesus.)
- Bring some humor to a serious Sunday–Rumors: Preaching Helps for Preachers with a Sense of Humor
- You can’t go wrong with this collect for the day: Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen