December 8, 2002: Advent is a New Paradigm

Let us pray: Dear Savior, stir up our hearts today so that we can rid ourselves of arrogance and total self-interest. Stir up our hearts so that humility can live within our breasts. Stir up our hearts so that we can grow as people and as Christians by letting Your love increase in our lives. Yes, make us into new creations, Your new creations! Amen

TEXT: Mark 1: 1-8

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:

He had just finished a long day at work followed by some much-needed Christmas shopping. Now he was tired and thankful to be on the train headed home. Looking up and down the aisle he saw that countless other people mirrored his image. Like him, they too, were surrounded by shopping bags and wore the same hang-dog, tired expression on their faces. Then at the last minute a fellow got on the train and plopped down next to the man. His three little kids—ranging from age 4 to about 8 also got on. The man sat their quietly, staring off into space while his kids ran up and down the aisle, jostling people and generally getting on everyone’s nerves. But the man did nothing to correct his kids. He just sat there, oblivious, staring straight ahead. Finally, our tired shopper had had enough. Everyone was glaring daggers toward the lackadaisical father. Someone would have to say something, do something. So, our tired shopper turned and said to the father: “Don’t you think you should tell your kids to sit down and be quiet?” The man turned and responded: “O, I’m sorry, I really didn’t notice. You see we’ve just come from the hospital. My wife, their mother, just died. I guess the kids just don’t know how to cope with that yet.” In that instant a shift took place throughout that train car. Anger and frustration evaporated, replaced by sorrow and compassion. A new paradigm, a new way of looking at things was born.

That little story encapsulates the truth of today’s lesson. When John the Baptist, at the height of his popularity and power, saw Jesus, what did he say? “He must increase, but I must decrease.” When the people thronged to see John and hear his message, he didn’t tell them how great he was. No, instead he said: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Again, a new paradigm, a new way of looking at things was born.

Today we’re in the midst of Advent. We’re in the midst of preparing to meet Christ on His birthday. And today’s message is simply this:


If you go to the Peabody/Essex Museum in Salem you will find a room filled with fabulous silk robes. These were brought to America in the early 1800’s from Japan during those days of clipper ships and the China trade. Those robes are stunning. The gold and silk embroidery has to be seen to be believed. Yet, if you read the little placards alongside of them you’ll discover that they were never worn in public. No, those early Japanese wore plain grey robes in public. They reserved their best clothing to be worn at home surrounded by the people they loved. Their lovely clothes showed the love in their hearts to their loved ones.

In today’s gospel we are confronted with John the Baptist. We’re told that “John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” John’s clothes also reflected what was in his heart and in his mouth. God raised him up for one purpose: to lead people to repent of their sins. That’s an austere message. Putting personal pride aside and saying from the heart: “I can’t do it alone. I can’t control my life by myself. I don’t have all the answers. I need help. I need to do things God’s way instead of my way.” That is a tough message to hear and a tougher one to put into practice. And yet, that was what John was all about and what Advent is all about.


Advent is a new paradigm. It is a time during which God wants us to take a new, fresh look at seemingly old things. We have heard countless times that Jesus Christ came to save us. That Jesus, God’s Son, walked in our shoes and died in our place to save us from eternal death. That Jesus loves us and has freely given us a new lease on life by rising from our graves. We have heard numerous times that Jesus freely gives us this new lease on life, His life, via faith. Advent is the time to embrace that message anew! It is our time to shift our thinking away from: “my life is all about me” and toward: “my life is all about Christ and how He makes me into a new creation.” Yes, Advent is the time when we each need to quit carrying our own bag of stones around and let Christ do it for us. “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

In our little introductory story the people in that train car were changed in an instant. They underwent that transformation because suddenly they were given new information which changed their attitudes 180 degrees. In this current flurry to get things done before Christmas, God has given you new information. He has given you the mind-boggling truth through John the Baptist that He is sending His Son to save sinners—of whom you and I are the chief ones. So, listen to John’s voice, confess your sins to God, and embrace His new paradigm. If you do anything less it means that Advent is merely a series of throw-away days. But if you actually listen to and follow John’s words and example, well, then Advent becomes a time of tremendous richness, a new paradigm, that most others merely dream about. Amen