Summary: 2nd Sunday of Advent - Repentance
“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God!”
These are the words given to us by God, through the first verse of the Gospel of Mark. In these words the gospel writer clearly prepares us for the story we will encounter throughout this gospel. This is the story of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. All four Gospels begin with some form of set-up. The writers chose very different approaches for their literary introduction.
Isn’t it funny how that happens? We have four writers, looking at one life, yet interpreting the Gospel for us through their personal lens. We could take any four of you, sit the quartette in front of a mural and ask you to study it for a few minutes and then write down your summery of the painting; and we would likely get four different perspectives. Not right or wrong, just different. One may highlight the use of color, another might comment on the use of lines, another could possibly focus on the details, while the last could see the painting as a whole, taking it all in at once. The varying viewpoints are likely reflective of the variety of personality types, as well as cultural and geographic influences.
The gospel writers similarly described the life of Jesus from their unique perspectives and aimed at a unique audience. Luke aimed his gospel toward gentile Christians, Matthew to Jewish Christians in the region of Palestine, John was given to encourage the Christian community in a time of persecution, and Mark, today’s focus, intends to encourage the Christian community outside of Palestine, those likely suffering persecution under Nero. When we study a Gospel passage understanding this perspective, the writer’s purpose becomes clear.
It is appropriate that we discuss the purpose of the gospels during Advent. Advent is a time of preparation, a time when we put into perspective the importance of Christmas. We have said this before, but don’t you think that we sometimes forget what it means to celebrate Christmas? Sometimes we need a reminder of the importance of this holiday. We need someone to prepare us for the “coming of our Lord”, to remind us of this holy relationship.
David Peterson, former pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Spokane, Washington, told about a time when he was preparing his sermon. His little daughter came in and said, "Daddy, can we play?" He answered, "I’m awfully sorry, Sweetheart, but I’m right in the middle of preparing this sermon. In about an hour I can play." She said, "Okay, when you’re finished, Daddy, I am going to give you a great big hug. He said, “Well, I’ll look forward to that. Thank you very much." She went to the door and (these are his words) “Then she did a U-turn and came back and gave me a chiropractic, bone-breaking hug." David said to her, "Baby, you said you were going to give me a hug after I finished."
She answered, "Daddy, I just wanted you to know what you have to look forward to!"
One meaning of Christmas is that God wants us to know, through this First Coming, what we have to look forward to in the great Second Coming.
Our text today is a clear example of the gospel writer’s attempt to prepare us for the “coming” or “advent” of Christ. Mark uses words like paint on a brush to draw connections between the primary characters, their pre-existing beliefs, and references to scripture.
Let’s look at an interesting pattern in Mark 1:1-9:
In verse 1, we are told that this is the “Beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ.” We will label Jesus references “A”.
Verses 2-3 John is announced as the messenger, quoted from the OT prophets. John, we will label “B”.
Verse 4 John the Baptist appears in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of the repentance of sin ( John – B ).
And in verse 9, Jesus appears on the shores on the Jordon River. “A” again.
We have references to Jesus, John, John, and Jesus…that would be A, B, B, A.
I do not know if the use of this acronym is intentional. However, I do know that it serves as a reminder for me of the connected nature of the ministries of preparing the hearts of the people of God; for the entrance of the Messiah into their lives. When I think of the letters A,B,B,A and say the word Abba, in reference to this text, I see the connections. The message of the gospel announces the reality that God the Father was and is active in preparing God’s people for a closer relationship with God, through the Son – Jesus Christ, and with each other.
Think about this for a minute; can you see this text lived out in the moments when we share together in the sacrament of Holy Baptism? After all, John the “Baptist” is the primary character, baptizing people in the waters of the Jordan, while proclaiming the arrival of one who will baptize in the Holy Spirit. Although this is true enough, I am reminded of the manner in which our church has approached Advent in years past. We, in most cases, focus on the coming of the Christ child (as in Luke and Matthew). We attempt to prepare ourselves as individual disciples, and as a congregation, for the imminent Christmas season. We often compare and contrast scriptures regarding the first coming of our Lord in the birth of the child, with those scriptures that foretell or “predict” the “second coming” of our Lord. We speak of our preparation for the latter, and what we need to do as a church to allow God to use us as tools in preparing his Kingdom. Mark however, does not focus on the Birth of Christ, in fact, he omits it entirely, focusing instead on the preparation duties of John the Baptist, a “voice in the wilderness”.