1The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3the 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.”
The gospel of Mark may seem like the least Advent-friendly of the four gospels at first glance: There’s no stage-setting for the coming of the Christ child as in Matthew or Luke—no mangers, wise men, or shepherds. There’s not even the perspective that the gospel of John provides by echoing the first chapter of Genesis so that those with ears to hear and eyes to see can recognize Jesus as that same Word of God that was with God—indeed, was God—at the creation, now in flesh appearing.
No, Mark starts off with the babe that leapt in Elizabeth’s womb (upon hearing cousin Mary’s voice) already a grown man—and a pretty unique one at that! I don’t know much about the clothing and dietary norms of the day, but for the gospel writer to mention John’s camel’s hair wardrobe and fondness for locusts and wild honey, it’s clear the prophet had a way of drawing attention. In the absence of reality television or megachurch preachers, apparently John’s persona was magnetic enough to pull folks “from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem” (v. 5) to change their routine and make their way to the wilderness to see him.
Assuming human nature hasn’t changed that much over the years, I would venture many went to hear John so that they could point fingers and ogle at this odd man. Instead, many found themselves convicted of their own rough edges, blind spots, and ultimately their own need for a Savior. And in that sense, this week’s gospel passage is probably a more relevant Advent passage than the more familiar angels appearing to shepherds abiding in the fields.
As one who listens to a lot of talk radio from all parts of the cultural spectrum, I’m struck by the number of hosts and callers who are passionate about pointing out the faults of those on “the other side” while simultaneously dismissing any critique of their own perspective. Whether the discussion is about the state of the economy, race relations, foreign policy, or any number of battles in the culture wars, the comments I hear would have me believing that no one feels any responsibility for any of the brokenness in our midst. It’s always my neighbor’s house that needs cleaning, my neighbor’s eyesight that needs adjusting.
However, speaking the truth in love often has the most power when that word is directed to the one in the mirror.
Friends, we must never forget that the Advent season doesn’t just look back in remembrance to Christ’s first coming. It also calls us to look forward with a sense of expectancy and conviction to the eminent coming of Christ again in our midst. We may think we have the luxury of going to gawk at the wild man in the wilderness, but God is using that wild man to call us to take stock of who and whose we are.
As we come face to face with the cracks in our own clay—individually and communally—this Advent, may God give us the grace to claim each crack for what it is: both a sign of our own parched spirit, desperately in need of the cleansing waters of baptism, as well as the path by which the living waters of Christ’s gospel flows through to a thirsty world.
Thanks be to God!