The Gospel isn’t meant to be gulped down on Sunday morning, but gnawed on through the week so it really becomes a part of us. You’ve got to work at it, like a dog with a good bone! Here’s the Gospel for this coming Sunday — the Second Sunday of Advent — with food for thought on repentance, renewal and “ready or not here I come.” Gnaw away!
Second Sunday in Advent – Mark 1:1-8
Here begins the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God:
As it was written in Isaiah the prophet:
“I send my messenger before you to prepare your way,
a herald’s voice in the desert, rying,
‘Make ready the way of our God.
Clear a straight path.’”
And so John the Baptizer appeared in the desert, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to John and were baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins. John was clothed in camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist, and he ate nothing but grasshoppers and wild honey. In the course of his preaching, John said, “One more powerful than I is to come after me. I am not worthy to stoop and untie his sandal straps. I have baptized you in water, but the One to come will baptize you in the Holy Spirit.”
The Backstory – What’s Going On Here?
All that was … now is again.
That’s the message of this first eight verses of Mark’s Gospel. Mark was trying to tell a Jewish audience about Jesus … who came into the world and changed everything not by nullifying the promises God made to Israel,
but by fulfilling them. And in just eight verses, he does that in powerful and poetic ways.
He starts his story by saying “Here begins,” … the same word used in Genesis 1:1. Not just “the start” but “the origin,” “the source.” What follows is a new creation story … the story of a new life for Israel.
Because this new creation will be a fulfillment of the promise of the old, Mark draws on two prophets — Malachi and Isaiah — in this hybrid quote. What they have in common is a message of God’s faithfulness to Israel even
in the midst of Israel’s serial unfaithfulness.
Finally, Mark references the seminal event for the people of Israel … their deliverance out of bondage through the waters of the Red Sea. The “this is the night” they sing of every Passover. This new creation that John is proclaiming will be once again passing through waters to promise and freedom … only this time what the people will pass through is the very breath of God.
All that was … the entire history of Israel with their God … it is all happening again, happening as it never happened before, happening in a way that changes everything.
A few things to chew on:
*John preaches “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” That word used for repentance is metanoia. It means a 180-degree turnaround. A complete reorientation of self. In the creation myth of Eden, all was right with creation because all was oriented toward God. The fall is about humanity putting itself in the place of God and orienting everything toward ourselves (remember the words of the serpent about the fruit “you will be like God.”) The Exodus and 10 Commandments try to restore God to that central place again (“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before me.”). The rest of Israel’s story is cycles of exile and return. Of putting other gods (self being chief among them) at the center. Now God is coming in a new way, unlike any other way that has ever happened before. But still God will not force the divine self on us. If baptism for us is passing through the waters to freedom, then what that freedom looks like is turning away from self and turning toward Christ. What does that look like for us?
*The baptism of Jesus is the baptism of “holy breath”… in Hebrew, the word is ruach. God’s breath … where have we heard that before? In Genesis, of course! God’s breath is what was breathed into us in creation. It is the very heart of what it means for us to be created in the image of God. Baptism in God’s Breath is not about becoming something different, it is about becoming fully who we most truly are. It is about returning to that state where we can not have to hide any of ourselves out of fear of rejection. Where we can be “naked and unashamed.” The baptism of Christ is a giving of all that we have and all that we are to God … and being freer than we have ever been in our lives.
Someone once asked Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels how he knew the cast was ready to go on the air. He replied: “We don’t go on because we’re ready. We go on because it’s 11:30.”
So often we want to wait for the perfect moment to take a chance, or make a change. But perfect moments rarely come … and we can find we’ve let big chunks of our life pass by as missed opportunity.
Mark’s Gospel isn’t concerned with whether or not people are ready for Jesus. Mark’s Gospel is Jesus saying “ready or not, here I come!” The time is now. This is your chance to have your life changed.
Mark’s Gospel is Jesus saying, “It’s 11:30.”
This week, spend some time each morning examining your life. What does turning toward God really look like … tangibly … practically. What changes can you make in your life not because you’re ready but because it’s just time. Who in your life can provide you the support and accountability you need to make these changes stick? Then lift these to God in prayer and go out and make the change.
The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to John and were baptized by him in the Jordan River as they confessed their sins
When Mark tells us that the people “confessed their sins,” the word Mark uses for confess in the Greek is ἐξομολογέω (ex-om-ol-og-eh’-o), which means “together, acknowledging openly and joyfully.” This is loud, communal, joyful confession.
Confession of sin is not self-flagellation. It is liberation. It is unburdening ourselves of all that we are carrying around. It is saying the three most freeing words in the English language:
I. Screwed. Up.
This week in your writing unburden yourself. Just write down all the ways you have screwed up. And as they pour out of your pen or your keyboard remember that with each instance, God is looking at you and saying
“Yes – and I love you.”
“Yes – and I adore you.”
“Yes – and I delight in you.”
We all screw up. All the time. And God loves us. God adores us. God delights in us.
We’re not worthy!
We’re not worthy!
John 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.”
OK – I’ll show my age a little here and say that as fun as the Wayne’s World movies are to watch, they’re even more fun to quote afterwards. And one of the more iconic images is when Wayne and Garth meet one of their heroes — be it Alice Cooper or Aerosmith — and they prostrate themselves repeatedly and cry:
“We’re not worthy!”
“We’re not worthy!”
It’s funny, but it also is instructive.
We all struggle with unworthiness. We judge ourselves against other people and when we are confronted with someone whose worthiness seems to leave ours in the dust, we often turn into Wayne and Garth. Maybe we don’t fall to our knees, but maybe we shrink away, or hang our head.
Maybe we just feel bad.
John the Baptist stands at the river Jordan and preaches the coming of
Christ. He knows compared with Christ he is not worthy — not even worthy
to untie his shoe. He knows that anything he can say or do pales in
comparison with the Christ.
So it was for him. So it is for us.
We need a deep sense of our unworthiness before Christ. It’s important. It’s how we know that God is God and we are not. It is because we, like John, are unworthy even to untie the thong on his sandal, that Jesus is someone worthy of us giving our lives over to, someone worthy of trusting our whole lives in his grace and love.
But Jesus’ extreme worthiness — and our unworthiness in comparison — is nothing to fear or mourn. Because Jesus’ worthiness affirms our goodness. Jesus worthiness — and that he would live and die for us — affirms that
we are worthy after all … through Christ.
We are not worthy. But God invites us into relationship with the divine through Christ and that makes us worthy. But that worthiness lies not in us but through Christ.
Without God, we are not worthy – but we are never without God. Whether we choose God or not – through any of the many paths to the divine – God always is choosing us.
And that means we are all worthy beyond measure.
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Check out the rest of Sunday’s readings
The Lectionary Page has all of the readings for this Sunday and every Sunday – just click here.
Collect of the Day: Pray this throughout the week as you gnaw on this Gospel.
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Want to read more?
“The Text This Week” is an excellent online resource for anyone who wants to dive more deeply into the scriptures for the week.
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Gnaw on This is a weekly publication by All Saints’ Rector Mike Kinman.