Grace and peace to you, from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
This is the beginning of the Good News about Jesus. Mark’s Gospel begins in a very simple and direct way. There are no flowery phrases, no angels, no wise men. Mark gets right to the point he wants to make. This gospel is the beginning of the story. As we will see, as we move through Mark’s Gospel, the story of God’s love, told in the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus does not end, with the end of the Gospel. It continues even today, through the lives of Jesus’s followers. We are now one week into Advent. Last week we talked about endings, about being ready, awake, and alert. For the second coming of Jesus will come at an unexpected time. This week, we are back at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, but we are still getting ready for Jesus’s coming.
We hear a voice crying out – the voice of an outsider, calling people to repentance. John was quite an outsider, wasn’t he? Dressed in camel’s hair, eating only locust and wild honey, he must have been a little nuts. But everyone came out to the desert to see him and be baptized by him. Why didn’t John just go to them? It might have been easier. There were lots of places in Jerusalem where he could have baptized people: pools, streams, even a river. In fact, ritual baths for purification were pretty common in those days. Converts to Judaism were immersed in a pool as part of their initiation into the faith, much like adult converts to Christianity who are sometimes immersed in a pool at baptism.
Why was it so important for the people to come out to him? Maybe John wanted to make sure to get folks out of their comfort zone. The faithful in Jerusalem were used to worshiping God in the temple. It was where they came to be with God. John called the people out of their routine of worship and cleansing, out into the wilderness. John was proclaiming a new thing. This wasn’t just a ritual bath. This was something different. John was baptizing for repentance and the forgiveness of sins, way out in the middle of nowhere. John called, and the people came. According to the Gospel, all the people of the Judean countryside and everyone from Jerusalem came out and were baptized. Thousands of people! Imagine all those people lining up to be baptized, eager to be part of something new. Was that what drew the people of Jerusalem out to the desert? They were longing for God to act in their lives. Longing for God to save them from oppression under the Romans. Longing for God to send the Messiah, promised of old.
As he was baptizing, John was also proclaiming that there was another coming after him – one more powerful – so much more important than John himself that he was not worthy to untie his shoes. As the people listened to John’s voice, they were given hope. Someone powerful was on the way, someone to save them – the Messiah! We, too, are in a time of waiting and change. Our stewardship theme this year is “Spirit-Filled and Spirit-Led.” We are listening for God’s voice – calling us to a changed ministry. In our church, and our community, in a post-pandemic world. We are listening for the Spirit of God as we read Scripture, as we pray, as we engage in learning and discussion – calling God’s Spirit to lead us in new forms of ministry.
Where will we be called to minister to God’s people? Likely wherever we are called, it will be out of our comfort zone. Just as Jesus traveled to unlikely places and associated with unlikely people, we will likely be called to bring the Good News to unexpected places. We are learning to be still, and listen very carefully. Listen for God’s voice, calling us to go out, away from our comfort zones. Will we be like John, and call others out of their comfort zones? Bringing together people of different faiths or backgrounds to hear the Good News? What is it we are being called to do?
Maybe we are the ones who will be called to go out into the desert to bring the message of God’s love to those outside the norm of society. These are only a few of the possibilities for ministry. There are countless others all around us! Just as John called for repentance and offered baptism for the forgiveness of sins, we are being called by God as well. Amen.