Let us pray: Dear Savior, thank You for sending John the Baptist as Your Forerunner. Thank You for giving him the strength and courage to address sin directly in people’s lives and so prepare the way for Your forgiveness won on the cross. This Christmas season, move all of us to be just as honest as he was and just as impassioned when it comes to our need of Your forgiving love. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE COMING CHRISTMAS KING!
TEXT: Mark 1: 1-8
Dearly Beloved By Christ:
I find it insightful that Mark’s Gospel begins with the advent of John the Baptist. Since Mark’s Gospel is really St. Peter’s recollections of Christ’s ministry, this opening section provides us with insight into Peter’s character. Peter just “says it like it is.” He doesn’t sugar-coat the reality we live in. He doesn’t water-down Godly truth. Peter obviously relates to John the Baptist and his very direct message of: repent! This explains the directness of these opening verses.
So, let’s put all this in modern terms. When you hear the word: repent, what does it really mean? When I use that word in a sermon I can almost see people’s eyes glaze over. “Yah, I sometimes do bad stuff and God wants me to say I’m sorry and then I’ll be forgiven and that’s that.” But, we need to drill down into specifics if we truly want to understand what repentance means. So, I’ll put it a bit more bluntly—just as John the Baptist did. 1. All you people who live together before marriage and engage in casual sex outside of marriage rationalizing it by saying: “Everyone does it. It’s natural. We love each other. Or, we plan on making it legal sometime in the future;”—your behavior is an affront to God! He’s not going to bless you because of your sin. Repent! Realize you’re killing your soul. Shed tears and feel real anguish for hurting God and yourself and beg His forgiveness! 2. All you people whose goal in life is to amass wealth and prestige by taking advantage of anyone you can—repent! God can see your motives and He’s not pleased when you think that wealth and prestige will make you fulfilled. They won’t. But His forgiving love will. 3. All you people who are complacently living with the attitude: “God is always there, church is always there, and if that God stuff isn’t convenient, I’ll just pick it up later on when it is”—repent, change your attitude! You might die tonight and then it will be too late.
John the Baptist preached with this kind of directness. He didn’t mince words. His clothing was as austere as His message. Peter gives us an overview of this in our text, summing it all up with that little word: repent! Change your attitude. Change your thinking. Change your approach to life. And get ready to receive God’s life-altering gift of forgiveness wrapped up in His Son, Jesus Christ!
Peter quotes from Isaiah’s prophecy about this coming Forerunner of the Messiah and how his directness will impact hearts. He will “prepare the way of the Lord.” He’s a “voice calling in the desert.” He will “make straight paths for him.” Christ is the King of hearts. So going through the motions of Christmas preparations is just fluff. The main event takes place every Sunday and every day as we examine our hearts for sin, how it twists us, and how it alienates us from God. Look at your televisions and behold the desert around LA on fire. It’s a wasteland. Well, human life in America right now is a wasteland, too. People are parched, often devoid of the green shoots of morality, goodness, compassion, and stepping out of one’s comfort zone to help hurting souls. John was about waking people, you and I, up to our slumber and the hurt it causes God’s creation. And as to those “straight paths” well, in mountainous terrain no road is a straight line. It switches back and forth upon itself. It’s circuitous and takes a long time to arrive at the destination. This is a microcosm of our lives. For every step forward that we take as God’s people we often have to swerve and veer off to the side in order to reach out destination. It’s long and involved and frustrating. O for straight highways! Well, in Jesus Christ we have a straight highway to heaven. We have direct access to God Almighty! John was Christ’s paving crew of straightening out our hearts for this gift to follow. And crushing the stony roadbed of sin in our hearts was his job. This still occurs today as we take to heart the meaning of: repent!
When you read the Bible you get a mental picture of the characters. St. Peter must have been powerfully built and a bit hard-edged. So, too, John the Baptist. In any case, John wasn’t a shrinking violet. I think that’s why Peter so relates to him. And remember, Peter was probably a disciple of John before he met Christ. Before John pointed his followers to Jesus and told them: “He must increase and I must decrease.”
John would have had a beard, probably a long one. He wore rough nomadic clothing. He ate simple food that was very nutritious: locusts for pure protein and wild honey for carbs and energy which also had medicinal properties since bacteria cannot survive in honey.
We make life very complex in our culture. So did the people of Rome and the citified Jews. In complex cultures little things, silly things become big things. People obsess over how they look, what they wear, and their possessions but overlook things like: truthfulness, honesty, faithfulness, and genuine kindness. Looking back at life, the finest human beings I’ve known were usually from modest means who the masses would overlook and never seek to curry favor with them. Here’s a test: “If you lost everything you have, how many of your friends would still want to be your friends? Who can you truly rely on?” John the Baptist was one of those old reliables. So was Peter. So were those simple folks I just referred to.
And if you doubt that kind of sincere commitment unencumbered by ego, listen to John message concerning Jesus Christ: “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”—referring to the future Pentecost.
On this second Sunday of Advent, put some of the seasonal fluff aside and focus on what’s really important in life. “Love the Lord your God above all else and love your neighbor as yourself.” Don’t put morality, faithfulness, trustworthiness or honesty on the backburner, but the front-burner! Prepare your hearts to meet the Christ-child and be warmed from the inside out by His forgiving love earned in complete faithfulness towards you!…….Amen