2nd Sunday of Advent, year B, 2014 (preached December 7, 2014)
first reading: Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
second reading: 2 Peter 3:8-15a
gospel reading: Mark 1:1-8
In our gospel reading this morning we hear, “I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way.” St. Mark tells us that this messenger is John the Baptizer.
Through his preaching and baptizing, he made people ready to receive the One who would come after him, about whom he says, “I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.” John is the baptizer, the announcer, the preparer – sent by God to make the way for Jesus the Christ.
The word “Advent” means arrival. This reading tells us about Advent in the past tense – how John prepared the people for the arrival and ministry of Jesus. But how can this reading apply to Advent in the present?
What does it say to us, who in this season of meditation and anticipation, are trying to find new ways of inviting the Lord into our life today?
Scholar Reginald Fuller states, “The Church must allow John the Baptist to perform his distinctive ministry of forerunner in its midst today. How is he to do this? By the preaching of repentance. Unless people are first convicted of sin, they cannot know the need for a Savior.” (Preaching the Lectionary, 2006. p. 208)
Have we been convicted of our sin? Have we come to the realization that we are far from perfect creatures, and NOT the Creator?
As Christians we need to be constantly aware of our sinfulness and brokenness. That was the calling of John the Baptist. He held up a mirror for each person to look at to see their true selves – the kind of mirror that strips away all the makeup, all the images we put on to make ourselves look better on the outside.
And what needed to be done 2,000 years ago still needs to be done today.
In some churches there is little talk of sin. But how can God’s grace mean anything to us unless we recognize how much we are utterly dependent upon that grace?
Confronting our sin is not popular, it doesn’t make us feel good. It strips us of all “holier than thou” pretenses, all notions that we’re better than anyone else.
This is so necessary for a life of faith, this is why confession is SO important, to strip ourselves bare before God, who sees us naked anyway, so that we can experience the freedom that comes with forgiveness.
Because we’re called to repentance, not so God can lord it over us, hold our sins against us and keep us down. John the Baptist called the people to repentance for the FORGIVENESS OF SINS.
We need to confront and confess our sinfulness, come to repentance, so that we can experience in a profound way, the love and forgiveness that God offers to us in the person of Jesus Christ.
This is the good news – not our sinfulness, but God’s boundless, all-encompassing love for you and me.
In our Old Testament reading we have a wonderful image of God – and the last two verses are quite meaningful. Isaiah gives us an image of God’s awesome power and how it’s used.
“See, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.” God sounds like a real tough guy. Watch out for this God – he means business.
But that’s not the end. In the very next verse Isaiah explains how God uses this power – the power of his arm. We read, “He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.”
God has the power to crush us – but loves us in spite of all the mistakes we have made and will make in the future. God is loving, forgiving, merciful, kind and gentle to all the sheep. This can give us comfort and strength as we examine ourselves, as we realize our sin and how much we need the grace of God.
I’d probably be negligent if I didn’t mention the unrest and protests that have occurred across the country in light of the events in Missouri and New York. Hard to look at God’s model of power and NOT think of it.
God uses God’s power, not to crush, but to bring love – this is the ultimate example of the use of power for us – whether we are in law enforcement, involved in protest, or watching and wondering how to respond.
I think if all sides could come together and acknowledge their mutual sinfulness, both institutional and individual – if WE could each examine OUR hearts and how we treat one another – it would go a long way toward bringing real peace and justice to all our communities.
When John the Baptist says, “The One who is more powerful than I is coming,” he means the One who uses his power for love.
When John the Baptist says, “I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals,” he is talking about the One who stooped down and untied the disciples’ sandals, and even washed their feet. God’s love for you and me knows no bounds, it goes the extra mile and beyond our greatest expectations – and this isn’t just good news, it’s the best news of all.
But how will people know this best of all news? How will the ministry of John the Baptist be carried out today? How can people come to confession and repentance so that they can know how far God has gone to love them?
Through you and me. WE are the Church. WE have the mission to carry on where John left off.
But not to talk about sin so that we can beat people down. Not to talk about sin so that we can pass judgement.
But to talk about sin, to acknowledge it, so that we can experience the awesome forgiveness of God that is waiting for each one of us, to make us free.