o hear your word and learn to live by it, prepare our hearts & minds & bodies and souls to receive what you have for us today – Amen
If I was to tell you that something was - Awesome … or – Unbelievable
Do you think that what I was going to tell you something that might strike you mute, fill you awe and be so overwhelmed that you were frozen still in disbelief
Do you think that might happen?
Probably not – you would probably be expecting something a little special
Or a little out of the ordinary
We live in an over-communicated world
Where we are bombarded with words and images flashing to us in split second speed – from TV, radio, newspapers, billboards, the internet, emails and the list goes on and on…
Our attention is ‘the prize’ of marketers and story-tellers alike
Words, today have lost some of their zing – have lost some of their punch, some of their meaning
Words are so over-used and miss-used - and we are so over-stimulated
We have become a little inoculated from the power of the message – particularly the message - God’s word
This might have happened to you today, maybe even during the reading of the Gospel – say on the 1st verse
It may appear to us – modern over-stimulated people, as nothing out of the ordinary
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Mark1:1)
But brothers and sister in Christ – it… is… one… Awesome claim
Especially if you understand it in the way the people 2000 years ago would have heard it.
Let me try to paraphrase this with some elaboration for modern ears
This the start of the story, understand when you hear “the beginning” you to think about the creation of the world – of the work of God – that is what I am about to start to telling you about
Of the most monumental news you could imagine – ‘the good news” or “gospel” was for news of the emperor – the one that the Romans believed was a demi-god – so the message that you are about to hear is news of the highest magnitude
Of a man - named Jesus, a Hebrew
This man is the messiah, the Christ, the long awaited leader that will bring us to the fulfillment of ‘the promises of God’ – promises that we have waiting for centuries
He is the male child of God, God – the creator of everything
– the news you are hearing is about God’s Son
This is the way Mark opens his story of Jesus – now Mark’s version translated to only 13 words, where mine… was a little more – it is a brief opening verse – yet making the most incredible claim the world has ever heard.
Mark lays it out – states it all in the opening verse
and then takes the rest of his gospel to explain what he has just said
But like any great story-teller - God, through Mark, doesn’t just start off with an incredible claim and then leave you with nothing to follow
No, in Mark’s gospel we hear a message of one proof after another to explain the incredible claim that he has just made – the first proof is also startling
Using a blend of three Old Testament books – Exodus; Isaiah 40:3 (which was part of our OT reading today; and Malachi 3:1
He tells us that this was all foretold before – that this is not some out of the blue – random occurrence – but that the prophets had spoken about what was to come
And not only that, but just before the Christ was to come, there would be one coming first to announce His arrival to all that have ears to hear.
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you;
he will prepare your way. 3 A voice of one crying out in the desert: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.’”
This voice in the wilderness - the heraldor of the upcoming most important man to ever live is none other than John the Baptist
John the Baptist ?
That crazy guy in the wilderness ?
Who wears camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist?
Who eats locusts (grasshoppers) and has his arms riddled with bees’ stings from the honey gathering
This is the one that God has chosen to fulfill part of the prophets’ message?
John is a prophet himself?
Speaking God’s word to the world - preparing the people for the coming of the Lord?
You gotta wonder about God’s marketing strategy
He lives in the wilderness away from everyone
People have to travel from the whole of the Judean countryside and from Jerusalem, just to hear him tell a message of someone that was to follow him.
If it were me, I would not have chosen that time - how many people can you reach that are going to walk to hear a wild man in the wilderness.
I would have chosen today, when we have so many ways of communication
I would have put up a billboard on a major highway going into a major city, where thousands would see it
– better yet, all the major highways – into all the major cities
– even better still, I would broadcast on TV and radio and interrupt the internet with the message
- now that is how to communicate a message
Or is it ?
Would it be just another message – to our modern ears ?
