December 5, 2011 @ 10:03 am

Advent 2 - Mark 1:1-8

Text: Mark 1:1-8 John the Baptist Prepares the Way 1 The 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. 5 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. 6 Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. 7 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. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Starting Over Happy New Year. This past Wednesday, we took a moment during our school Chapel service to talk about the fact that the end of November and the beginning of December marks the beginning of a new year in the Church. The Church marks time, the way the rest of the world does but we count a little bit differently. We start with the first Sunday in Advent, which was a week ago. Today is the second Sunday. Our year has started again, started over, we have begun our count from the beginning. Our Gospel Reading for the start of this new year is Mark 1; John the Baptist preaching repentance in the wilderness. The New Year has begun again, and in our text we see that John is preaching to the people that they need to start over. That is to say, John is preaching to the Jews that they need to repent. They need to turn around, start over, and begin all over again from the beginning. Why? Because the Messiah is coming, the Christ who is mighty, who is the Lord, who baptizes sinners with the Holy Spirit. John is preaching a reboot. Israel (the chosen people of God) 2.0; and Israel needed to be ready. Repentance: Starting Over We don’t like that message of repentance. We don’t like being told to start over. It’s like a child dutifully working on his homework and you suddenly take the paper away, crumple it up and throw it away, and tell him to start over again from scratch. It’s kind of insulting and frustrating. “Hey, I was working on that. I was almost done! What are you doing taking it away?” The preaching of repentance does the same thing. It tells you that you, what you have done, all your hard work and good effort, well, it just isn’t good enough. In fact it is so bad that you need to throw it all away and start again from the beginning. We don’t like that message. And we don’t want to hear it. But that is what John came to preach – the Israelites needed to hear that message and so do we. “Prepare the way of the Lord, make a straight and even road for him to travel when he gets here.” Get the bumpiness and the potholes of your sin out of the way. Repent! Rip the whole thing up and start again from the beginning! When reading this text, it is easy to lose the importance of John’s location, where he was at while he was doing his preaching. John was at the Jordan River. Now that was a good 8 hour walk from Jerusalem, so if all Jerusalem was going out to see him they had to really want to hear what he had to say. But that is hardly the important part. John was in the wilderness, at the Jordan River. That is important! The Location itself preached this message of repentance. You see, God’s Chosen People had not always lived there in the Promised Land. There was a time, in fact when they lived out in that very wilderness, wandering around for 40 years. After they had been set free from slavery in Egypt, and before they could enter and take possession of the Promised Land, they wandered 40 years in the wilderness as punishment from God for their rejection of him. And then, when it was finally time to enter, to go home, to get there they had to go through the Jordan River. Consider the importance of the Jews. They identified God’s promise and God’s blessing with the Land. They had possessed this land for thousands of years. It was tantamount to being God’s people. John is telling them that they have to go back! They have to start over. They have to go back to the beginning, they have to go back to the wilderness, back to the Jordan River, back to repent. You think you are Abraham’s Children? You think you are the chosen people of God. You’re not! You’re sinners. You need to repent, start over! You must start again! The Message we are Used to Hearing That’s not the message we wanted to hear today, is it? Start over. You thought you were a believer. You thought you were living the life of a Christian, you are not. Time to start again. This time of year people are all about making lists. I am. Are you? To do lists. Shopping lists. Gift lists. Do you make a list of the gifts you are hoping to get for Christmas? We all have our lists. But what happens when that list goes awry? You don’t get all the things on your list checked off, you don’t get them done, you don’t get them bought, you don’t get them under the tree. Frustrates us doesn’t it? We might be ashamed to admit it, but when things don’t go our way, when we don’t get what we want, we get frustrated! Instead of being told we need to start again, instead we are told that the world should restart itself around us and our lists, us and our priorities, our whims and desires. And so we are used to getting what we want. We live in a world that molds and shapes itself like memory foam to our every whim and desire. Take for example, Pandora, internet radio can be programmed with your personal radio stations so that it will play only the songs you want it to play. You can buy a sleep number bed and dial it to your own personal sleep number. You can go on line and custom order the accessories and trim package on your BMW or even on your Nike tennis shoes! Far from a world that teaches us to Repent, we have a world that teaches us we are the center of it all and that is exactly what we deserve! The Message we hear from John And so John's message of repentance, of starting over, his message that suggests that we have gotten it all wrong, that is offensive to us. But it is exactly the message we need to hear. Because it is exactly the message that God’s Word proclaims to us. Repent, start over, start again. John came to preach Jesus. Jesus is coming, be ready, make the way straight before him. To do that, to make sure that you are ready when he comes repent, be baptized and be forgiven. That same message needs to be preached today, in our ears and in our time. We need to right ourselves before God. Going against every message of self acceptance and self security and self righteousness, we need to acknowledge that we are sinners. And then we need to be forgiven. There is no hope for sinners other than forgiveness. Take that kid working on her homework paper. She thinks she is doing it right, following the directions, getting the right answers, all the while not realizing that she is way off base. That’s not even close to the scenario. Truth be told we are more like that troubled kid who only doodles on his paper, writes random thoughts and doesn’t care what the instructions are – thinks he can make up his own rules and his own directions. He spends most of his time in detention. That’s where we are. John’s message comes to us: repent and be baptized. You see, baptism, better than a do over, is God’s work of substitution. The great exchange, baptism is where God says, where Jesus says, I’ll take you bad work and give you my perfect work. I’ll take the résumé of wickedness and sin that you have put together and I will trade you my perfect résumé of righteousness. More than a fresh start and a new beginning we get and entire new person. The New Man, that Paul talks about in Romans, the rebirth that Jesus tells Nicodemus about in John 3, we are born again, born from above, as a new person and a new creation. That’s what baptism does. It makes you new. The Old Man is drowned in sanctified water and the New Man is born out of that water. We are given a new start. Jesus: A Fresh Start for Sinners Luther tells us that we should start every day remembering our baptism. That the Old Man is drowned every day by repentance and contrition and that a New Man arises in faith and purity. Certainly not worked in us by our own power or strength or will. It wasn’t on some to do list that we had put together. Instead it was and is completely God’s work in us, ours, accomplished and done by Jesus. Taking from us our sin and giving us his righteousness. John came preaching a baptism for repentance and the forgiveness of sins. That same message of repentance and forgiveness needs to be heard in our ears again today. The same Jesus who came is coming again. He will return, only this time not to baptize with Spirit, this time it will be to judge and condemn the sinner but to save the righteous. Those who are found with the Spirit will be saved for eternity. That salvation is found only in Jesus. So repent. Receive Christ’s forgiveness, that the way of the Lord may be found straight. In the name of Jesus. Amen. And now may the peace that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen


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