The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Admit it…John the Baptist scares us a little bit–a wilderness man, a wild evangelist, wearing a suit of camel’s hair and making a meal of locusts and honey. Really? Why couldn’t the messenger have been someone a little more traditional, someone a little more easier to be around? But, then again, have you ever known God to stay within the boundaries that we’ve drawn? Maybe that’s the whole point. I mean, here is a messenger, paving the path, preparing the way for the coming of the Lord. No Mary and Joseph, no baby, no stable, no shepherds, no magi, no angels…just…boom…the One is coming that will baptize you with the Spirit of God…the One is coming who will change your life and change your ways and change the world from what we know it to be…the One is coming who will bring us all into the Reign of God. Hold on…get ready!
The writer of Mark’s Gospel leaves us suspended in time, waiting, rather than living through the whole story together. Many spiritual writers call that a state of liminality, a point of being betwixt and between, the moment between what is and what will be, a place in which the old world is left behind but we’re not sure what the new one looks like just yet. It is a point between two times that intersect and become one. So, are you ready? Well, if you’re not, you need to get that way. Because in this Gospel, the good news has already begun, whether we’re prepared or not.
Throughout this version of the Gospel, there is a sense of urgency, a sort of abruptness, that somehow compels us to get on board with it, to not tarry with things that do not matter and do not prepare us for the coming. The writer of Mark cuts to the chase: humanity has waited and prepared itself for this for centuries. We are reminded of that as the passage pulls in the words of Isaiah, the foretelling of that time when God would come and be among us, when God would come and save us. Now is the time. The Christmas celebration for all its splendor and all its beauty and all its twinkling lights is first and foremost the fulfillment of God’s promise of salvation. This IS the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. This IS the beginning of our story.
But there is another implication here. In this Advent season, as we wait with expectant hope, we are also reminded that our expectations are limited by our own lives. God has so much more in store that what we could ever fathom. Maybe that’s why the writer of Mark quickly takes us to the wilderness and wilds of our lives (and to the bizarre wilderness man!). You see, God will not be plunked down in the middle of the bustling city of Jerusalem. God will not come in the way that we plan or imagine how God will come. Rather, God will emerge in the wilderness of our lives and we will realize that God has been there all along. We do not have to go to Jerusalem or prepare a grand entry to encounter God. God comes to us. We just have to be open to whatever God’s coming is. And we have to be willing to enter a new beginning. What we are living is not the prelude; it’s the beginning of the story.
In this season of Advent, give yourself the gift of the wilderness–those wild and untamed places in your lives where you might just experience the coming of God anew. In other words, all this planning and preparation…forget about it! Just open yourself to the coming of Christ!
Grace and Peace,