Preparing the Way

December 6, 2020 (Advent 2)

Mark 1:1-8

            Earlier this week we received one of our first snow accumulations for the season, although if you look outside now, you couldn’t really tell. As December ushers in the snow, we are used to the month also ushering in many other activities. Preparations are usually underway for Christmas office parties and arrangements are being made for family to gather and celebrate the season. It is a joyous time of the year for many. That is not the case for everyone. For some, their preparation may mean gathering enough courage to face each day because this is the first holiday without a loved one.

            The pandemic we currently find ourselves in, means that many of us fall more into the category of dealing with loss instead of looking toward the joyous aspects of the holidays this year. Our lives have been turned upside down. Instead of making preparations for family to gather in person, we are exploring ways we can connect online. Instead of inundating the stores on black Friday, online shopping has went to new levels to the point that we better allow at least a couple of weeks for a package to ship if you want to have it in time for Christmas. Our preparations may look different this year. Amid our current situation, we have learned to adjust and prepare in different ways.

            The gospel of Mark is one of four stories that introduce us to Jesus Christ. And Mark starts out with stating the very focus of his writing. First, Jesus Christ is the center of what is to come. Second, Jesus is the Son of God. Third, this is the good news. While in the gospel of Mark, the birth narrative is skipped over and left to the other gospels, it still points to Jesus Christ as the beginning of the Good News. The gospel points to Isaiah as paving the way for this good news, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’ ”

            John the Baptist is the messenger Isaiah is referring and a messenger that Mark chooses to highlight as he begins sharing the good news. John the Baptist has come to prepare the way of the Lord. John the Baptist is the forerunner to what is to come. He is the opening act to Jesus’ main stage. Quite often, these forerunners get little attention and are overshadowed by those whom they have prepared the way. For instance, did you know that Rosa Parks was not the first black woman to refuse to give up her seat on a bus during the Civil Rights Era. Both Sarah Evans and Claudette Colvin refused to give up their bus seat to a white person before Rosa Parks. They were the forerunners to Rosa Parks and the movement that would become the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Jan Hus was a forerunner to Martin Luther and helped shape some of his thoughts. What set Martin Luther apart was his timing and the fact he had the marvel of the printing press to his advantage. Just think, we could have been Hussite’s instead of Lutherans.

            These forerunners prepared the way for those that are more well known. To prepare the way does not come without sacrifice. The forerunners to Rosa Parks were arrested. Jan Hus was burned alive at the stake. John the Baptist would eventually be beheaded!

            Right from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry we experience his humility. He honors John the Baptist and if you recall is insistent in being baptized by him and not the other way around as John thinks it should be.  We are getting a little ahead of ourselves though.

            John prepares the way for Jesus Christ by preparing the people. I am not sure how many of you are familiar with the musical Godspell. In one of the opening scenes, John the Baptist, sings “Prepare Ye;” it is wonderful and joyous. Set in the 1970’s, he calls people out from their current jobs. Sounds a lot like Jesus! John the Baptist was a forerunner. The people John calls come running to the park and dance around in a fountain, symbolizing their own baptisms. A baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins is what John the Baptist says he is going to do.

            Baptism is just one step on our way in the preparation for the Lord. While we are baptized in the Holy Spirit as John states, we are also washed clean of our sins through the wonderous water. We need a constant reminder of that baptism as we stray from the promises we make in baptism through our daily sins, both known and unknown.

            Struggling with repentance is not new and we all fall short of the glory of God. It can be difficult to repent and own up for the mistakes that are made in life. To admit that we are wrong and took a misstep requires courage and vulnerability. Making preparations for Christ calls us out of the status quo and into something new and wonderful. John the Baptist is the messenger and forerunner to the good news that Jesus Christ is going to reveal to the whole world.

            This particular season of Advent is unlike anything we have ever experienced in our lifetime. You are probably getting tired of hearing that as it has been referred to many things over the last several months. However, it is the truth. In our Advent Book Study, we are talking about what is making us weary. For some, the Christmas season may bring a weariness every year. For others, it may be a new feeling this year. I could almost guarantee that all of us are experiencing some form of weariness is this long drawn out pandemic, especially as we approach Christmas.

            In the midst of it, we can still make preparations. We can prepare to meet with family differently; we can make our purchases all online and pick them up curbside or have them delivered; we will also be preparing to worship in a different manner this Christmas. Those are the outward preparations.

            What are you doing to prepare your heart this Advent? Are you opening yourselves up to conversations with God and Jesus as you seek comfort and peace among the weariness? Are you turning to the story of a little baby born in Bethlehem and finding hope?

            It is that hope that Mark points to as he opens his gospel for us to hear, “This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” There is not a better time than this Advent to come to the manger with an expectant hope as we look for Jesus in our midst to guide us and walk with us through these past months and whatever the new year may bring.

This is just the beginning of the good news as we await the coming of the Lord. In the meantime, let us prepare the way for our hearts to be opened and make preparations for others by being the hands and feet of God in our community today.

By Alex Steward

I am a husband, father, and pastor within the ELCA. I did not grow up in the church and thus come at this pastoring thing with an unique perspective.

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