Advent 2 – December 6, 2020
Faith Lutheran Church
“Prepare ye the way of the Lord” These words of the prophet are the words John the baptizer proclaims as the introduction to the gospel of Mark. Unlike the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, which begin with stories of the birth of the baby Jesus, or the Gospel of John that speaks of “The Word made flesh,” this gospel seems to get straight to the point.
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness to prepare the way of the lord.” And the one crying out in the wilderness here is John the baptizer, Jesus’ cousin. Now John, he is always described as quite the …unique…fellow. In Minnesota, we might say he looked “interesting!” The gospel describes him as wearing camel’s hair, and eating locust and honey. If you or I saw someone dressed like that today, it would surely be a strange sight. But one might say, “Pastor Ian, John was living almost 1000 years ago, surely other people dressed like that!”
Well, I am not knowledgeable of First century fashion in the ancient near east, but according to Pastor Martin Copenhaver, John the Baptizer’s outfit was several centuries out of fashion. In fact, it was the kind of clothing that the prophet Elijah would have worn. And Elijah was around and prophesying about 1000 years prior to John the Baptizer proclaiming repentance.
To bring this into our own context, it would be like a person wearing long white robes and a large colorful poncho around–a pretty strange sight. Something that might make that person seem out of touch with their context…
And so, why would John have been dressed like that? Was that the only option for him? It doesn’t seem as if it was a common thing for others to wear? Did he maybe think, consider that his appearance communicated something along with his words? That how he dressed and how he carried himself was a message that amplified the proclamation from his mouth?
What if through his out-of-date clothing and the prophet whose memory it evoked was a reminder that any movement forward first requires looking backward?
In this Advent season, we all receive a call to wait, watch and wonder. With this gaze forward, how are we, like John the baptizer, recognizing and remembering to look backward? O remember the ways in which God has been active in our history?
The gospel of Mark Begins with “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.” And what was this good news John proclaimed? He proclaimed a baptism of repentance and forgiveness. The Greek word for repentance is metanoia, which literally means to change one’s mind. It means to reframe the way in which one experiences the world.
Following the tradition of the prophets before him, John was admonishing those he encountered to turn toward God, to orient their lives toward God. This reorientation of their whole being was a response to God consistently turning toward humanity.
In order to repent, to reorient themselves, the people hearing John’s message had to reflect on their lives. They had to acknowledge the ways in which they had been living and working in opposition to the desires of God for creation. And this could not have been an easy experience.
As followers of Christ, we too are confronted with a call to repentance. Almost every Sunday we share in the confession and forgiveness when we acknowledge with different words those things we have done, and which we have left undone. We name that in our lives we have intentionally and unintentionally worked in opposition to God’s desire for the flourishing of all creation.
This confession, and remembering is not like the sentimentality that often is part of holidays, like Christmas or Thanksgiving. This remembering is hard work, and it should cause us to stop and think about our histories. Our repentance and naming of the times we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God should give us cause to pause.
But John’s message was not just a message of repentance, a message of looking back. He was proclaiming a baptism of repentance and forgiveness. In the waters of the Jordan, on the edge of the wilderness, John the Baptizer was offering forgiveness and newness of life to those who desired it. And that Forgiveness was found in flowing water.
The forgiveness offered by John was a welcoming into life of faith. It was a source of hope for the future. And part of that future was foretold when he spoke of the one coming after him, Jesus. While John would baptize them with Water, Jesus would baptize them with the Holy Spirit! If John was able to proclaim forgiveness with water, how much more amazing would the baptism offered by Jesus be?!?!
Like those people from Judea and Jerusalem who came to receive a baptism of repentance andforgiveness of sins by John, as followers of Christ, we look back in our confession, and we hope forward receiving forgiveness. Those aspects of our worship life are held together in a beautiful tension. And the good news of Jesus is that this gazing backward and hoping forward need not only be part of our worship life, but is a part of our whole life.
As Lutheran Christians, in our baptismal service, following the baptism in the name of the triune God, the pastor says the following blessing:
“We give you thanks, O God, that through water and the Holy Spirit you give your daughters and sons new birth, cleanse them from sin, and raise them to eternal life.
Sustain them with the gift of your Holy Spirit: the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord, the spirit of joy in your presence, both now and forever.
Beginning with our baptism, and continuing throughout our live, we are constantly and consistently called to this pattern of repentance and forgiveness. And it is through faith and the power of the Holy Spirit that we are able to continue on this journey–that we have the strength for the road ahead.
So as we continue in this advent season to watch, wait and wonder, I encourage each of us to gaze backward-to honestly think about where we each have been and how we have worked in opposition to God’s desire for the flourishing of creation. Yet through that gazing back, and confessing those times, we can give thanks for the forgiveness of sin that we receive through Jesus Christ, who with the holy spirit enables us to work to create the beloved community that we are all called to be a part of.
That is the good news this gospel speaks of. That is the message John was proclaiming to any who listened. And that is the hope we have as followers of Jesus.
Thanks be to God. Amen.