Posted on Dec 10, 2017 by Pastor Dave Whetter
As I mentioned last week, we call this new church year, Year B, or the year of Mark, and today, on this second Sunday in the Season of Advent we start at the very first verse of Mark’s gospel. Upon reading it we learn exactly what we are about to read, "The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). My guess is that Mark thought he was just writing a biography. That is, he thought he was writing about the life of Jesus, but when he chose to call his work "the good news (evangélio, gospel) of Jesus Christ" he created a new genre of literature. What is different about this story from a regular biography is that as Mark tells the story of Jesus he also tell us about the beginning of a new era, a time and place in which God has entered human history in an unprecedented way.
It is a new time, and according to Mark, the kingdom of God has dawned. In writing this “good news” story Mark wants us to know that God is ready and willing to rule our lives and God wants us not only to believe it (1:14-15) but Mark wants us to begin acting differently. Mark wants us to know that it’s time to change things up because a new era has begun and it began with Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
But before we can really tell the whole story, which we will read over the course of the next year, Mark also wants us to know that there were others that God had sent to prepare the world for this new era. First there was Isaiah who proclaimed, “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,’ ” (1:2-3) and then there was John, who not only announced that the this new era was about to begin, but John also told the people what they needed to do to get ready, that they need to change things up.
John announced God's intention to visit God's people. But, this announcement was different. Others had announced the coming of kings before and in those cases when the people were told their king was coming, they were also told that before the king would come they would need to do certain things. Maybe they needed to pay a tax, clean their towns, or prepare a special place for their king to reside before he would come. But this announcement was different; God didn’t tell John to say, "Tell the people to get ready and when they have done so, I will come to them.” No, what we hear today is the opposite; John said, "Prepare the way for I am coming to my people, whether they are ready or not." That’s the good news. God is coming to us regardless of what we do! But, John says, if we want to be ready we ought to confess our sins, get baptized, and repent. That’s what we ought to do and as we will hear Jesus say after he is baptized and returns from the wilderness, we should do these things, "and believe in the good news!" (Mark 1:15).
Brothers and sisters, the promise we hear today is that God will come and fulfill all of God's promises whether or not we do any of these things, but knowing God is on the way, why wouldn't we want to do them? Knowing we have a God that wants to be with us so much that he will lower every mountain and hill (Isaiah 40:4) so that he can easily get to us, why wouldn’t we want to confess our sin? Why wouldn’t we want to recognize that this world we have created is broken and we need to be part of repairing it? Knowing that we have a God that wants to be with us so badly that he is going to raise every valley to get to us, why wouldn’t we want to be baptized so he can publicly claim us as his? Knowing that our God wants to be with us so baldy that he will come and feed us and protect us (Isaiah 40:11), why wouldn’t we want to repent, that is why wouldn’t we want to change things up and turn toward God’s ways?
But change is hard and at times it seems impossible. We know that here at Salem, don’t we? This faith community has existed for over 130 years and we are living in a time where everything seems to be a mess. We have a facility that needs millions of dollars of work just to fix things and even more millions if we want to improve it and even more millions if we want to expand it. The world we are called to serve seems more messed up than ever. People in our own towns and neighborhoods are going hungry. There are homeless children in our schools. There are shootings in the stores we shop in. The world is a mess and our God says to us, “Go fix it.” It seems impossible, but this time of year, we often sugarcoat it. Have you watched the news lately? It’s filled with people and organizations that are giving of their time and financial resources to help those in need, but to be honest, the rest of the year, we all struggle to get people to help care for those in need. The Christmas story that is often told this time of year makes Christ’s coming seem warm and cozy, but the truth is, while there are powers in this world that are attempting to deny the world Christ is coming to bring about, God says, whether you are ready or not, I am coming to you and so, as messy as this world is, get ready.
Today, we hear the prophet John tell us how broken this world is, but we also hear him say, that this is not how God intends the world to be. We hear John speak these truths to us today so that we might be ready for the Incarnation. We can try to ignore John and we can try to hide from the realities of this world and from God, but God, who is coming no matter what, promises to find us. As the saying goes, we can run, but we cannot hide.
My grandkids love to play hide and seek. If I had the energy, they would have me play that game all day long when we’re together. But I find it interesting that it isn’t the hiding part they really love, it’s the being found part that is so much fun. They will hide in the same place every time. They will giggle out loud as I get close. They will yell to me to let me know where they are. You see, even though they want to hide from me, they don’t want to be alone and quiet for a long time in hiding. No, what they find fun about hide and seek is that when I find them I cheer, they squeal, and we all find joy together. You see, everyone wants to be found, and our God loves us so much, he says, I am coming and no matter what, whether you are ready or not, whether you have changed or not, I will find you and I will be your God. Praise be to God. Amen.