As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, *‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, *who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” ’, 4John the baptizer appeared* in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with* water; but he will baptize you with* the Holy Spirit.’
When you read the first sentences of Mark’s Gospel, do you notice something missing? Where is the story of Jesus birth? Why would Mark not include this crucial story? Well then again, John doesn’t have a birth narrative either. Matthew has wise men and Luke has shepherds. Too often we get overly comfortable with our traditions and forget that the Gospel is supposed to challenge us, to ask us questions.
The Isaiah reading – Comfort, comfort you God’s people. That’s about Jesus right? Well, the Spirit certainly could have Isaiah say words about Jesus, but in fact Isaiah 40 is the first chapter of the second half of Isaiah. The first half, written by the prophet is dark and gloomy as the Northern Kingdom is overrun by Assyria and the Babylonians loom on the horizon, a threat to all. The second half, written after the Babylonian exile, speaks about the new hope for Israel following this terribly difficult time. The intended audience is the people who heard these words as they were spoken.
So what about John the Baptist? Would he be welcome in our church? Sounds like a wild kinda guy that doesn’t fit the tradition. Have we forgotten that John came to disrupt, to change, to challenge? So who is our John the Baptist today? Who do we look for to point us to Jesus? It’s clear that Mark wants us to look outside the box. But then again, we already know the rest of the story. Who does Jesus interact with on a daily basis? Have we heard too much to be comfortable? Is Advent a chance to refresh our understanding of the Gospel and how we respond to Jesus call to reach out?
The Rev. Canon Keith Nethery