Happy New Year!
No, it’s not January 1, the civil calendar’s New Year’s Day. It’s not the middle of August and the New Year’s Day of the school calendar. And it’s not October 1, the New Year’s Day of the U.S. government fiscal calendar.
Mark 1:1-13 has historically been a Gospel lesson read on the First Sunday in Advent, the season which marks the beginning of the Christian calendar or year. It comes four weeks before Christmas and gives us adequate time to prepare for the coming of Christ each year in Christmas.
So Happy New Year!
In Advent, we prepare for the Advent or Coming of Jesus Christ in Christmas. And even though it may not be Advent when you’re reading this (although it was when I first wrote it), today’s message, as you’ll see, is always relevant.
Advent is your own personal John the Baptist, for with John it proclaims: “Prepare the way of the Lord! Jesus Christ is coming soon (at Christmas), and so you’d better be ready!”
Like John the Baptist, Advent catches us sleeping and shouts to us “Sleeper Awake!” Before the days of John, it had been 400 years since a prophet had been in the land. Dreams of the Messiah and deliverance had grown dim, and life seemed to go on pretty much as normal. And then John burst onto the scene, clothed in camel’s hair, wearing a leather belt (the clothes Elijah wore, by the way), and eating locusts and wild honey. Out of the blue, he reminded Israel of what they were to hope for and remember all along: that the Messiah, God’s promised deliverer, was coming.
Like John’s day, we have experienced the long season of Trinity (the church season that lasts from after Pentecost until Advent and which lasts close to half of a year), in which one week seems like the next. We get comfortable and complacent, and then Advent comes, and everything changes as we are called to attention again.
Advent is therefore a liturgical alarm clock that goes off in our lives, saying, “Wake up, stupid! Jesus Christ is coming!” John the Baptist was a walking, talking alarm clock. The way he ate, the way he dressed, and the way he spoke certainly were designed to awaken people again to the Advent of Jesus Christ in people’s lives.
Mark’s Gospel, like Advent and John the Baptist, is also a very loud and clanging alarm clock. In the first thirteen verses of his Gospel, we hear prophecy from the Old Testament, meet John the Baptist, see the people coming confessing and being baptized, hear John’s pointer to Jesus Christ, witness Jesus get baptized, and experience Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Whew! What a way to start the Church year! What a way to start a Gospel or to start your day!
The church year, which begins with Advent, is one of God’s ways of sanctifying out time. We humans are creatures bound by time, and we will have calendars and will observe hours and days, times and seasons. We will set alarm clocks and timers so that we don’t miss something important. Many of us will even observe the holy time that is set aside for our favorite TV show or sporting event and even perform the supererogatory work of learning how to program our Tivo or other electronic devices.
But the fact is that we often don’t sanctify the time that is one of God’s choicest gifts. Like the characters in Kerouac’s On the Road, we claim to know time, when in reality we are more likely to waste time or kill time (or in the case of the Beats, to do time) than we are to redeem time or know time.
Once we’ve been awoken again, how shall we use the time of Advent that God has given us? How shall we use the time – any time – that God has given us? The answer is that Advent is a season of preparation. We’ve all heard the saying, “Prepare to meet your maker!” It’s usually heard in the context of someone about to be killed, but it has a special meaning with regard to Advent, because preparing to meet our Maker and Savior is the whole point of Advent and our entire lives and why we must be awoken. We prepare to meet our God, our Maker, because He has come to meet us in His first Advent or Coming. “Immanuel,” “God with us,” is the reason we celebrate Christmas. God has broken into the time and history of our lives and become one of us. Because of the love and glory and cosmic implications of God’s dramatic action, we’d better prepare our hearts to receive Him once again.
But Advent also celebrates the Second Advent or Second Coming of Jesus Christ. While Christmas is historically past (though in reality it persists every day of our lives), the Second Coming, at which Jesus Christ will judge both the quick and the dead, is yet to come. One day, at the Second Coming, we will meet our Maker with finality and be summoned to give an account of our lives. At that time, or at the time we die (whichever comes first), our time will have run out. So we’d better have woken up and prepared beforehand.
It always amazes me how much time, money, and effort even Christians in America spend preparing for the Advent of Christmas – not for the Advent of Christ that’s celebrated at Christmas – but for the Advent of Christmas as a holiday (and not necessarily a holy day.) We carefully save our money and budget it so that we can give each other gifts. We prepare months or even a year in advance to make sure we will be able to go where we want to go to celebrate Christmas the next year. We make a big deal about it with our children and know how to fill their little lives with joyful anticipation.
But do we spend as much time and energy preparing for the coming, not of Santa Claus, but of the Lord Jesus Christ? In Advent, we are given four entire weeks to prepare. This year, why not use Advent as a time of holy preparation? In fact, find some regular time in your life, and not just at Advent, to prepare for the coming of your Lord.
Advent and John the Baptist are here, which means the King is coming.
Are you ready?
Prayer: Heavenly Father, who 2000 years ago sent John the Baptist to stir up the hearts of your people and to point to Your Holy Son, Jesus Christ, I ask that You would stir up the hearts of Your people again this Advent season. Wake me up especially from my spiritual slumber. Baptize me again with the presence of Your Holy Spirit that I might prepare to meet You once again. Assist me in any vows I have taken that I may love you better. May I, through Your grace, be a prophetic herald to others of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Resolution and Point for Meditation: I resolve to find one practical way today to prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ. I probably already have some good ideas for what might please my Lord, and so I will use one of these. The One Who Has Come and Is Here and Is Coming will come to me through His Word, through prayer, through the spiritual disciplines, and through the act of serving and discipling others.
Happy New Year – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license