Mark 1:1-8 (NRSV)
The Proclamation of John the Baptist
1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 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. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 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. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
This Sunday’s Gospel is the beginning of the account of Mark, who begins his version of the story we know so well by quoting Isaiah, who prophesied about John the Baptist — the quirky locust-and-honey-eating Baptizer who foretold the arrival of the Messiah. Isaiah 40: 1-11 is an eager passage, giving instructions about making room for the voice in the wilderness, making smooth the rough ground and making straight the path for the Lord. There is a multi-faceted preparation theme here: Isaiah was preparing people for John the Baptist, who was preparing people for Jesus, and God was preparing us for all of it. In a mere ten lines, Mark shows us the eternal perspective of God — who knew that his people, with their small-minded, selfish and missing-the-point tendencies, would need to have this plan spelled out clearly.
The theme of preparation is vitally important in a season based solely on waiting for a miracle. Jesus’ grand arrival on Earth in the form of a helpless and tiny baby is significant for so many reasons. One of these is that Mary and Joseph needed time to prepare. The nine months of preparing for a baby’s arrival are so precious. Getting the environment ready (painting walls, assembling cots and car seats) is one aspect, but mentally preparing — coming to terms with life changing entirely — is no small feat. Without this time of preparation, we would be flummoxed by a baby showing up on our doorstep.
The church calendar has given us time to prepare for the incredible significance of Jesus’ arrival on earth 2,000 years ago. But this is not the only preparation we should be engaging in. Rob Bell believes that by the church calendar, we create space for the full range of human experience. If we skip to the birth of Jesus without reflecting on the despair, hopelessness, and probably lack of faith that preceded Jesus’ arrival, we miss the point.
We have the privilege of knowing that God showed up in human form: we have spent years speaking, reading, writing, and reflecting on this truth in all its significance. But we do not know what God is doing now, not on a global, eternal perspective. Do we have faith that God is moving? To be honest, sometimes it feels as though He’s fallen asleep at the wheel. But our God never slumbers or sleeps (Psalm 121: 4). Advent is a season in which we pay attention to the despair. There is an incredible amount of brokenness in this world, which should make us do two things: it should make us stop and sit in the pain and the frustration and the confusion. And then, when we have prayed and meditated and reflected, we should move. We should get up and get engaged and step into the space in which God is calling us to be. If John the Baptist had been afraid of God’s calling on his life, how many people would not have recognised Jesus when he walked in front of them?
God does infinitely more than we might ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20), so let’s pray bigger prayers and look for his spirit moving in all we do. And let’s actively engage in unlocking the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. Psalm 85, which will also be read around the world on Sunday, in the NLT version, states that ‘unfailing love and truth have met together. Righteousness and peace have kissed.’ This is an interesting tense to use; and we can state this with confidence. It is finished. God sent his son, in the form of a tiny baby, to an unassuming couple in Israel 2,000 years ago, and look what happened!
So this is a time of preparation, and waiting, but not of sitting passively at the window waiting for our knight in shining armor to show up and fix the growing list of broken things in our house. We can phone him, put him on loudspeaker, and use the tool box he left us. We have the Holy Spirit, and we have direct communication with the God of the Universe. Let’s not get distracted by the despair of the current political climate, of the seemingly insurmountable problems of poverty and hunger and homelessness and violence and oppression and displacement and... and. The list could go on forever. But as Sarah Bessey says so beautifully, we have the tools to move mountains, one brick at a time.
‘For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God has prepared in advance for us to do.’
- Ephesians 2: 10
Humility, as John the Baptist had, and as Mary had, means we can acknowledge that we cannot change the world on our own. But pride in our God, and pride in knowing we are his children and his army, means we can be used by God in his grand plan. One step, one shout in the wilderness, at a time. What I love about John the Baptist is his commitment to something he could not yet see. He had faith that God would do something incredible — send the Messiah to set the world to rights and give us full access to God — and he jumped on board.
So this week, as we move towards the second Sunday of Advent, let’s wait expectantly for the arrival of the Son of God, the Saviour of the world. And then let’s truly believe that he is still the savior of the world, and that we are called to pick up the tools God has given us, and to work to bring the Kingdom of God to Earth. Let’s reflect, anticipate, feel the pain, and prepare for what God is calling us to do next.
Katie is an aspiring writer, an eternal intern, and a passionate Jesus-Feminist. With a Master’s in International Development and a Bachelors in Sociology and French, she is qualified for ... making lattes and pulling pints (skills that she has put to great use). Currently in New York on a Graduate visa, and having lived in Edinburgh for two years.