Summary: God will lead us through the deserts and wilderness of life. He will reveal his glory to us during the journey. His power will be felt where we are most vulnerable.
It was the day after Christmas. A church minister was looking at the nativity scene outside of his church when he noticed that the baby Jesus was missing from the figures. He turned toward the church to call the police when he saw a little boy with a red wagon, and in the wagon was the figure of the baby Jesus. The minister walked up to the boy and said, “Where did you get the baby?” The boy replied, “I got him from the church.”
“And why did you take him?” the minster asked.
The little boy said with a sheepish smile, “Well, about a week before Christmas I prayed to little Lord Jesus. I told him if he would bring me a red wagon for Christmas, I would give him a ride around the block in it.”
We are well into the season of Advent, a time to remember both Christ’s birth in the stable in Bethlehem on that first Christmas over 2,000 years ago and his Second Coming. This time of remembrance includes a time of preparation. We have to prepare our hearts and minds to receive him. This can be hard to do at this time of the year because we are busy decorating our homes, buying gifts, attending Christmas parties, concerts and pageants and the many other events that are held at this time of year.
We can prepare ourselves by studying God’s Word, especially the story of Christ’s birth. A good place to start is with Mark’s Gospel, especially Mark 1:1-8, which we heard earlier in this morning’s service. Mark gets right to the heart of the matter. His Gospel does not include Jesus’ family tree like the Gospels of Matthew and Luke do. Mark’s Gospel does not even include the stories of Jesus’ birth, the angel Gabriel’s visit to the Virgin Mary, the visit of the Three Wise Men or any of the other stories that are associated with Christmas. Mark begins his Gospel by calling Jesus the Son of God. In fact, this is a frequent theme in Mark’s Gospel. Mark declares both the deity of Jesus and God as his heavenly Father.
In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’ ministry is firmly rooted in the Old Testament. Mark shows that Jesus’ appearance as the long-promised Messiah was long expected in Israel’s history. The reading we heard earlier this morning from Isaiah 40:1-11 prophesied about a messenger who would prepare the way for the Messiah. That messenger was John the Baptist.
John the Baptist had a lot in common with Mark. John also got right to the heart of the matter. There was no extra “fluff” or padding. He saw Jesus as superior to and more worthy than him. John’s followers saw him as great, but John saw himself as not being worthy enough to attend to Jesus’ feet-a task that was dirty according to the culture of that time. John even claimed that Christ’s baptism with the Holy Spirit was superior to John’s baptism with water. Many Old Testament passages refer to the Holy Spirit being poured out like water. Jesus’ baptism supplies us with the power of the Holy Spirit.
John the Baptist accepted his role as the forerunner to Jesus. He did not want the glamour or the self-interest that came with the role as Number One. If this story happened today, we would be shocked because it goes against society’s desire for people to be in the spotlight. John shunned the spotlight by his appearance and location. After all, who wears camel’s hair and a leather belt? Who eats locusts and wild honey? Who preaches in the desert?
John’s style was matched by the substance of his message. He preached social justice and repentance. For example, in Matthew 3:7 John called the Pharisees who came to criticize his preaching a “brood of vipers”. He urged tax collectors to be honest and soldiers to be merciful.
Advent finds us in a different place this year, whether others can tell it or not. Once again we hear the far off voice of John the Baptist reaching out to us, becoming present to us. First, he calls us to repent: think things over; do an inventory of our lives; make the necessary changes that we have been putting off. Like what? Repent from our sins, of course! But also repent from letting God slide to the periphery of our lives; for having made God a second-class citizen in our personal world. Repent from having treated our faith like a routine, an old habit – same old, same old. Repent from habits that hurt others and rob us of full life. Repent from being preoccupied with ourselves and having only a marginal interest in the well-being of others. Repent from a form of despair that says, “I’m too old to change.” “That’s just the way I am.”