Preparing the way of the Lord

A Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 40.1-11 and Mark 1.1-8

advent 2

Advent, maybe more than any other time of the year, encourages us to reflect on the many paradoxes of faith, and through that, indeed, on the many paradoxes of life. In the darkest time of the year, we prepare ourselves for the light coming into the world. We are waiting for something that in many ways, though not all, has already happened. Many of us will go from Advent service to Christmas carol concert, and then back to our Advent devotion or worship.

Also in Mark’s Gospel today, we can see this paradox: the now and the not yet. ‘The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God’, followed by ‘See, I am sending a messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way. The beginning: this is where it starts; a messenger: not quite yet, preparations still to be done.

In contrast to the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Mark does not mention any of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth: no nativity, no shepherd nor angels, no wise men. But, in a way, in these first eight verses preceding Jesus’ Baptism, the whole Christmas story is summarised: God came to us, because he wants to be with us. God came to us, because he wants us to be part of his story.

Because, when you think about it, why did Jesus need someone to prepare his way? Surely, as the Son of God, he could have just done it himself. Yes, God the creator of heaven and earth does not need us to be part of his plan, but he wants us to be. That thought brings us then back to the season of Advent: how do we become increasingly ready to be part of God’s plan? How do we become more aware of the truth that God wants us to be part of it, because he cares about us, because he loves us.

Two further thoughts on that question from the readings set for today. Firstly, we need a sense of appropriate humility. Yes, we can be confident that we are part of God’s plan, just as John the Baptist was, but we are not the fulfilment of that plan: also we have had people who have prepared our way, and so we must continue. We must not see ourselves as the pinnacle of God’s plan, but as people who too prepare for what is to come. People who pass on what we have been given, instead of keeping it for ourselves.

Secondly, we can be encouraged that the message we have been given is one of good news. ‘Comfort, O comfort my people, speak tenderly to Jerusalem’, ‘O Zion, herald of good tidings, lift up your voice with strength’. These words are not only an encouragement, but also a challenge to us: a way to check our words and deeds: if what we say and do diminishes others, if we speak words of anger and hatred, we can be almost certain that we are not speaking the words of God. However, if we speak words of truth and reconciliation, of love and generosity, we can be confident that we do.

So maybe in the remaining two weeks of Advent, that can be our discipline: to measure our words and deeds, and by this not only prepare ourselves for the 25th December, but also to become more aware of our part in preparing the way of the Lord.

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