First lines can be memorable. “Call me Ishmael” – brings to mind Moby Dick and an image of a whale. “Fourscore and seven years ago” reminds us of the Gettysburg address. And, I’m guessing that you can say the next line if I were to say, “Twas the night before Christmas when all through the house…not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.”
Today we begin the Gospel of Mark – and the first line is incredibly important: The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. This verse gives us the lens to look at and understand the rest of the book. Some scholars think it should be the title of the whole Gospel rather than just a verse. I decided to try that today. Instead of introducing this Scripture as “The Gospel according to Mark, I said, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” according to Mark, the first chapter. For everything in the Gospel of Mark – from the cry of John the Baptist in today’s first chapter to the frightened women at the tomb at the end -- should be understood as part of Mark’s telling of “the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
So… with that in the back of your mind, we turn to today’s lesson. Here’s comes John, dressed in all natural materials – camel’s hair and leather and eating a naturalist diet, living on the edge of society and preaching repentance and forgiveness. Mark sees John as the fulfillment of scripture, the one who is coming out of the desert into the world crying, “Prepare the way of the Lord.”
“Prepare” We do a lot of preparation in Advent. Whether it is decorating your home, buying presents, making cookies or putting on a concert – don’t miss tonight’s Gospel Gathering– or a Christmas program – don’t miss the youth program next Sunday – or whatever you do to get ready for Christmas… it takes preparation. And sometimes… we worry that we won’t be ready.
Several years ago – 21 to be exact – We were preparing for a baby. We had never done this before and there was so much to do! Plus – I was in Seminary, trying to finish tests and papers and all sorts of work before the baby came. At about this time, I went in to see the doctor for my check-up. “Well”… she said, “the baby looks good.” I was happy, relieved. But then she said, “The baby could come at any time. Maybe I’ll even see you this weekend.” “WHAT!” I said. “But I’m NOT READY!” She just smiled.
Ready or Not – here I come! Those are not only the words a pregnant woman anticipates her baby saying but also the words the person who is chosen to be “it” says in the game of “Hide and Seek”. How many of you have ever played “Hide and Seek?” Most if not all - so you know that the goal in Hide and Seek is for the person who is “it” to find those who go off to hide. Now it probably would not be so popular a game if you were to ask children to just go and sit in a dark space and don’t say anything – what would be the fun of that? Frazzled parents might appreciate it… but really, the fun comes in the knowledge and the promise that someone is looking for you… seeking you. And if you have ever played this game with little children, you know that they can hardly contain themselves when you come into the room, maybe pretending not to see them. It is all that they can do to stay quiet – and sometimes, giggling, they may shout out, “I’m here!” They want to be found.
Like little children…. we too want to be found! We want to be found by Jesus. John the Baptist’s message is meant to be heard as fantastic news: “Jesus is coming!”
But… sometimes…we don’t hear it as good news. Sometimes… we hide from God…. and are not sure we want to be found. Maybe we are angry with God for not answering our prayers the way we wanted. Maybe we have been hurt – and wonder why God wasn’t there to protect us or to keep bad things from happening. Maybe we are questioning or…wondering or… maybe we don’t even know… OR maybe we don’t believe that God is looking for us…
That’s the promise in Hide and Seek – right? The promise is that the seeker won’t give up and start a new game. The promise is that they will keep on looking until they find you. That’s the promise of Jesus. He continues to seek you and never gives up. That’s the Good News of Jesus’ coming. That’s the Good news of Jesus that Mark proclaims.
John said to the people of his day and ours, “Prepare the Way of the Lord!” He’s not threatening: Get ready or else... Nor is he saying: “Jesus is coming - look busy.” No, John is saying, “this is fantastic news! It’s what we’ve been waiting for!”
Imagine the anticipation and joy of hearing that a loved one stationed overseas is coming home for Christmas – or a friend or relative who lives far away is coming home. Or…. You are having a baby…. You are excited and so you do everything that you can to get ready, to prepare for their coming. That’s what happens with Jesus... both his first coming at Christmas… and each Christmas since. Ask Mark proclaims: “this is what the people of God have been waiting for - this is good news!” This is: The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
So how can we prepare? John says the way to prepare is this: “Confess your sins. Get baptized. Receive God’s forgiveness. John literally invites people into the river to wash away the old ways – a little house cleaning for your heart and life -- to make room for Jesus – and for God’s way of living. In just a few more verses Jesus adds – Believe the Good News!
So how do we prepare? How do we make room for Jesus and God’s way of living in our lives today? Like John’s first listeners, we too need to confess and receive forgiveness, and as Jesus said, we too can believe this Good News. Because Jesus is coming – Ready or not! So do not worry about your “to-do” list. Instead, enjoy the wonderful music of concerts. Let it put a spring in your step and fill your heart with gladness. If you enjoy the decorating, the gift-giving and the cookies and the holiday festivities – wonderful! Relish the time with family and friends.
But what if we don’t prepare? What if we get distracted by all of the other parts of our life? I was talking with a young mother this past week who was simply overwhelmed with the “pressures” of what our culture expects “Christmas” to be.
And…so for her – and others who are either unable or unwilling or too frazzled to “prepare” or “get ready” in the ways that they think that they should – I have good news. Jesus is coming – ready or not and is bringing Good News of forgiveness, healing and salvation. Jesus comes to make things whole.
Luther reminds us of this in the catechism saying that God’s kingdom will come – with or without our help. God’s kingdom will come – Ready or Not. That’s a promise – not a threat. God will come and seek us whether we have done everything on our “to do” list – or not.
So let us pray that God’s kingdom will come so that we can be a part of the joy of Christ’s coming. But do not be afraid or worried or anxious or let the “pressures” of Christmas overwhelm you. As Mark writes in his Gospel: Jesus is coming –ready or not -- and this is GOOD News. Amen.
“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” according to Mark, the first chapter.
Glory to you Oh Lord….
As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, "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.' " John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And 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. Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He 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. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." The Gospel of our Lord.