Who Does The Preparing? You or God?: Second Sunday in Advent - Mark 1:1-8
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Rev. Ted A. Giese / Mark 1:1-8 / Adent 2 - December 7th 2014
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,
“Behold, I send My messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make His paths straight,’”
John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes He who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. The hands on the clock have moved, the lights of flame on the Advent wreath have increased, Christ comes closer - His Christmastide approaches - today He comes to you at the River Jordan. The Word of His coming stands on the river bank and men and women and children come to hear of this coming Son of God. John the Baptizer proclaims Jesus' coming.
Now Jesus and John are about the same age, John is just a little bit older than Jesus, as John's Mother Elizabeth in her old age became miraculously pregnant by her husband Zechariah not too long before the Virgin Mary was overshadowed by the power of the Most High and Jesus had been conceived by the Holy Spirit's working. Elizabeth was six months pregnant with John when Marry came to visit her in Elizabeth's home town, the two women were cousins, relatives, and when these two pregnant women met Elizabeth said to Marry, "behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy." Consider these two women, pregnant at the same time together: One a young virgin carrying something new - the promised Son of God, God Made flesh, the incarnate Christ - the other an aged woman, past her child barring years, barren, carrying something old an Old Testament Prophet, the last Old Testament Prophet. So years later when John quotes the forerunning Old Testament prophets saying, “Behold, I send My messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight,’” John is not talking about a far off coming of the Lord Jesus, but rather an imminent coming of the Son of God - this is not a foretelling of a birth - for as John says these words Jesus had already been born and He had already grown and became strong, He's already been filled with wisdom and the favour of God was upon Him: Jesus had, like John, grown into adulthood. What John then is speaking of is the fast, fast approaching Christ.
In saying these words John is saying that, the end is near, the end of Israel's waiting is near, their King - their Saviour - God's Son is already in their midst and they do not yet know Him. He walks their streets, He eats their food, He sings their hymns, He suffers their troubles. He is hidden and will suddenly be revealed and when He comes this John - this faithful servant, this man from the house of Levi, a priest amongst the people, will fall to the ground in reverence for he will not be worthy to even untie even the sandals on the feet of this Mighty Christ, this Jesus, this Immanuel, the Saviour who comes. This Jesus who has come and whose Good News, whose Gospel, is about to begin. When Jesus does show up at the river's edge John points to Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit John says “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" For all the world Jesus looked like any other man coming to the river to hear John preach yet John points Him out for who He is.
According to Google Maps it's about an 8 or 9 hour hike from Jerusalem to the river Jordan - that's if you're looking to get to a place near, near-ish to Jericho. For most of the people outside of Jerusalem in Judea it could be an even longer hike to get to the river. Take a minute to think about that: Mark is telling us that all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to John the Baptizer and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Many were willing to walk for 9 or more hours to confess their sin and be baptized and then walk 9 or more hours back home, that's a lot of hours walking the paths of Judea to the place where God had raised up a prophet.
Even then time was money and that hike was time off work to be sure because they weren't to travel on their day of rest. Another thing to consider is that the place where the Jewish people went to have their sins forgiven wasn't the river Jordan, it was at the Temple in Jerusalem, yet out they go to the river to confess their sins and be forgiven. After the baptism of John each man, women and child who walked those paths back to their home towns, back to Jerusalem, were men and women and children prepared for the imminent coming of Jesus, prepared to hear Jesus preach, prepared to be healed by His hand, prepared to rise up shouts of Hosanna, to wave palm branches, to throw their coats beneath the donkeys hooves when only about three years latter Jesus would come into Jerusalem humble and riding on the back of a colt, the foal of a Donkey. With every baptism John preformed John was preparing the way of the Lord, John was make Jesus' paths straight.
What was John's Baptism like? John did not ask 'how repentant are you?' and then if he liked their answer, then and only then would he baptise them, no! Scripture tell us no such thing, in fact, what the words of the text proclaim is that the baptism produced a repentant heart and graciously delivered God's forgiveness for those who received it, that the baptism was a baptism of preparation preparing their repentant hearts to receive the Holy Spirit when Jesus would be revealed and when Jesus would preach God's Word to them. Before their hands would cut a palm branch, before their shoulders would shrug off their coats, before their vocal chords would resonate with a cry for deliverance, they were being prepared by the mercy, love and Grace of God. It's as though the field is turned over, ploughed, ready, left waiting the imminent sowing of the Gospel seed, waiting the coming of the sower, who is Christ Jesus, the Lord.
