The following in an excerpt from the book, Illuminate: An Advent Experience, which I have been reading as I journey on the road to Bethlehem preparing for Christmas. It is part of a devotional based on Mark 1: 1-8.
Instead of having angels, shepherds, or wise men prepare us for Christmas, the gospel of Mark gives us a weather—beaten prophet wearing camel-hair clothes and a leather belt. This desert prophet, known as John the Baptizer, is the first person Mark wants us to meet as he gets ready to tell us the good news. Mark spends no time at all on the stories of the first Christmas. There is simply this announcement: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The rugged baptizing preacher is the messenger, and his message is about Christ, the embodiment of this good news. Jesus is the Son of God, and the story that unfolds is his story.
Mark does not get to Jesus right away because he wants us to pay attention to John’s preaching. Standing knee deep in the turbid waters of the Jordan River, John calls out to the crowds gathered on its banks, “Get ready! Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” John’s message is an urgent call to make our relationship with God our first priority. We are to do this by confessing our sing and turning in repentance toward God so that we are ready when the Messiah shows up. We need to be listening. The prophetic word asks us to abandon our frantic holiday preparations – the gift-buying frenzy at malls and department stores and other activities that so drain people during the days leading up to Christmas that the day itself finds them spiritually empty and emotionally spent. Instead we are to listen to the voice crying in the wilderness.
As we take these next steps along the road toward Bethlehem, we stop long enough at the Jordan to hear from John the Baptist. The scriptures that illuminate the mysteries of
Christmas urge us to find this place of confession and repentance. As we stand there in the desert heat on the riverbank with the crowd, we are anxiously looking around for the One about whom John is talking. Advent warns us that he is not only coming again but is indeed already among us. Jesus So we listen to this desert prophet, the Baptizer, the most unlikely of Christmas characters. We get on with the business of straightening things up in our lives and rise from the waters of our baptism of repentance at peace with God – only to discover that the One who is coming is already here.
So, how are you getting ready for Christmas? How is your journey to Bethlehem going?
See you Sunday