The Second Sunday in Advent – 10 December 2017
A Sermon on Mark 1:1-8 by Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
Mark 1:1-8 English Standard Version, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]
1The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, 3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’” 4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And 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. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. 7And 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. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
THE INCARNATE WORD: PREPARE FOR HIM
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
We can’t even imagine the beginning (the “arche” in Greek) of the Good News. We can’t even imagine the one true God, a community within Himself, Father-Son-Holy Spirit, without beginning or ending. We have what God has given us in the Scriptures, His Good News story, His metanarrative. But to try even to imagine what it was like for God always to be God eternally before His creation? We literally do not have the brains for such imagining.
Poets and artists imagine for us. That is their vocation. Novelists like C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkien imagine for us. That is their vocation. And these inspire us to imagine with them. But what mortal can imagine that which is beyond our imagining? And so God decided from the foundation of the world to give us the image of the invisible, the image of the unimaginable. Seeing from before creation the rebellion of His beloved first man and first woman, God decided that He would have to be born in a human body, as true God and true man, in order to save and deliver His beloved first man and woman from the logical consequences of their (and our) tragic rebellion against the only God, a community within Himself, Father-Son-Holy Spirit.
So, no, we were not there at the beginning of the Good News. We could not be. We can not even imagine it. But today is the beginning of Mark’s gospel, the Good News (the “euangelion” in Greek) of Jesus the King (the anointed one, “christos” in Greek), the Son of God. If this is your first day in a Christian church, if this is your first exposure to the Christian story, then it is the beginning of the Good News for you. And if you have friends or loved ones who have never been in a Christian church, if they have never been exposed to the Christian story, then, because it is the beginning of the Good News for you, it could well be the beginning of the Good News for them as well – through you!
2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, 3 the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”
When St. Mark begins to tell us the Good News of Jesus, the King, the Son of God, he is not starting at the beginning (the “arche”) of the Good News, because he cannot. Like us, he doesn’t have the brains to imagine the one true God before creation. He doesn’t have the brains to imagine the one true God, Father-Son-Holy Spirit, as a community within Himself. How utterly ridiculous when people pronounce that God cannot be God! It is a rather ironic confession that God can only be if I can imagine Him. No hubris there!
When I worked as a house painter during my student days, my boss, an old school mate, said: “Painting is the fun part. Painting is the easy part. Before we paint, we must prepare the surface. And when we paint with a brush or roller we must cover the surface in such a way that our brush or roller marks cannot be detected. And when we have finished painting, our goal is to leave the job looking as if we have never been there. And, after that, we still have our brushes and rollers to clean, our drop cloths to fold, and everything to be stored away in its place.” I’ll bet most of you never thought of house painting in that way. I certainly had not!
When St. Mark begins to tell us the Good News of Jesus, the King, the Son of God, he has to tell us there is so much that happened before Jesus, the King, the Son of God, appeared on the scene. In Crossways Bible Study, we spend forty units on what took place before Jesus, the King, the Son of God, appeared on the scene. We only spend twenty units on the New Testament. The Old Testament prepares the way for the New.
Before we actually meet Jesus, the King, the Son of God, St. Mark prepares us rather briefly by telling us of the one who prepares (in Greek “kataskeuazo”). Now you may find this interesting. The Greek verb to prepare “kataskeuazo” means to make ready exactly, to skillfully use tools. Think of the house painter precisely placing drop cloths, carefully sanding, taping the trim, and removing all dust before ever shaking and opening a paint can. Paint brushes are clean with no loose bristles. A paint rag is handy to catch a drip even on the drop cloth so that paint will not be tracked by the painter’s shoes.
Think of the chef carefully selecting the food, storing it at the right temperature, making sure the surfaces and pans are clean, the knives sharpened, and everything is just so, long before the first item of food begins to be prepared for cooking, long before the prepared food will be artfully presented, long before the server precisely and skillfully places the food on the table, which was beautifully prepared before the diner sat down.
St. John the Baptist is the one whom the Lord God promised would come to prepare the way for His Son, King Jesus. St. John skillfully makes the way ready for King Jesus, the Son of God. From before he was conceived in his mother’s womb, John was chosen by God to prepare the way for King Jesus. And how did John carefully and masterfully prepare the way for King Jesus, God’s Son? With preaching and with a cleansing ritual that was not the equivalent of Christian baptism. More on that January 7.
So that when his preparation work was done, John was undone by Herod Antipas, who was not God’s king. So, here’s a question for all of us. For whom has the Lord God been preparing us our whole lives long? So that we will introduce them to King Jesus, God’s Son? You see, praying daily, worshiping weekly, reading the Bible, serving at and beyond St. Matthew’s is all careful preparation for the spiritual relationships we will be given by God to prepare others for God’s Son and for lives of generous giving!
4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
John was not doing Christian baptisms. He was giving his fellow Jews a ritual bath, a ritual cleansing. There was no Christian baptism until after King Jesus, God’s Son died, rose again, ascended, and poured out the Holy Spirit on the first Christian Pentecost.
