2020-12-06 Advent 2
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen!
Second Sunday in Advent. Half-way to Christmas already, believe it or not! You drive around town and the magnificent outdoor Christmas light displays are out in full force. And these days they have all manner of inflatable stuff too. Santa. Frosty the Snowman. Rudolf and company. Even weirdo Star Wars laser projections. But you know who you don’t see an inflatable character of? John the Baptist.
Camel hair tunic, leather belt around his waist, eating locusts and wild honey. He sounds just like one of those dirty hippie protesters from Occupy Wall Street or some such thing. Enter the Baptizer. He was and is one of the most radical people we meet on our Advent journey to the manger. Our Lord Jesus’ first cousin, born to his mother Elizabeth late in life by fairly miraculous means. He lived an ascetic life with hopes and dreams not of comfort and life’s luxuries, but rather obsessed with God’s will. He is indeed the voice in the desert that Isaiah the prophet spoke of: “Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make His paths straight” (MK 1:2-3). Who was this weird guy? This strange crying voice in the wilderness? He was the front runner to the Messiah. He was the grey area between the Old and New Testaments. He prophesied and proclaimed that “The One” was coming. One Who was immeasurably greater than himself. A person so incredible and amazing that John wouldn’t even be worthy to stoop down and loosen His sandal straps. Despite John’s odd demeanour, people flocked out to the countryside in droves to see him and be baptized by him.
This is how St. Mark’s Gospel begins. It doesn’t begin with Christmas and Baby Jesus like St. Matthew or St. Luke’s do. No way. Mark bypasses all the Christmas bloat and drives a nail through the heart of the matter: repentance, baptism and forgiveness of sins! Man, ol’ St. Mark was a Christmas Scrooge a long time before it was popular! But you know, you never ever get a Christmas card from Hallmark with a message like John’s on the inside. “Season’s Greetings, Sinner!” “Wishing you and your black-hearted miserable wretch family a festive season!” “May your homes be filled with yule-tide greetings and repentance before it’s too late, you insufferable brood of vipers!” Somehow the Hallmark marketing division missed out on all these great Advent message opportunities!
It’s because the message of repentance and sin aren’t all that popular. They weren’t popular in Jesus’ day either, for that matter. And yet, this is what the voice in the wilderness proclaims. It’s not nice words, dripping with holiday sentiment. It’s not a steaming pile of political correctness. It’s a gritty, down to earth message. We are all a sorry lot of poor miserable sinners. How can you sugar coat that?! How can you market that message to the masses?? Well, you just can’t. It’s a harsh word of God’s Law spoken to make people stop in the their tracks and perk up their ears. But when was the last time you saw a Church advertising campaign run stuff like this though? Church signs always have funny quips or catch phrases. I guarantee it’s not John the Baptist type stuff. It’s not the voice calling in the wilderness. It’s more like Oprah or Mya Angelou because that’s what sells. That’s what people expect to see and hear. But it’s not the heart of Advent or Christmas or the Gospel for that matter.
The heart of Advent is Christmas. And the heart of Christmas is Christ. The long awaited Saviour and promised Messiah is here to bring His people peace. That’s the deal. He will bring peace because He will forgive sins. He will bring peace because He will baptize with the Holy Spirit. He is the what this season is all about. Prepare ye the way . . . to the shopping mall? Nope! Prepare ye the way of the Lord. And His way of peace is by none other than repentance. Turning from our sins and returning to the Lord our God. This is the only way of peace - peace with God and peace with each other.
There is an old parable from India that speaks of an orphaned tiger cub who came to be adopted by goats. He was brought up to speak their language, act just like them and eat their food. The little tiger believed that was 100% goat. He even had a side hustle at cypress hills doing yoga. One day a large tiger came by. All the goats fled in terror but the little tiger cub lingered behind a stump, uneasy but somehow not afraid. The cub bleated a bit and nibbled on some grass. The big tiger laughed and asked him what he was doing, pretending he was a goat. The little tiger just bleated back in reply. The big cat took the cub to a pool of water to show him his reflection of the two side by side. But reality didn’t sink in. The big tiger then went and killed a deer for the little cub to eat. At first the cub recoiled from it like any good vegetarian would. But then instinct kicked in. He sunk his fangs into the venison and he felt his claws extend into the ground. A roar began to dwell deep in his chest and he looked over at the big tiger. For the first time, he realized who he truly was.
This parable is a teaching on repentance. We leave our mistaken way of sin behind and become who God intends us to be. We look into the pool of Baptismal water and see that our reflection looks like Jesus our Lord. We eat the spiritual food that Jesus gives us in the bread and wine and we become more and more like our Messiah. The message of Christ crucified and resurrected for poor sinners like us makes us change our lives around, doing a complete 180. This is what John the Baptist comes to proclaim. Make straight the way for the Lord. Prepare, repent, the King is coming. Be who He has made you to be by His grace. Do what He has created you to do. Live in His peace. St. Paul writes in Colossians: “For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross” (19-20).
Peace is what our Messiah comes to bring us. That’s why the second Sunday in Advent dwells on this idea of repentance. By recognizing who we are and turning from our sins to our Saviour, we have peace with God. We know that we are no longer enemies, at odds with each other. In fact, the ancient Hebrews had this figured out. You know the benediction that we have as the last part of every Lutheran worship service, the Aaronic Benediction? What does it say? “May the Lord make His face to shine upon you.” If we are at odds with one another, people don’t make eye contact. Maybe you’ve noticed this. They look down or away. But because of Christ, our soon to be newborn King, God’s face shines upon us. Hostility is gone. The wholeness of God’s peace has come to those who will repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.
And our Lord’s peace remains with us. When life is exploding all around us, when fear and anxiety are continuously propagated in the Fake News media, we still have the peace of Christ our Lord. Nothing can change that He shed His blood for us on the cross. Nothing can change that He is risen from the dead! Nothing can change the fact that He is our Prince of Peace for all who believe and are baptized. This is good stuff for us who are living in this un-peaceful and turbulent time of Covid madness.
Our Prince of Peace tells us these awesome words: “I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (JN 16:33). Christ is our Advent and Christmas peace in the midst of tribulation. Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!