Isaiah 40:1-11 Psalm 85: 1-2, 8-13 2 Peter 3:8-15a Mark 1:1-8
It seems that I am always working on sermons in my head, or thinking “that will preach” when I experience something. Earlier this week, I was talking with a friend about his backup camera in his new car. I said I had difficulty trusting it. We were both so used to turning our heads to check out where we were going. He said he was better at trusting but still realized there were places the camera couldn’t see. We all have those places where we can’t see clearly. We all have times when blind spots catch us.
We all have blind spots. A blind spot is a small area on the retina where the optic nerve leaves the eye and which is insensitive to light. I began thinking about how many blind spots I have that are hindering the preparation of my heart during Advent. Blind spots, we all have them…whether it is being too busy to daily set aside time for God in prayer, study, meditation, Centering prayer or enjoying music. Is it during those times that I am simply going through the motions in reading devotionals or scripture, when I’m not really involved or invested in my own spiritual growth? Do I think that I have extended a welcome or shown hospitality to someone and in reality, I overlooked them? Of course, we all have blind spots. That is why we need other people to help us through life. The more people, the less likely the possibility of the blind spot affecting us, especially as we experience people with different backgrounds in different contexts. We need each other in this community of faith.
With the promise of Advent, we all want something more. Advent asks the question, what am I spending my life on? What is the star that we are following now? And where is that star in your life leading you? Is it enough to feed our human soul, to touch our human heart, to direct our footsteps?
Advent is a time of remembering that God is abundant life and that we are called to share our abundance with others. Our lives reflect our hands and heart and feet at work in the community of faith and in the world. Joan Chittister reminds us that “ we all are each a bit of the will of God for the world. The glory of God will come to this world when it comes in us.” We are called to do more than relive the birth of Jesus each year, we are called to make Jesus present now, in our hearts, in our lives, in our relationships, in our actions, in the world. Nelson Mandela says, “We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just for some of us, but for everyone.”
Today’s readings shift the mood from lament and longing to the good news of God’s coming soon. Both Isaiah and Second Peter remind us of the conditions in the world that persuade some that salvation is near at hand. But those same texts boldly make their announcements of comfort and redemption to waiting believers. Mark uses Isaiah 40 to say that the promise is being fulfilled in the appearance of John the Baptist to prepare the way. Psalm 85 helps us enjoy now the anticipated consequences of God’s presence.
A major emphasis in these lessons is hope, based on the confirmation of the Old Testament promises by the coming of Jesus. The apocalyptic dimensions of the season are played out in the Gospel lesson, the account of the appearance of John the Baptist with his announcement of the kingdom of God.
In Advent we wait to celebrate the light of Christ coming into the world – but in the waiting we see a world that is filled with pain, and hurt, brokenness and darkness. It is important to remember that Advent is not just a season in which we recall an event of the past – Jesus’ birth – but also a time for us to look within, to prepare our hearts. Preparation for Christmas continues with readings that kindle hope for the future reign of God in all the world, a reign of justice and righteousness.
On this the second Sunday of Advent, the Gospel readings each year feature the person and work of John the Baptist. All four gospels deal at some length with John, because the church understood John’s function to be one of preparing for the Advent of Christ. He was the one of whom Isaiah spoke (Matt. 3:3; Isa. 40:3), who was to prepare the people for “the great and terrible day of the Lord.”
But we do not want to rush past John to Jesus. There is time. The accents of last Sunday continue in our text today; the time of the Lord’s coming is near, and the preparation for the event is of primary importance. If we are true to today’s lessons, Jesus is not yet introduced as the Coming One. John comes announcing the last days, the age of the Messiah, the time that is ushered in by the Advent of Christ.
The Advent season has no more appropriate voice than that of John the Baptizer. Mark identifies John the Baptizer, by function rather than by title, John the Baptist is found in Matthew. John was a prophet both of anticipation and of preparation, the twin themes for beginning Advent. This Gospel reading from Mark introduces John in the earliest and briefest of the four accounts.
“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). With these words Mark doesn’t just launch the story of Jesus but he provides a title for his narrative. Mark, by reading the sources available to him, says that prophets bear witness to this “beginning.” Here we see how the Bible understands itself. Although the coming of Christ is a new thing God is doing, it is not without a past. John’s preaching is news, good news, but it has a history, a memory. Memory is the soil in which hope survives. That which is remembered is the promise of a faithful God.
In a more immediate sense, “the beginning” points not to the prophets but to John himself. It is John who bursts upon the scene creating new excitement, stirring hearts, and gathering all of Judea and Jerusalem to the Jordan River to hear his message of repentance. They come to confess their sins, and receive baptism and forgiveness of sin. John is the beginning of the Gospel, for it is his dynamic ministry that prepares the people for the one mightier than he. His popularity and influence made an impact on political and religious leaders as well as on the common people. John, by the description of his personal appearance, may seem to be more of a character than charismatic. He was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locust and wild honey.
We see and work with folks who are so easy to judge. They stand out as being different – a step out of time and place. We are called to not judge, but to love. John the Baptist experienced the face of judgment a great deal. His appearance was unusual to say the least. I have this image of John coming out of the wilderness with wild flowing hair, badly in need of conditioner, maybe with bits of branches and bugs nestled in it. Embedded in his beard, are pieces of locus and drops of honey, evidence of his last meal. I can see why the Pharisees, who were deeply committed to obeying all of God’s laws, had a hard time believing this man, believing that this wild man knew anything of God’s will. The Pharisees were obsessed with appearance, remember the stories of their visible piety and need for others to think they were perfect in their obedience to the law.
And then there were the Sadducees, who were more politically minded in their search for Levitical purity. So this man who does not have the hair or the wardrobe of a politician, really a public relations nightmare, was telling them to look at their lives and to repent.
Mark concludes his presentation of John with a brief summary statement of his messianic preaching. John does not identify this person to come by name. We are thinking Jesus, but the narrative asks us to be patient and let the story unfold in its own time. He is alluded to by phrases such as, “he who is coming after me” and as “more powerful than I.” The identification of the One whose coming is near meets John’s humility (“I am not worthy to untie his sandals”). If God can use a man like John to proclaim the coming of Christ, God can use each and everyone of us.
When we truly look at ourselves, do we encounter the stirrings in our hearts that reflect the hopeful signs of the birth of baby Jesus, or do we catch a blur of busyness, not directed to the glory of God. We celebrate the coming of Christ into the world, and we are called to embody the light of Christ, to live in the light and to be people of light, as last Sunday’s Collect says, “to put on the armor of light.” Advent calls us to keep our eyes on the Christ Child who is light because the world needs people who can witness to the light – people who can help carry the light. Even in times when darkness and loss are all around us, we are called to keep our eyes, our hopes on Christ. To be able to walk as a Child of the Light, we must turn away from those things that distract us, that derail God’s mission and turn toward the light, and in so doing, we help reflect that light for others. Amen.