Message: Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15; Mark 1:1-8
There is a movement about. In fact, there are several movements about. In an effort to remedy racial discrimination and end violence against Black communities, Black Lives Matter formed just about five years ago with effectiveness. In 1975 publications spurred the genesis for the Animal Rights Movement as an organization seeking to end the use of animals in research. Around 2004 the US Immigrant Rights Movement began to help those intimidated by authorities, discriminated against and subject to low paying jobs. In an effort to defend the facts behind climate change, “The Science Movement” was formed in 2016. With sexual assault charges being filed almost daily, the Women’s Movement is rewriting how they understand themselves in the workforce! Movements begin when an issue concerns a significant group of people and they feel called to action.
Successful movements employ leaders who strategically engage others into leadership roles. Leaders inspire, encourage, influence, mobilize, envision and clearly state the goals or demands of the movement. Mark’s writer begins the Jesus movement announcing the good news of salvation from Jesus Christ.
Sometimes beginnings are abrupt. Mark’s gospel is direct, and certain. The gospel writer is presenting to us the story of the good news of Jesus Christ as the one who comes to save each and every one of us from our hurts, our wrongs, our sins. Mark’s writer is so certain about the salvation story of Jesus, he doesn’t even begin the story with Jesus’ birth. The writer is in too much of a hurry to get the Jesus Movement going. Instead, this second Sunday of Advent Mark’s hurried, no nonsense author recollects the prophets of old times. First century Christians are grounded in their Jewish tradition. They know their scripture and the value of strong truth telling prophets. Prophets who remind us sharply of our readiness for the coming of the Messiah, the one who comes to save. Yes, we need a savior. But, we also need folks to prepare the way for the savior. John the Baptist emerges from the chaos of the overly complicated, wilderness of our world. Immediately he’s ready to state the purpose of the Jesus Movement: Repent. Turn in a new direction and know God’s saving grace.
We learn some things about this leader, John the Baptist easily mistaken for the Messiah. First, he’s got power. He cries out repent, change your ways. People come from everywhere, foregoing the traditional self-administered baptism as is typical of the Judaic culture; instead, seeking forgiveness of sins as poured out through the waters of the Jordan River by the formidable, man, who when a yet unborn child in his mother’s womb leaps for joy at the good news of Christ with us. Power comes from knowledge. John the Baptist knows Jesus Christ; knows the Messiah; knows God is with us. Now he must spread the good news to others. John’s role in bringing us to Christ is pointing us powerfully in the right direction.
There is a second quality to John. Honoring his faith, his commitment to God’s promise, John the Baptist is humble. He’s not interested in being center stage. He’s not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of Jesus’ sandals. And though he preaches and practices profoundly the baptismal sacrament, he knows deep in his soul it is the Messiah who comes; the one who is mightier than he who baptizes with the cleansing, life giving, transformative gift of the fire of Holy Spirit. Or as one writes of John’s message, Jesus comes baptizing with the Holy Spirit reaching into the secret places of our hearts. “No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin, where meek souls will receive him still the dear Christ enters in.” John, in all his humility knows most clearly, he is the messenger, not the message.
John knows his role. Experts say a good introduction is the key to engagement. Students of political movements learn that the short, two minute introduction of a politician is so much more difficult than that of the thirty minute presentation. It’s necessary for the one who introduces to excite and energize the listeners and then get out of the way. A good introduction comes from a person of tender humility.
Third, John’s got a message of conviction. “Prepare the way for the Lord;…. John a man of true faith, is committed to bringing God’s people to the saving revelation of God in Christ. John endures imprisonment and eventual death in his belief in God in Christ. Later, as Jesus is teaching his disciples the qualities of convicted faith, Jesus reminds his followers, “no one who has ever been born is greater than John the Baptist”. Living a life in Christ is no small transformation. Get ready.
Prepare the way. Make paths straight. John the Baptist, with his discreet power, in his humble station, great in conviction and purpose, reminds us truly that following Jesus is not without trouble and concern. Announcing the Jesus Movement puts John the Baptist in opposition to the Roman Empire, a threat to King Herod which leads to his eventual beheading. Is this too our role as part of the Jesus Movement? No. But, there are no guarantees that turning our lives over to this tiny Christ child with such a promise and a belief to follow with radical conviction that we might, just might find in our repenting, that there is some danger ahead, as the Jesus Movement.
You see, because John the Baptist, while happy to invite and welcome the seekers, those yet to know the saving grace of Christ. He’s really preaching to the choir here. John’s message is to the faithful, the Judaic community who await the Messiah. Those insiders who know baptism in the most holy temple of Jerusalem. John’s calling his people to now collectively gather and prepare; reorient themselves to a lifelong reorientation of repentance. In Christ, as the Jesus Movement, we’re called over and over again to reconsider, revisit, and reorient ourselves to God’s forgiving, redeeming love.
Christmas comes each and every year. We make our plans. Family gathers. Trees are decorated. Shopping becomes intense. Feasting and frolicking and festivities prevail. The Christmas Movement becomes so full of rejoicing, we may, in fact forget why we have Christmas. We may forget that God loves us so incredibly much that God chose to come to us, simply, without festivity, without frolicking, without social media hype and news blasts, without privilege or pomp; but as a tiny baby, born of a young, unassuming girl who searching to lay her head that she might give birth to God with us was granted only the Spartan confines of a stable.
What if? What if this Advent, we actually turned in the direction of this tiny baby who comes to radically turn our lives upside down and inside out? What if this Advent, we join in the Jesus Movement, leading like John the Baptist, changing our hearts and minds because we believe in this tiny baby, the Christ who forgives us of our sins in his life, death and resurrection; our God who so loves us he comes to dwell among us? What if this Advent, we spend less time shopping and feasting and frolicking and instead sit in quiet prayer, visit the lost and forgotten, lend a listening ear to the hurt and angry, turn in a direction of reconciliation and understanding, strive for peace? What would the Jesus Movement look like here and now, in this community, on this corner with our neighbors, our families, our friends, with one another? How are we serving as reconciling agents of God’s love know to us in Jesus Christ?
What if this Advent we accept the gift of repentance and, we give the gift of Christ coming, Christ with us, Christ among us?