A reading from the Gospel of Mark 1:1-8 - New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Proclamation of John the Baptist
1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 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. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 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. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Advent is a time of reflection, a time of patient waiting which is counter-cultural. Advent is the beginning of the new church year so it is appropriate to reflect over the past year and consider our hopes for the New Year. God has been with us at the birth of a new child and at the death of a beloved friend. God has been with us in our shared celebrations in the park and at the peace and unity gathering. God is with us on Sunday morning and it is good to remember that God follows us home, to work and to school. God is with us today in this place. We know this, but sometimes it is good and proper to consciously remember that God is active in our lives here and now.
Advent is an appropriate time to consider the amazing gift that God gave us in God’s son Jesus Christ. Can you believe that there is a God who loves his creation so much that he chose to come and live among us in the human condition where there is sorrow and joy, health and illness, violence and hate, love and forgiveness, life and death? Can you imagine sending your only son to be born of a woman, to grow from infancy to adulthood knowing that the ultimate sacrifice of death on the cross would be required of him? Down through the centuries people have found it difficult to believe in a God who allows suffering and who would be willing to die on a cross, but this is the God we believe in, a forgiving, gracious, merciful god who loves us even through death and we give Him thanks. We give thanks to the God who loves us and gave us life and not just life but abundant life. And so we reflect on the gift that God gave us that first Christmas so long ago.
Advent is a time to reflect on the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus said that the Kingdom of Heaven had come near, but we know it is not fully here because hate and violence continue to this day. We can dream of the world we would like to see and strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being. We can seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Jesus promised that just as he did miraculous things, we would be able to do even more amazing things.
Advent is a time to give thanks for our Holy Scripture, The Bible, which has been given to us as a gift from God and those who have gone before. The Bible contains God’s story and the story of God’s interaction with God’s people. The author of the Gospel of Mark does not provide a nativity story or any stories from Jesus’ childhood, but immediately jumps to the story of John the Baptist. Mark looks back to Isaiah, Ezekiel and Malachi to understand who John is. John is the fulfillment of Old Testament Prophecy. John is a prophet and is the promised return of Elijah. John is the promised messenger who prepares the way for the coming of the Messiah, for Jesus Christ. John knows who he is and knows who Jesus is and proclaims the message to all who come to hear him preach. John preached on the need for repentance, on turning our lives away from self-centered desires and turning to God and God’s will for us. Baptism was not new in the Jewish tradition, but usually associated with the conversion of Gentiles. John is teaching that repentance is required of all people including the Jews and many believed John and came out into the wilderness to hear his message and to be baptized.
But John did not just teach on the necessity of repentance and turning over our lives to God, John also taught that the Messiah, Jesus Christ, would come and require a change a heart, an internal change accomplished through the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
God gave us the gift of life, the gift of a good, abundant creation, the gift of his word, the gift of his love and the gift of his son Jesus Christ. Jesus gave us the gift of an example of what it means to live as the sons and daughters of God created in the image of God, the gift of reconciliation with God and each other and the gift of eternal life in God. Jesus asked us to share these gifts with others, telling them God’s story, giving them the gift of love, sharing the bounty of God’s creation and giving them the promise of forgiveness and eternal life in God. Amen.