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. (Read the whole passage)
Light two candles to watch for Messiah, let the light banish darkness… or so the song goes.
We are fully half way done the season of Advent with only two weeks to go until Christmas. Just as we begin Advent each year by hearing Jesus’ proclamation about the end of the world, the second Sunday of Advent always introduces us to John the Baptist, and his preaching in the wilderness about the coming of Messiah.
As we begin making our way through Mark’s gospel this church year, it stand in contrast to the other gospels. Unlike the start of Matthew or Luke, Mark’s telling of the incarnation – of Jesus coming into the world – is a little different than what we might expect.
“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
There are no angels, pregnant virgins, shepherds or mangers. There’s no Christmas pageant using Mark’s account. No shepherds in bathrobes awkwardly delivering Mark’s dialogue.
Mark gets straight to the point. Yet, there is a lot being said in the economy of Mark’s words.
The good news starts now. The good news starts with this guy named Jesus. And this guy named Jesus is the son of God.
Then to explain that statement about the good news and Jesus, Mark quotes from the prophet Isaiah. But Mark expects a lot of his readers, and when he quotes from Isaiah, he expects that the first line is enough for us to fill in the rest and get the picture. Fortunately for those of who haven’t memorized the 66 chapters of the book of Isaiah, we read the passage that Mark quotes just a few moments ago.
“Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to her, that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Isaiah 40:1-2)
This passage from Isaiah comes at key moment for the people of Israel. The first 39 chapters told of the story of the exile into the Babylon, when the religious and royal class of Israel was forcibly removed from their home and sent to live in Babylon for generations.
Yet we come into the story precisely a the moment that everything changes. The exile has ended, and Isaiah pleads with God to be gentle with God’s weary people. They have endured a lot and need the time to recover. And now begins the story of the return of God’s people to their homeland. God is no longer the wrathful who has angrily sent the exiles away because of their sins, rather God is now the gentle saviour redeeming the tired and weary people of Israel. The exiles’ experience of God is completely transformed from this moment onwards.
And Mark quotes Isaiah expecting that we know this story well, the story of exile and return from exile. Even more so Mark expects that we will see that he is connecting Jesus to this important moment when everything changes for the Israelites.
Mark is saying, “Hey remember that moment when God changed everything by bringing the exile home? Well, this Jesus guy is changing everything too.”
And then Mark takes another left turn, keeping us on our toes only a few lines into the story, by introducing us to John the Baptist.
John, the rough around the edges desert preacher and prophet, who is attracting crowds and gaining the popularity of the people while drawing the ire of those in charge. John is quite the character dressed in camel hair, eating giant desert insects and preaching from a river.
But perhaps most jarring of all in this short passage of Mark’s, is that John is quiet opposite to Isaiah. If Isaiah is pleading to God for comfort, compassion, and tenderness for God’s weary people, John is warning of the swift kick in the pants to come if they don’t repent.
So is anyone confused by all this stuff in Mark? Good, that is the point.
Not unlike the Israelites, we might know a little something about being tired… about being weary… we might know about longing and waiting for God… for Messiah to show up, to transform our lives. It is exhausting trying to keep the faith and have hope for the future.
These days it can feel like the pressures and stresses of the world are pressing in from all sides.
Maybe it is burdens of work and family, trying to juggle more than we know we can handle and watching as things are dropped, promises unkept, people forgotten.
Maybe it is small towns and rural communities struggling to keep up as government funding is being cut, business not being able to make it anymore, schools and hospitals closing.
Maybe it’s waking up every morning wondering if nuclear war broke out overnight because of some blowhard’s tweet.
Maybe it’s the slow and steady decline of churches with aging members, fewer hands to do the work, and searching for ways to provide pastoral ministry.
Take your pick.
The list of burdens on our minds and lived out in our daily lives is long. It’s no wonder we feel weary. It’s no wonder we wait for God to show up in our lives and in the lives of our family, friends and neighbours.
Here’s the thing about Advent: when waiting for Messiah becomes about things deeper than opening the little doors on advent calendars and collecting our chocolate treat, or counting the days until Christmas, it raises questions. Questions about where this Messiah that we are waiting for is in our world. Where Messiah is in our lives.
We long for the God of Isaiah to come and show us weary people some compassion and tenderness.
We know that we need the Messiah of John the Baptist to come and give us swift kick the pants to keeps from atrophy.
But it’s the waiting… the waiting is what we cannot abide.
Because waiting has no answers until its over.
This is what John and and Isaiah have in common. They are both speaking to the waiting of God’s people. Whether they are proclaiming a tender God who brings comfort or a powerful God who comes preaching repentance… they both are speaking to people who wait. To exiles whose waiting in exile is about to end, to Israelites waiting under oppression for Messiah.
To 21st century Christians waiting for God again this advent.
The promise is and has always been that Messiah is coming soon.
As Isaiah says:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
Take you pick of burdens that cause us to wait,
valleys or hills and mountains,
crooked paths and rough ways,
Messiah is coming for all it.
For people who need the tender compassion of God,
for people who need the swift kick in the pants.
For people who carry the burdens of work and family,
of shrinking rural communities,
of the threat of tweet induced nuclear war,
of aging and declining churches.
Messiah is coming for all of that too.
And yes, not knowing when Messiah is coming, and having to wait is the hardest part of all.
Having to do Advent over again and again, with its questions about where God is in our world and in our lives is not easy. We want to know, how, where, when.
But the only answer is a promise, a promise that we hear every Advent again and again.
Messiah is coming.
Messiah is coming for a world in need.
Messiah is coming for people of faith who hate waiting
Messiah is coming for you and for me.
Messiah is coming…
- Image credit: http://www.swordofthespirit.net/bulwark/dec08p2.htm
- This sermon was co-written with Rev. Courtenay Reedman Parker Twitter: @ReedmanParker