Scripture: Mark 1: 1-8 (NRSV)
Today’s text offers us “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.” As we read on, if we’re honest, it’s something of an odd beginning. Or at least an unexpected beginning. True, the story begins with reference to the prophet Isaiah, and faithful readers of the Hebrew Scriptures might well recognize the call to “Prepare the way of the Lord.”
But the awesome deeds we’d like to see from God begin in an inauspicious place and with an odd leading character. Unlike the original prophet Isaiah, who had functioned within the royal household in the city of Jerusalem, this story begins out in the wilderness, and with the cry of a Grizzly Adams-type figure – a seemingly socially-maladjusted man clothed in camel’s hair and who survives on a strange diet.
Nor does John, the baptizer, simply cry out from the Wilderness. He wants people to leave their homes in Jerusalem and join him in this unexpected place. It is here, amazingly, that they will see God’s awesome deeds. And if this isn’t surprising enough, John is upfront about what is to follow: The one who comes next will have even more powerful surprises in store.
Remarkably, some people do respond to John’s message. But, as we see in the subsequent pages of Mark’s Gospel, many do not respond – to John or to Jesus. The message and the messengers are not what people expected. They may have longed to see awesome deeds, but this wasn’t what they were looking for. They were not expecting to see God here or in this way.
Where do I expect to see God? Advent is a season of waiting and of anticipation. But where am I looking and what am I anticipating? A recurrence of an experience we’ve had before?
Ninety years ago, 85-year-old Baptist theologian and mission historian, August H. Strong, considered these questions as he reflected on our ability to often miss God’s unexpected deeds.
On Nov. 28 – the day before he died, it turned out – Strong wrote, “When you come to the end of your life, will you say that you have never seen God? The answer [must] be that you have never seen anything else.”
Scripture: Mark 1: 1-8 (NRSV)
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And 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. 6Now John was clothed with camels hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He 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. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.
who will prepare your way;
3the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,