Summary: John the Baptist is an example of what it means to prepare the way for Jesus' return.
Mark 1:1-8 “Preparation”
Our journey through Advent seems to be a sprint. We are already celebrating the Second Sunday in Advent. Last week we focused on Jesus’ promise to come again in order to complete his establishment of the kingdom of God. The key word for last Sunday was the word, “Hope.” This Sunday our focus turns to John the Baptist and the key word is, “Love.” Part of our preparation for Christmas, and for the return of our Lord, Jesus Christ is to be swaddled in God’s love.
A STEADFAST, LONGLASTING LOVE
The writer of Mark proclaims that his written work is, “The Beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The lack of a main verb in the phrase seems to indicate that this is the title of the work, rather than the opening words.
After identifying his purpose to write about the gospel, or good news, of Jesus, he quickly links Jesus with the Old Testament. He quotes from the prophets Isaiah and Malachi. This good news of God’s love expressed in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ and the Son of God is no spur-of-the-moment idea of God’s. It is a continuation of the love of God that is seen in the Old Testament. It was God’s intended plan of action from the beginning of creation.
We see God’s love in his firm but loving actions toward Adam and Eve. The Exodus—and God’s leading his people out of slavery into the Promise Land is another expression of God’s love. The Old Testament is filled with God’s love as God lifts up his people, protects them from their enemies, forgives their foolish infatuations with other gods and idols, and promises to send a Messiah who will establish God’s kingdom on earth.
We see most clearly God’s love in the person of Jesus as Jesus heals the sick, casts out demons, and teaches people about the abundant life they can experience in their relationship with God.
God’s love for his creation doesn’t stop at the last chapter of the book of Revelation. God’s love is seen every day in our lives. True, we sometimes feel abandoned by God. Yet, when we look back on our lives, with the eyes of faith, we can see God’s hand upon us. We realize that God’s love is a steadfast love as seen in the open words to Mark’s gospel.
LOVE IN THE WILDERNESS
A popular oldie song confesses that the singer has, “Looked for love in all of the wrong places.” Many of us would confess to experiencing difficulty in finding love. Mark writes that we discover God’s love in some of the oddest places. Specifically, we experience God’s love in the wilderness. The wilderness is where John the Baptist carries out his ministry. The wilderness was where all of the people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem came to hear John and to be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.
Certainly, the wilderness was where the Israelites experienced God—his provision and protection—as they fled Egypt and immigrated to the Promise Land. Elijah experienced God’s love in the wilderness when he ran to escape the anger of Queen Jezebel, after he killed all of the prophets of Baal. In the gospels, Jesus experiences God’s care when he is led into the wilderness following his baptism.
It is often in the wildernesses of our lives that we poignantly experience the love of God. In our grief God comforts us. We face difficult times and insurmountable circumstances with God’s presence, power, love, faith, and hope.
Even as we rush to prepare for Christmas—purchasing gifts, baking goodies, celebrating with friends and family, and trying to rest for a few moments—we acknowledge that there are areas of our lives that are a wilderness. Sometimes the wildernesses of our lives are frightening. Swaddled in God’s love, though, we realize that we are not alone in the wilderness. God is with us, and we are able to experience his steadfast love for us.
LOVE’S INVITATION TO CHANGE
God loves us where we are and who we are, but invites us to change and become more than we are.
When the people went out and heard John the Baptist, they were invited to change. It was an invitation born out of love. The people may have been content with their lives, but God wanted more for them. God wanted them to experience an abundant life—one that flows from a close relationship with him and being filled and used by the Holy Spirit.
Even in the hectic pace of the Christmas holidays, God invites us to change. God longs for an ever closer relationship with us. The Spirit moves within us and molds us into God’s image. We are empowered for service and enabled to cast our vision beyond ourselves and see the needs of others.