Candle Lighter: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.”
(In lighting the second Advent Candle)
Reader: “A voice shouting in the wilderness,”
Response: “‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!’”
Scripture: Mark 1:1-8
This is the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. It began just as the prophet Isaiah had written:
“Look, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
and he will prepare your way.
He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
Clear the road for him!’”
This messenger was John the Baptist. He was in the wilderness and preached that people should be baptized to show that they had repented of their sins and turned to God to be forgiven. All of Judea, including all the people of Jerusalem, went out to see and hear John. And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. His clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild honey.
John announced: “Someone is coming soon who is greater than I am—so much greater that I’m not even worthy to stoop down like a slave and untie the straps of his sandals. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!”
Reader: “The word of the Lord.”
Response: “Thanks be to God.”
The focus of this second Sunday in Advent turns our attention to John the Baptist. Mark’s gospel centers on Jesus as the Servant of God, so he begins with Jesus’ adult public ministry, skipping the birth narrative and the genealogies. In identifying John as this prophetic forerunner of the Messiah, Mark quotes from Malachi and Isaiah, the two most pronounced prophecies from the First Testament. Malachi spoke of an Elijah type figure as that person. In those days when royalty was to travel, messengers would be sent out ahead of time to make repairs in the often poorly maintained roads. I noticed years ago when I was in Kenya, the road from the airport to Nairobi was beautiful. The other roads not so much. Check the roads around our state capitols. Same idea. Here Mark is proclaiming that the Son of God, the Messiah, has come. He is helping his readers (most likely the church in Rome, based on some of the “Latinisms” in the rest of the book) who may not have been as familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures, to grasp the significance of John the Baptist’s role in proclaiming the coming of the Son of God. He’s an example. Mark makes a comment that John’s clothes were “woven from coarse camel hair and that he wore a leather belt around his waist.” What is the point of saying that? It is an indirect reference to the prophet Elijah’s attire (II Kings 1:8) because Mark wants his readers to get the connection that John the Baptist is the New Testament Elijah.. The early church referred to itself as “The Way,” perhaps as a result of the phrase “Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming . . .” In preparation for the Lord’s coming, John called the people to repent of their sins, a familiar theme to the Israelites wandering in the wilderness some 1400 years earlier. His message was that a repentant heart was the kind of heart that was prepared to receive the message of the gospel. After 400 years of silence from any prophet, John’s ministry was a growing phenomenon as flocks of people traveled the eighteen miles from Jerusalem down to the Jordan River to see and hear this “wild man from the desert.” The message, “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!”(Pentecost). How does this passage speak to us? Read the words of Malachi and Isaiah again. The Bible is our Messenger as the Holy Spirit speaks to guide us in preparing the way, the way to what? “Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming! Clear the road for him!” You are going to meet the Lord, either when you die or when he returns. In other words, get your act together. Heed the words of John. Repent. Clean up your life. Get deadly serious about the Lord. Spend time with the Messenger. Listen and live out your baptism and bury your old self daily and rise to new life.
Music: “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” from the musical “Godspell”
A word about this video. The idea is that people from all walks of life have repented, discovered the setting free of the gospel, and the joy of having been washed from their sins. The fountain is their baptism and John the Baptist is the one who has called them. You see a couple of glances at Jesus who is coming to be baptized by John.
Prayer: Merciful God, who didst send thy messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. ―Book of Common Prayer, (BCP)