Preparing for Christmas: The Messenger

Isaiah 40:1-11;

Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way;3 the 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.’

It’s the third Sunday of Advent which means Christmas is but a week away. Author Frederick Buechner once said, “Advent is like the hush in the theater just before the curtain rises.” We have another week before the curtain rises on the life of Jesus. We prepare for His coming this morning with the story of John the Baptist, one of the great characters of our Scriptures.

What do we know about this John?

Well, in the opening paragraphs of Luke, John’s birth story is the lead-in to the Jesus birth story. Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, and her husband Zechariah, are up there in years. They’ve never had children but long after they had stopped hoping for a child, the angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah and says, “Guess what? You and Elizabeth will be changing diapers in about nine months. And this son, whom you’ll give the name, John, will be no ordinary guy.”

Zechariah can’t believe this news so Gabriel hits the mute button in Zechariah’s brain—not one word comes out of the mouth of Zechariah until their son, John, is born.

Here in Mark we see the grown-up John.

And, indeed, he is no ordinary guy. If John was approaching us on a sidewalk, we’d give him all the sidewalk he wanted, even if that meant we had to walk in the street.

He lived in the country side, in the middle of nowhere. If he wasn’t standing waist deep in the Jordan River all the time baptizing people, I’m thinking he would have needed a lot of deodorant.

He wore strange clothes—not like the respectable city folks up in Jerusalem. He had on a camel hair coat and a leather belt—items that I’m not sure even Goodwill would have taken when he got tired of them.

He ate weird stuff, too. Locusts and wild honey. I’m thinking it took a lot of wild honey to wash down those bugs, although I’ve read that locusts are a great source of protein. So, if you’re getting tired of fish, peanut butter, and cottage cheese for your daily sources of protein, give locusts a try!

But even though he was way out in the middle of nowhere, and smelled bad, and didn’t sport the latest fashion, and ate weird stuff … people were coming from everywhere, even big-city folks from Jerusalem, to hear his message.

Oh, and he wasn’t very Presbyterian in his preaching style. He was fire and brimstone all the way. “Repent and be baptized or else! Change is a comin!”

And that change he preached about is a person, his distant cousin, the grown-up Jesus.

About this Jesus, John says,

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.

One of the great lines of every Advent.

I am not worthy, John says.

So, here in the opening words of Mark, John introduces us to a truth about our God that will be seen in the life of Jesus from birth to the empty tomb.

 John the Baptist has been depicted in many works of art through the centuries. If you Google something like, paintings of John the Baptist, you’ll see that many of these famous works that hang in museums around the world have something in common. His body and face are depicted in different ways, but many of them show is arm outstretched and his finger pointing away from himself.

Guess who he’s pointing to?

John the Baptist came to point us to Jesus.

Humility.

This same humility is seen again and again in the Gospels. Remember how John said he wasn’t worthy to untie the sandals of his Lord?

What did Jesus do the night before he died? He untied the sandals of his disciples but didn’t stop there. He then washed their feet.

And the next day he died on a cross.

For us.

Jesus was always thinking about himself less for our sake.

What about us?

This Advent Season are you increasingly thinking about yourself less?

In a world where the pointed finger is often not outstretched, but pointed at ourselves, what would it take to straighten the elbow?

How about a baby in a manger?

Steve Ebling

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