John was preparing the way for God’s Son, King Jesus, by calling his fellow Jews to repent, to turn back to God (in Hebrew “shûv”). John the Baptist’s skillful preparing for King Jesus was about repentance (in Greek “metanoia”), to have a change of heart and mind. They had feared, loved, and trusted in other gods – not the images of idols but those people and things that held pride of place in their hearts and minds. Before they could be ready to receive the gift of God’s Son, King Jesus, they needed first to admit their idolatry — their fear, love, and trust of other gods. Then, they needed a bath. That which was unholy needed to be made clean. If you are unbaptized, you need God’s bath!
Advent is a time to prepare for Jesus. Advent is a penitential time, a time to repent. Advent is a time to admit we are indeed sinful and unclean from our mother’s wombs. We need to turn away from other gods to the only One who can save and deliver us from sin, death, and the old evil foe.
If you have been baptized with water in the name of one true God – Father-Son-Holy Spirit – you are invited to receive the Lord Jesus in the Host and the Cup at His table. Confessing your sins and your need for forgiveness, recognizing that He is indeed truly present in the Host and the Cup, you may come prepared, with empty hands uplifted, trusting His promise: “This is my Body. This is my Blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” If you are not baptized, you may come for a blessing, crossing your arms over your chest. Now is the time for repentance. Everyone needs King Jesus!
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
©Samuel D. Zumwalt, STS
St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA
The Incarnate Word: Prepare for Him!
Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to make ready the way of your only-begotten Son, so that by his advent we may be enabled to serve you with purified minds; through Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 92).
Mark 1:1 “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
St. Augustine [late 4th – early 5th century Bishop of Hippo in northern Africa]: Note that Mark mentions nothing of the nativity or infancy or youth of the Lord. He has made his Gospel begin directly with the preaching of John” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Mark, 2).
Mark 1:2 “…Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way,”
Eusebius [4th century Bishop of Caesarea Maritima]: “He emerged from the desert clothed in a strange garment, refusing all ordinary social intercourse. He did not even share their common food. For it is written that from childhood John was in the deserts until the day of his public appearance to Israel. Indeed, his clothing was made of camel’s hair! His food locusts and wild honey!…It is understandable that they should have been alarmed when they saw a man with the hair of a Nazarite of God, and a divine face, suddenly appearing from the lonely wilderness dressed in bizarre clothing…(3).
Mark 1:4 “…and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
St. John Chrysostom [late 4th – early 5th century Patriarch of Constantinople]: “Since the Victim had not been offered, nor had the Holy Spirit yet descended, of what kind was this remission of sins?…Fittingly therefore, when he had said that he came ‘preaching the baptism of repentance, ‘ he adds, ‘for the remission of sins’; as if to say: he persuaded them to repent of their sins, so that later they might more easily receive pardon through believing in Christ. For unless brought to it by repentance, they would not seek for pardon. His baptism therefore served no other end than as a preparation for belief in Christ” (5).
Mark 1:8 “ I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
St. Basil the Great [4th century Bishop of Caesarea Mazaca in Cappadocia]: “The baptism of the Lord, however, surpasses all human powers of comprehension. It contains a glory beyond all that humanity hopes or prays for, a preeminence of grace and power which exceeds the others more than the sun outshines the stars. More than this, if the words of the righteous are recalled to mind, they prove even more conclusively its incomparable superiority. Yet, we must not therefore refrain from speaking of it, but, using the very utterances of our Lord Jesus Christ as our guides, we grope along the way, as with a mirror, or through the maze of an enigma” (10).
- Do I define myself more by my earthly relationships than by my Baptism into Christ?
- Am I paying attention to what God in Christ is doing? Or is my life more about me?
The Lord’s Prayer
As the head of the family should teach it in a simple way to his household.
Our Father who art in heaven.
What does this mean?
With these words God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father.
- Pray for every unbaptized child and adult you know and for the child’s parents, too.
- Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship with you on Christmass Eve at 5, 8:30, or 11 p.m.
- Discuss with your spouse, your family, or a friend Luther’s explanation of the introduction to the Lord’s Prayer. Meditate upon God as the perfect father who is never abusive and always lovingly keeps the welfare of all people in His consciousness.
- Pray daily in Advent using Scripture and devotions. Reflect upon Jesus, the Incarnate Word, delivering you and the whole world by His death and resurrection from the power of sin, death, and the old enemy. Ask that He keep you safe in your Baptism.
- Listen closely to the voices of your unchurched dear ones and friends. Are sin, death, and evil threatening to to bury them in hopelessness and despair? Choose to be a witness to your Savior by praying for them and inviting them to experience the joy of Christmass with you. Pray for them to be baptized, or to return to their Baptism, or to recognize anew (or perhaps for the first time) the seductions of the devil’s empty promises.
For Husbands and Wives
Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”