Maybe… maybe there is something to ‘convicting the heart’ of one who had no possessions and lived in the wilderness, the middle of nowhere - serving God’s message – telling of the great one that is to come
Maybe it matters that those that are to hear the message have to travel for it
Maybe news of “The Christ” needs to be heard personally from a man full of conviction and passion and that you need to invest something of yourself to receive it
Maybe that is the start of the preparations – investing yourself in the news – the good news
But John the Baptist did stop there – His message was not merely that the Lord was coming
John told, ‘all that had a desire to hear’ his message, that they needed to prepare for the Lord’s arrival
Prepare our hearts
Now in Roman times, when news that emperor was coming to town
People would get busy – making the town look its best
They would fix the road
They would smooth out bumps – they would work out the strange curves and make them straight
Then as now – when someone special is coming – you get ready – spruce up the place
Think of William and Kate’s Royal visit to Canada this past summer and all the preparations that would have gone into that visit
I am sure that red carpet sales did well this summer
John in the wilderness is calling for nothing less
John is, of course, not worried about appearances – he was a wild man living in a wild place, eating bugs and wore camel’s hair
John is worried about their hearts, their inner beauty
And John is living up the prophet’s role and calling the people to ‘turn towards God’
All the prophets called the people to ‘turn towards God’ – repentance
Repentance is not merely saying sorry – but saying sorry with your whole life – and living turned away from the things that you were sorry for
Repentance means change
Sin is that which is ‘out of step’ with God’s will
John’s repentance is from worldly ways towards Godly ways
From sin towards righteousness
And John is symbolically marking ‘this life altering confession of sins’ and repentance by baptizing all those that do
Why does this matter so much to John – why does he care so much about others, that he has become this person, and lives this life
Hebrews, in those days would have known their scripture
In fact those that became teachers, Rabbis, and John became a famous Rabbi, would have memorize the entire holy scriptures – what we Christians call the Old Testament – by the age of 14-15 – that was just the foundation for learning
And undoubtedly John would have felt convicted by passages such as
I have appointed you a watchman for the house of Israel. When you hear a word from my mouth, you shall warn them for me.18 If I say to the wicked man, You shall surely die; and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his wicked conduct so that he may live: that wicked man shall die for his sin, but I will hold you responsible for his death.
19 If, on the other hand, you have warned the wicked man, yet he has not turned away from his evil nor from his wicked conduct, then he shall die for his sin, but you shall save your life.
John was not a product of our clever post-modern era, where truth is relative
Relative to the eye of the beholder
No, to John the Baptist – God’s word of confession of sins and repentance, once given,
was an imperative instruction
To John – preparation for the coming of the Lord - by Repentance was everything
Perhaps we need to rethink the name “John the Baptist” to “John the Messenger” with baptism being our confirmation of that message.
Perhaps we need to consider what message John has for us,
Are we ready for repentance? Have we confessed our sins
Have we built a road for the coming Lord?
§ Have we flattened the mountains, the obstacles
§ our own stumbling blocks that would be in the way
§ Have we filled in the valleys
§ the areas of our life that don’t see the light of day
§ Have we made the path straight, removed the deviant curves in the road
§ our rationalizations that bend the route
§ Have we laid out the ‘red carpet in our heart’ for the Lord?
In our society it is easy to move too quickly right to Christmas and overlook advent
We are apt to lose sight of the person who went before our Lord, and to see nothing but our Lord himself.
It is clear that John’s preaching arrested the attention of the whole Jewish people, and created an excitement all over Palestine.
It roused the nation from its slumbers, and prepared it for the ministry of our Lord.
Now I like the sayings “Jesus is the reason for the season” and “keeping Christ in Christ-mas”, but what does that really mean, how do you live that out.
Mark’s gospel starts with the ‘good news’ and baptism and preparation
It finishes with Christ instructions to those He prepared with the gospel and baptism; to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved”
The word used for Gospel, both in the beginning and at the end, is not a noun,… but a verb – it is a message of on-going activity,
It is only ‘good news’ if it is announced
So what preparations or resolutions are you making this New Year, this Advent.
Yes, Christmas is a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus the Christ, the incarnation of the Lord, and there is a mammoth amount of preparations made for this one special day
· But Advent comes first and it is our opportunity to consider other preparations.
· Advent is a time for serious road construction…
· God through – John the Baptist, Mark, Isaiah, Malachi, Exodus and in fact every book of the Bible is calling for serious transformation of the landscape of our lives.
And so I would like to finish with a short prayer that I found on a Catholic website
We are the wilderness, crying.
We are the desert, parched.
We are the wasteland
the crooked roads,
the rugged land.
We are all people everywhere.
We wait for you.
Lord, help us to understand - live up - be thankful
And to prepare our hearts, minds, souls and devote our strength for your …Awesome… ‘Good News’ - Amen
Ryle, J. C. (1993). Mark. The Crossway classic commentaries (3). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.
 Prayer from center for liturgy (Catholic – Saint Louis University)