Advent 2B Lectionary: Mark 1: 1-8
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way;3the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”…7He 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. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
My television in my living room is in the best place to be able to see it from all parts of the room. But for about thirty minutes of each day, you have to keep changing seats if you want to see the screen. The reason is that the sunlight coming through the window as it begins to break into dusk is just too bright reflecting off of the television screen. You have to move to see it.
The Lectionary year in which we find ourselves takes a lot of readings from the Gospel According to Mark. Now our experience with the other Gospels during this season, leads us to expect either a birth story, as in Matthew and Luke, or a poetic meditation on Jesus’ pre-existence with God, as in John. But not here. The writer of this Gospel gets right to the point, not allowing us to risk drowning and staying in the beauty of the nativity. Here is a messenger, coming to prepare you for what will happen next. 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. It is a shift in the light. And you have to move to see it.
We are left suspended in time between what has been and what is about to be, between the “already” and the “not yet”. The old spiritual writers would call it a state of liminality, betwixt and between. We are living in the Gospel, living in the Good News, and, yet, it looks odd in our current light. So the writer of the Gospel wants to make sure that we actually get it by shifting our light a bit.
See, Jesus did not just bolt out of the blue. Contrary to what some people may think the Good News of Jesus Christ does not replace what came before. It continues it and expounds on it. I don’t know who came up with the notion of an “Old Testament” and a “New Testament” but I don’t think it’s a very good distinction. It implies that we’ve somehow quit using the first one and, at least for most of us, that’s the furthest thing from the truth. The Good News is not the beginning of a new book; it’s the beginning of the fulfillment of what the world was supposed to be all along. I think for us Christians the coming of Jesus is not a “new” way but rather a way of seeing God’s Truth illuminated by a shift in the Light. God and God’s truth remain just as “In the beginning…”. God created the Light. The Light was always there. Maybe we just needed to adjust our sight or move to a different place to actually see it. So, enter John the Baptist…
As it is written….Essentially, the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is everything that came before–all the prophets, all the judges, all the Wisdom, all the kings, Elijah, Moses, Ruth, Jacob, Abraham, Sarai, all the exiles returning home, all the burning bushes and parting waters, all the covenants, all those generations upon generations upon generations of people who wandered in the wilderness. And now…now appearing in the wilderness is this wild, somewhat unkempt, bear of a man who clothes himself in camel’s hair and eats what appears to be whatever crosses his path in the brush. There were certainly those with “proper” upbringing and “acceptable” expression of their religious beliefs that probably would have been a bit embarrassed by the whole display. I mean, maybe it would have gone down a little easier if God had chosen someone a tad bit more “traditional”. (But then, really, was Jesus all that in line with the traditions of the day?) And yet, I’m fascinated with this character of John the Baptist. He knew who he was. He knew his place. He was called to prepare the way. He was called to BE the voice crying out in the wilderness. He was called to prepare the way of the Lord. He was called to point us toward the changing Light.
Our first inclination may be to shy away or shield our eyes because, well, it’s pretty bright. And, truthfully, we kind of like the way our lives are going. We like how it feels in our comfy chair. It’s just that we can’t really see from there. And this is serious business. It is for this that we’ve waited for centuries. It is for this that we as a human race have endured exile and heartache and the pains of loneliness as we wandered in the wilderness. It is for this moment that is just about to happen. The image is becoming clearer. But we have to begin to adjust the way we see. God is on the threshold of our lives and we have begun to hear the faint voices of angels as our eternity begins. But there is work still to do. There are still hungry to feed; there are still lost to find; and there is still peace to bring. But it is beginning. It is coming to be. And the Light is changing. And now WE’RE supposed to be the voice crying out in the wilderness. It’s time for us to move.
“We have become so accustomed to the idea of divine love and of God’s coming at Christmas that we no longer feel the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us. We are indifferent to the message, taking only the pleasant and agreeable out of it [stories of babies and mangers and shepherds and angels] and forgetting the serious aspect, that the God of the world draws near to the people of our little earth and lays claim to us. The coming of God is truly not only glad tidings, but first of all frightening news for everyone who has a conscience…We are no longer alone; God is with us.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
Grace and Peace,