The Gospel of Mark tell us that "all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to [John]," not some, not a few, but all! This Jesus, this Son of God, this Christ that was coming to them, their long expected Saviour, was not about to be revealed to a few people, He was not about to be made known to some of the people but to all the people. This Christmas when we celebrate the coming of Christ Jesus for us remember that He came for all people, not for some, not for a few but for all. Jesus says that, "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Therefore do not fear to share Jesus with others, for before you do so, the Holy Spirit will already have been at work, the Holy Spirit will implant Jesus, the Holy Spirit will gust forth with the love of Christ, the wind of faith will work the gift of repentance where and when He wills it.
Yes, Jesus is for everyone: He is certainly for the Jew and He is for the Muslim, He is completely for the Hindu and He is for the Buddhist, He's utterly for the Atheist and He is for the Agnostic - Jesus is for All people. Jesus has not come - He is not coming - to less than all people. On His Second Advent, "every knee shall bow to [the LORD], and every tongue shall confess to God.” As St. Paul says, "So then each of us will give an account of himself to God." On that day there will be no reincarnation, there will be no eternal dirt nap, all will be known and every objection will be silenced, there will be but one God on that day (Father, Son and Holy Spirit - the Holy Trinity) and the face of Christ Jesus the Son of God will stand before all people and it will happen all of a sudden. The Last Day will be like the banks of the river Jordan, just as Jesus was with the people of Israel and they didn't yet know Him, Jesus is with the world now; He is amongst the people of the world breaking bread, giving Himself and His forgiveness; He's hidden in the hungry, the naked, the suffering and when He appears there will be those who will be surprised at His revelation and there will be those who stand prepared, who will drop to their knees in joy, who will confess with great happiness that their Lord has come, that He has come to them.
You are here today at Mount Olive, drawn here by the workings of the Holy Spirit in your life, drawn here to confess your sins and receive forgiveness, to hear about Jesus and His coming for you, His Death for you, His Resurrection for you, His Life for you - a Life which, in Him, has now become your life. That you have sins that need to be confessed and forgiven means that you have something in common with the men, women and children that John preached to (these men, women and children that we hear of in the Gospel of Mark) but your baptism is different than their baptism, because you have been baptised into the revealed Son of God - the coming one who has come, You've been baptised into the name of the Holy Spirit the one whom God the Father has sent in the name of Christ Jesus, you've been baptised in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Were your sins forgiven in your baptism, as their sins were forgiven in John's baptism? Yes, but theirs were forgiven in the promise of a coming Saviour - yours were washed away in the blood of a Saviour who has come and will come again, yours were washed away in the fulfilment of the promises of the Lord.
Advent is a season of preparation, today we have thought a bit about God preparing the people for the coming of His Son, does this work continue today? Yes. However, it's not about One who is coming but about One who has come and that makes it a little different or does it? In the Old Testament people had to have faith that Christ was coming, when Christ had come the people of His day had to have faith that Jesus was the Christ, after His crucifixion, resurrection and ascension straight through to today people have to have faith that Christ has come and will come again and that that Christ is Jesus. People have always been in the same boat, either they are in the boat of faith, the boat of the church, or they are adrift on the sea of false beliefs. So how does faith come? St Paul tells us that "faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." This is precisely what today's Gospel reading is about, John the baptizer comes proclaiming, speaking God's Word, in doing so God is using Him to prepare people for the implanting of faith. Remember earlier when John and Jesus were still both in the wombs of their mothers Elizabeth says, "behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy." When the sound of your greeting came to my ears!
People walked 9 or more hours to John to hear him tell them of the coming Jesus - to confess their sins and hear a word of forgiveness. What does this mean for you today. First, Listen to my voice: "Jesus is for you, He came for you, He comes for you, and He will come for you in your last hour to bring you to Himself, so that you will be where He is." Listen to my voice: "Your sins are forgiven, your sins were nailed with Jesus at the cross, there He set them aside, and at the cross your sins died there with Him, and when Jesus was risen from the grave your sins stayed dead and did not rise up with Him, your sins are gone." Secondly, What does this mean for you today - it means that you are free to tell others about Jesus knowing that God works through the word spoken to friends, family and loved ones, that faith comes from hearing. Invite them to come to the river, to come to the place where they will hear God's word for them, invite them here to hear about Jesus for them. When you do trust that the Holy Spirit is doing His work, that God the Father is doing His work, that Jesus the Son of God is doing His work - that God is the one who works faith and cares for it through life unto eternal life. Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 Luke 1:36
 Luke 1:44
 Luke 2:40
 John 1:29
 Zechariah 9:9
 John 3:8
 Romans 14:11-12
 John 14:26, [Jesus told His Apostles,] "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you."
 Romans 10:17
 Colossians 2:13-14, "you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with [Jesus], having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This [Jesus] set aside, nailing it to the cross."