Commentary, Mark 1:1-8, Karoline Lewis, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2011.
"When God sent his Son into the world, he took care, and when he sends him into the heart, he takes care, to prepare his way before him."
From Matthew Henry's Commentary.
O God of all consolation, to us who journey as pilgrims through time you have promisd new heavesn and a new earth. Speak today to the inmost heart of your people, that leading lives of holiness and godliness, and with a faith free from spot or blemish, we may hasten toward that day on which you will manifest in the fullness of its splendor the glory of your holy name.
From Prayers for Sunday and Seasons, Year B, Peter J. Scagnelli, LTP, 1992.
Some Thoughts on Mark 1:1-8
A tale of Thanksgiving: Good news, as it had been forcasted by news media who sent out word well in advance, people made their way from their Thanksgiving tables (some at midnight) to the malls and stores and worldwide web. They cried out in the wilderness for deals. The way was cleared and stores made ready, the paths for savings and deals galore were opened so that all could find the perfect gifts for loved ones. It was a wilderness out there! Commercials, advertisements, and emails proclaimed savings and people from the whole countryside, in fact the developed world over came out and baught and charged. You should have seen some of the people, in all kinds of clothing, ragged by the days end. They looked and they looked so the story goes until at the close of the day Black Friday (the shopping day after Christmas) and Cyber Monday (the online shopping day after the thanksgiving weekend) saw the sale of over 53 billion in merchandise goodenss.
I want you to know that while I personally only baught a small fraction of this merchandise (1 bag of catfood and 1 gallon of milk and a new coat). I did participate. That is the confession I have to make.
As I reflect on the week that is past I have several topical thoughts rumbling around in my head.
Global desires and hopes for spending to help our economy.It was a great holiday in so many respects. Yet it was a holiday of extremes as well; was it not? I wondered first: what is it that we are looking for? As a culture and as individuals what is it that we are hoping to have in all these things? With all these gifts?
Football games galore.
A ton of food.
The poor and the hungry on a wet and cold weekend.
Advent wreath making.
Time with family.
People dealing with the complexities of family.
Reflections on the Occupy Wall Street movement.
Thanksgiving Day parade.
Political election anxiety and hope.
The readings of Advent 1 regarding the coming of the Messiah.
I have decided that the truth in such spending, chaotic action and wild divergent events is actually not best described by analyzing what we sought through our actions but in what drives us in the search.
I think the real thing we must deal with is "human desire." Humanity is made to desire and long for that which is outside of itself. Certainly we are seeking to purchase and make real our own some kind of imagined normal life. We are trying to attach ourselves by virtue of our needs to something meaningful. We are hoping that somehow we will fill the emptiness that is inside with something that is outside of us.
It is as if the desire for our constituional right of "happiness" has become confused. One might even say that for a people who have the right of happiness, consume most of the world's resources, we are some of the most unhappy people.
I offer all of this because the Christian understands that human desire is created within so that we will long for that which is outside of our selves - in particular God in Christ Jesus. We are created to be in relationship with God. We are created to long for God. And, we are created to long for one another.
What we do though is that we fill that longing with all kinds of other things. This is an age old axiom and is explored in the first autobiography by Augustine of Hippo: Confessions.
Today we fill that longing by purchasing massive amounts of gifts to show we care. We fill that longing with goods and products that promise beauty and normalcy. We fill that longing with media. We fill that longing by consuming food. We fill that longing by hoarding. We fill that longing by not dealing with familly dynamics or by not facing up to our own shortcomings. We fill that longing by scapegoating others in our lives, in our workplaces, in our governemnts for problems we ourselves are intimately involved in.
I say all of this not to be some Christmas (or Advent) scrooge. Quite the contrary. I say this because the message of Mark's Gospel this Sunday it turns out is really good news (and quite inexpensive). The message is that God is the one we are longing for and his incarnation Jesus Christ came into the world so as to fill that missing piece of our own soul for the sake of the relationship God himself desires.
As Ireneaus once described, the reality of God's creative act is the ultimate outpouring into creation of God's own longing to walk with his creation in the garden at the eve of the day. The incarnation of Jesus helps to mend that hole. He has paid the ultimate price and we may find our longing transformed into fulfilment in the community of friends called the church.
It is a wilderness out there! It is our wilderness. We live in the wilds of consumer goods, aging parents, and complex lives, poverty, and longing. It is a wilderness and the voice is crying out and proclaiming, "Stop! Listen! Here is some good news!" This voice is important and one to be listened to.
The wilderness is a refuge it turns out in Mark's gospel. It is a place tied to the fleeing slaves from Egypt. It is the place of good things, and good happenings.
Tied intimately to Isaiah's proclamation of freedom to the Israelites in Babylonian captivity (Isaiah 40.3) this passage refers to the same promise of freedom to those who now choose to live a different life in the wilderness of our time and culture.
Unlike many apocolyptic communities in Israel at the time of John's proclamation, his was not a proclamation of sectarian private life or private faith; that certainly was present but it is not a Gospel notion. In point of fact it was quite the opposite of what most people will experience as church this coming Sunday. The proclamation was public, it was in the wilderness of the world, the confession was public, the washing was public, and it was all focussed on living life in the world.
As we lean into the Gospel of Mark we must be aware of the central motif of "The Way." This is a Gospel of The Way. And, the way leads to the cross and to resurrection. John proclaims, Jesus shall lead us, and as disciples Mark intends us to follow.
As we read John's charge to us today the message is much the same. We are leading a particular life, in a particular world, making our communal way with Jesus.
We are to make room in our lives for the God who chooses to make us companions. Notice the passage does not say that God makes the paths straight and the valleys low. It i is we who are to do the work of making room in our lives for God. We are the ones, not unlike the inn keeper, who in Advent remind ourselves and so create space in our calendars, at our tables, and in our lives (privately and publicly) for God.
John the Baptist like a new Elisha or Elijah is offering us a moment of change. A moment to see the world differently and to be differently in the world. Most scholars believe there is a scriptural link. At the same time for those gatehred at the waters edge and those hearing Mark's Gospel for the first time would have actually recognized John as a vision of the great prophet because of the word pictures used to describe his clothing and eating habits.
John himself, in his words, and in his actions, is making way in the wilderness. He is both prophetically offering a word of transformation and the vision of his ministry also offers an understanding that now is the time!
The understanding was that the waters themselves remade the body right and that this was an event of urgency. They prepared it for the mission ahead. Furthermore, important is the proclamation that a public confession and a singular baptism given by another, as opposed to daily ritual cleansing administered by yourself privately, was enough.
John's unique baptism for sins, for repentence is a message of incredible grace. It is one where in we understand that the waters of baptism are themselves the powerful waters of grace and freedom to live in relationship to this God. We are freed to live without the great consumptive game being played out all around us. We are freed to live no longer for ourselves but for Christ alone, and for our neighbor. We are given in the words of Isaiah and in the proclamation of John the Baptist an opportunity to turn and repent from lives lived for ourselves alone and not for God or others. We are invited to walk a path, a road, with Jesus allowing our desire for other things other than God to be crucified and our false selves as well.
And what we discover is that in the end, though we are not worthy to embrace our savior Jesus or to stoop to untie the thong of his sandle as if a servant, this God calls us friends most of all.
A Little Bit for Everyone
1The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”
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 camel’s 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.”