Advent 2 2011 Mark 1v1-8 What are you waiting for?
The prophets speak of a messenger who will prepare for the coming of the Christ, a prophet who will deliver the people, make the way straight.
Like the rest of the church throughout the world we are waiting, because that is what Advent means-waiting/coming. It is a time of preparation, of waiting for Christ's coming. The preparation is a spiritual one. It’s a good time to be in church.
The story of the angel Gabriel coming to Zechariah speaks of preparation for such a deliverance through the birth of a baby, who will be a prophet, someone who will begin to build the upside down kingdom and restore values to society. John the Baptist was someone who would be set aside to speak truth into a society that had lost its way. He would turn people back to God and restore families. Hope to the Hopeless! We need such people.
John the Baptist is "the voice of one crying out in the wilderness."
In Mark’s gospel the body of the narrative takes place in the everyday world, in the villages of Galilee and Jerusalem, with ordinary people, crowds and disciples, priests, scribes and Pharisees. The prologue, however, begins in a transcendent, offstage setting, then narrates what transpires in the wilderness' with an extraordinary cast including God and John the Baptizer.
The word evangellon is used of the type of communication carried by a messenger relaying important news, such as a victory or loss in battle. John uses a number of Old Testament sources in his quote; Isaiah, Exodus, Malachi as is common in the gospels. A composite.
An angel or messenger is the forerunner of the Messiah, an Elijah type, cf. Mal.4. Who will prepare and make ready, prepare the way. The imagery reflect the road-building activities of the great powers, eg. the Assyrians and Romans. The making of roads made transport possible, eased the way for travel.
The second quote comes from Isaiah 40:3. The desert is the place where a voice sounds. Many religious communities were founded in the desert. A voice which cries out in the desert, the wilderness, a desolate and abandoned place. Prepare, make ready. How often does God come to us in a desert, abandon place.
Mark focuses on his call for repentance and baptizing or immersing and preaching. Water baptism is a visible expression of repentance in response to the message in the desert. A baptism of repentance- of a turning about is a changing direction. The humbling and changing puts us in a place where we are able to receive God's love, his Spirit.
The whole Judean countryside has gone to meet him which illustrate John's popularity. This popularity is confirmed by the historian Josephus. A flow of people witness John's ministry by the Jordan river. They confessed their sins and were baptized. In Jewish proselyte baptism the initiate baptizes themselves, but here John is performing the rite in the Jordan river.
Mark's description of John's clothing and food, serves to further the image of the "one calling in the wilderness", an image with powerful Old Testament precedents. John is a man of the desert, an ascetic, a Nazarite. his dress is similar to that of Elijah. God is encountered in the wilderness and so this is where John operates and is dressed accordingly.He wore camel's hair-very prickly. And a wide leather waistband. He ate locusts. Still to this day a food source used by the poor.
Someone is coming he said, whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. A Hebrew slave would not be expected to undertake the menial task of untying the master's sandal. John baptized with water while Jesus baptizes with Spirit.
He spoke out against what was wrong and corrupt in his society and as a result was imprisoned and finally killed. He himself was unaware of who Jesus was and before he died he heard in prison of the miracles of Jesus and therefore handed over the torch to him.
Part of the preparation for Christs coming again means recognizing that all is not well in our own lives and in the lives of those around us. There must be justice for those who are currently suffering and this means speaking out as John did.
Christ came as a beacon in a dark world to give us life. In particular we associate Christ's coming with the deaf hearing, the blind seeing the poor having good news preached to them. Again if we are to see
that realized then it means speaking out.
There are many for whom life is no easy task and as I understand it the Christian message means that those who are privileged have a responsibility to ease their burden.
John's call for repentance or change not only is a call on our lives as individuals but our life as a society. As a nation we need to change.
So this Advent as we turn in the journey of our own lives to embrace that call to change, however small our response may be we will encounter Christ and our Advent will become a time of hope, as we not only enjoy Christmas but spiritually feed on the light, the hope, the beacon of Christ, for this is the true meaning of Christmas.