Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
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Mark 1:1-8 The Proclamation of John the Baptist
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
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.’
Can someone remind me what the name of the church season that starts today? Advent! That’s right. So, I have another question (the manger is on the communion table). What is this? A manger! And what are these? (I hold up animals, Holy Family, minus Jesus, shepherds, Magi, and angel). Now, remember the scripture that we just heard? Did you hear anything about animals? Angels? Shepherds? Joseph? Mary? Even Baby Jesus? No. That’s right. You didn’t. Who did you hear about? John the Baptist! And, can you remember what job John the Baptist would have? He’s going tell people to repent and offer them a ritual of baptism as a sign of their repentance. He’s going wear itchy clothes and eat bugs and argue with bad kings. And, he’s going to say, “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.” He will be the one who tells other people that the Messiah is coming and will tell them that it is Jesus.
Just a few minutes ago, I said that the word Advent comes from a Latin phrase that means “until the coming.” The season that we are starting today, Advent, is all about doing what John did: prepare for Jesus to come into this world. We prepare our churches and ourselves in a couple different ways. What are some things that are different in the sanctuary from the last time you were here? (Wait for people to list the things they notice: paraments are a different color, Christmas tree with Chrismons, Advent wreath and candles, Advent banner, manger) When we change how things look in a space, it can remind us that something special is getting ready to happen. The purple paraments, the special ornaments and candles, and the manger scene are all signs that the season has changed, and we are now making preparations to welcome the one John was talking about into the world.
While Matthew and Luke start off by telling us about Jesus’ birth and his parents, Mark starts off with John, an adult whose birth we learn of in Luke, doing the thing he is called to do: call people to repentance and prophecy of the one who is to come. If you come expecting to hear about Mary or Joseph or even Zechariah and Elizabeth and a baby, it might be a surprise to start off the season with grown up John and no sweet baby in sight. There’s a pastor and professor named Timothy L. Adkins-Jones who said it is “like a splash of cold water on the face.” Does anyone here remember their baptism or remembering seeing a baptism where the water surprises people? Babies notoriously don’t love getting wet heads out of nowhere. And, I certainly remember baptisms I’ve done in a cooler than expected Maranacook Lake. The cold water can wake you up... make you pay attention. And, John wants us to pay attention.
In his commentary on this text, Dr. Adkins-Jones says that “Advent is a time of new beginnings for our contexts, for a reminder of the foundations of our faith, a recommitment to what defines us, and an opportunity for us to wake up and make pathways straight for Jesus to come into our communities anew.” I don’t plan on wearing scratchy shirts or eating locusts while I prepare the way for Jesus this Advent. I generally prefer cookies to bugs. But, there are some things I will do. I’ll be lighting an Advent wreath here and at home. I’ll be reading the “How Does a Weary World Rejoice” devotional. Tasha and I have been looking out for ways to help people who need financial assistance because we know that Jesus called for those who have a lot to share with those who don’t have enough. I’ll probably also be writing legislators about ceasefires and gun control, because I know that the coming Christ calls for peace and justice.
There are often many pressures in what is called the Christmas season- the pressure to buy the perfect gift, to buy any gifts if you don’t have money, the pressure to craft a picture-perfect family, the pressure to feel cheery even if you are missing someone who is no longer here. I hope that Advent can give you some space for feeling other things than the cheer that a big box store requires while you are out shopping. If you need some cheer, I hope you take it. It’s been and continues to be a hard season. But, if you need some space for more complicated feelings or for stillness or for deeper meaning, Advent is here for that. Dr. Adkins-Jones says that we can take this time for “return, repentance, and rededication.” What are the traditions and communities that we can return to in order to help us to make a path clear for Jesus into our hearts and our world? What are the behaviors that we need to give over to God that separate us from God and each other? What are the practices of love and justice that we can commit to, once again or maybe for the first time, because they give us strength for journeying alongside Christ in the world?
Today, we talked some about what has been giving us hope lately. Maybe that’s one way Advent can be of use for you as you prepare for Christ once again. What would it mean for you to intentionally name places of hope for you not just here in worship, but each day this week? I don’t want this to feel like homework in an already busy time. But, I do think 5 minutes of thinking about hope while you brush your teeth or feed the cats might be helpful right now. Maybe you decide that you don’t have the brain space to add one more thing to your plate. That’s ok. We don’t make the baby come by working ourselves into the ground. Jesus will come whether we do much of anything at all really. But the arrival will be sweeter if we have prepared for it. May you find your way through this wilderness, led by John and all who call us to turn towards the God we seek. And, may this Advent help return a little bit of hope your way.
Resources consulted while writing this sermon:
Carolyn Brown: https://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2014/10/planning-for-advent-and-christmas-year.html
Timothy Adkins-Jones: https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/second-sunday-of-advent-2/commentary-on-mark-11-8-6
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.