December 12, 2011


Mark 1:1-8 (NIV) 1 The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, 2 as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way” 3 “a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” 4 And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Isaiah 40:1-11 (NIV) 1 Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. 2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her hard service has been completed, that her sin has been paid for, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins. 3 A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.4 Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain. 5 And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken." 6 A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry?” “All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. 7 The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” 9 You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, “Here is your God!” 10 See, the Sovereign LORD comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him. 11 He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.

We have just read how Mark begins his gospel - the good news of Jesus Christ. It is different from Matthew, Luke and John. There is no birth story like in Matthew or Luke. There is no mention of the beginning of time like in John. There is no manger scenes derived from this Gospel. Yet, here in the opening lines of Mark we do have a “birth story” … of sorts. On this second week of Advent, it is good to tell of new beginnings, to tell about a God who breaks into our time and interrupts our regularly scheduled activities. God interrupts our lives with good news, and this is such good news that it shakes the world, turning it right side up and restores it to the proper order under God’s reign. In this Advent season God comes - perhaps not as we expect; perhaps not in the time frame we desire but God comes. And Frankly, I think we need the interruption. I think that we need it desperately.

In the text from Isaiah we read the beautiful and poetic words of the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah is talking to Israel during a time of disaster.In the beginning of the 6th century BCE, Babylon invaded Judah, destroying much of Jerusalem, stripping them of the institutional structures that shaped their lives, destroying their temple, deporting leading citizens, and raising up false God’s. We hear the poetry of Isaiah which emerges in the decades after the invasion, like a healing, life creating song. Isaiah’s words seek to interrupt the disaster and uncertainty and bring back to life a people crushed under a shroud of death. Isaiah imagines a nation restored, a city rebuilt, and a people reunited. At a time when all ways of relating to God had seemed to collapse for Israel, the prophetic word of Isaiah is their anchor. In the midst of the disaster and uncertainty the Word provides comfort, and a promise of hope that though everything else fails, God’s word endures forever, and that God comes to lead them home.

In the gospel message we read the gospel writer Mark describe a, less than poetic, hairy, insect eating, sharp tongued, rough and weathered wilderness man named John the Baptist, crying out in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance and forgiveness of sins. Mark is talking to an audience of first century followers of Jesus who after returning to their homes after being exile, were struggling to survive in the years during or just after the Jewish War, and they were experiencing oppression from Roman occupation. It was as if exile had followed Israel home.

The words that come from John echo those of Isaiah and provide an interruption of “joyful tidings” to a people seeking,...longing…. anxious...for comfort, deliverance, and restoration. Longing for it, to the point of traveling considerable distances, to the wilderness, just to hear the words of John the Baptist, and to experience baptism with water.

Both audiences are experiencing their own exiles.

Are we, today, any different? Are we experiencing our own exile? Are we in captivity….perhaps a cultural captivity? Perhaps a captivity that has, in essence, exiled us from God, in that we have become unconscious to God’s presence? OR a captivity that has raised up other “Gods” that seem to reign in our “empire” - God’s such as, consumerism? Lust for oil? Power? Sex? Are we suffering from oppression? Are we being bent over beneath life’s crushing load? Be that load, disease, domestic violence, discrimination, or economic loss? Is this captivity, this oppression this exile from God leaving our human community fractured, cynical, numb, afraid, and even hopeless?

I recently read on CNN’s homepage an article entitled, "Mourning’ in America: What must be done about a depressed nation." I asked myself, "are we a depressed nation?" The article talked about unemployment rates, soaring government deficits, ballooning national debts, yo yo gas prices, and gridlock in Washington causing America to virtually stall out. Hmmm….I don’t know the answer to whether or not we are a depressed nation. But I do think that we seek comfort...we long for deliverance….and we are just as anxious for restoration as the audiences of the texts above.

We are longing for a Messiah too. So when we hear Isaiah sing “Comfort, O Comfort my people” - these words are for us. When we hear John the Baptist cry out that Jesus will baptize us with the Holy Spirit, forgiving us, giving us new life, promising God’s continual grace-filled presence in our lives...We too will be like the crowds listening to the prophet John, running out to the wilderness, seeking these words of comfort, these words of hope and these words of direction for our future.

We are longing for God’s interruption to our lives and to our world, we pray for God’s interruption to set things right. We pray, “Come Lord Jesus Come”…..and what happens? Just that. God comes. God came in the past, in the history of Israel, and the incarnation of Jesus in the manger. God comes in the present. God comes in the word that is proclaimed each week, and the meal - the meal that offers the assurance of the comfort that breaks into our lives in the body and blood of Christ, given and shed for all. And we have the promise that God will come in the future at the end of all things.

We have a God who interrupts our lives with good news, shaking the world, turning it right side up and restoring it. So what do we do with this Good News? The preaching of John the Baptist calls us to prepare for God. We prepare the way of the Lord. We go from being the recipients of the Word, to messengers, or heralds of the Word - Proclaiming the good news, the message of joy, the words of comfort and the words of assurance to anyone who feels separated or abandoned by God, telling them that God will arrive and will come in power - gentle power. Yes, the Messiah will come, mightier than all, and gentler than all, who will cleanse us with his Holy Spirit. Whatever our circumstances have been or will be, nothing can stop God from restoring us. That promise, steering Israel and the church throughout countless generations, embraces us, too, and will never let go.

(Picture is Baptismal Font - Bethlehem, Palestine)


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