“Prepare the Way of the Lord”

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2nd Sunday in Advent
December 4, 2011
Mark 1:1-8
Peder Stenslie

For our Gospel lesson today, we hear the opening lines of the Gospel of Mark. The first sentence reads: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ…” What then follows is the story of a strange man named John.

It’s interesting that as far as Mark was concerned…“the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ…” was not the birth of Jesus. In fact, it didn’t begin with Jesus at all, but with the appearance of John the Baptist.

All four of the Gospel writers tell John’s story. All four consider him to be an essential piece of the story of God’s coming into the world in Christ.

I think we often wonder about the necessity of John. We tend to be impatient and want to get to the arrival of Christ. After all, isn’t he the reason for the season? Isn’t that what it’s all about? Why not simply focus on and celebrate the Light of the World coming into our lives?

The emphasis on John may seem like an unnecessary distraction, but in fact, it calls our attention to a very important quality of the Kingdom of God. By its very nature, the Kingdom of God is easily missed by those it comes to. God’s way of coming into the world is always unexpected. His appearance is usually hidden in forms that seem unimportant and small.

Therefore, the coming of God needs a herald. It needs one that calls our attention to its coming. John reminds us that God’s coming in Christ is something that we need to watch for… something we need to make ourselves ready for. If we are not ready for it, we stand to miss the treasures it brings… as our minds are preoccupied and distracted by other things.

I want to be clear about what I am saying. Christ comes whether we are ready or not. We certainly cannot stop his coming or his work in the world. But if Christ is going to bring his life and light into our lives… into our hearts… if we are going to be a part of his work in the world, then we need to be ready to receive him.

Jesus once explained his purpose in this way: "I came that [you] may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) In other words, Christ came into the world long ago… and he continues to come to us today… in order to brighten our lives with God’s grace and goodness. He comes so that we might know health, well-being and joy in our relationships and in our lives.

John the Baptist reminds us that we human creatures need to be awakened. We need to have our eyes opened so that we can see this gift of life… abundant life… which has come upon us in Christ.

When I was 21, I met a young man named Marcus. We found we shared some interests and passions and became friends. Through him, I got to know his wife, Sheila. They had a little boy together and Sheila was pregnant with their second. What a wonderful thing it was to see this young family! There was so much life, so much hope and excitement about the future.

However, it soon became clear to me that Marcus had a serious problem with alcohol. He wasn’t ready to be a father… or a husband. He wasn’t ready for life. One day, Sheila told me that drinking was a problem they both shared a few years earlier. She had gone into treatment when she became pregnant with their first child. She had been sober ever since.

For Sheila, getting sober… staying sober… healing and finally growing up… these were not easy things to do. It was a monstrous task that involved very hard work… emotional pain… and difficult decisions. Why would Sheila take such a path that brought her so much work and pain? Why not just continue the same familiar, comfortable way… together with Marcus… and avoid the work, the pain and the difficult decisions?

The answer is that Sheila’s eyes had been opened. She saw what was coming into her world. She knew that she wanted to be a part of the wonderful life and light that her creator was drawing her into. For her, being pregnant became a wake-up call…. It caused her to look at her life in a new way. She understood that now was the time to change and grow.

In her life, she heard the call of her creator, like the voice of one crying in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” She understood that the Spirit… the help… and the good gifts of God were right in her midst. And so she looked to God… and to counselors, and to sponsors and to friends… to help her get ready. For Sheila, getting and staying sober… healing and growing up… was getting ready for the gift of life given by God.

All of scripture, from beginning to end, testifies to how we, the human creature, need to make ourselves ready for the coming of the power of God into our lives.

Our natural way is to be turned inward on ourselves. We let our appetites, our wants, our hurts and fears, our insecurities and our vain ambitions drive our behaviors. When we do this, our lives become a wilderness of sorrow, pain and broken relationships.

But God calls to us in the wilderness. He calls us to get out of our self-destructive selves and turn outward. He would have us turn to him. The one who called us into being would have us receive from him love and strength and joy… gifts that free us from ourselves and connect us with God’s creation in good and healthy ways. He would have us learn from him how to open ourselves to others in our midst… family, friends, our neighbor… to give and receive the good gifts of God’s grace.

The season of Advent is a time of waiting and a time of preparation. It is a time for us to consider what it means to wait for God. What does it mean not just to acknowledge that God has come into the world in Christ, but to make ourselves ready to receive him into our own lives? Ready to let him lead us to new life.

In part, it means lifting our eyes to see beyond our own personal pains and desires to behold power greater than ourselves. It means hearing God calling us to change and growth. It means learning to lean on the strength of God and the help and support of good people as we endure the work and pain that growth and change bring.

You students know well that your time here at Y.C.C. is a time of waiting… waiting until you can leave this place and move on to lives that you hope will be good and happy. However, John the Baptist reminds us that our time of waiting is meaningless… useless… if we don’t understand that it must also be a time of preparation… getting ready.

The “voice of one crying out in the wilderness” calls to you this Advent season. It declares that the Spirit of God is here… in your midst. Life awaits you. God is present with you in your wilderness, calling you to reorder your life so that his love might give growth in you and bring forth his Kingdom.

“Prepare the way of the Lord.” That is our calling and our task this Advent season.

Amen.

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