The Work of Advent

The Work of Advent December 10, 2023

The Work of Advent.
Image by Myriams-Fotos / Pixabay

Advent is a time of waiting – we wait for the birth of Jesus. Our first week of advent was about staying alert to what God is doing in our world today. This week, we stay in the Gospel of Mark with the introduction of the story. We find John the Baptist doing the work of Advent.

“The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is written in the prophet Isaiah: Look, I am going to send my messenger in front of you to prepare your way before you. A voice of one that cries in the desert: Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight. John the Baptist was in the desert, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. All Judaea and all the people of Jerusalem made their way to him, and as they were baptised by him in the river Jordan they confessed their sins. John wore a garment of camel-skin, and he lived on locusts and wild honey. In the course of his preaching he said, ‘After me is coming someone who is more powerful than me, and I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals. I have baptised you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’”
The New Jerusalem Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1985), Mk 1:1–8.

The Work of Advent

This is the story of the waiting for Jesus. In the Gospel of Mark, John the Baptist is waiting for the messenger foretold in the prophets. John’s ministry is centered around the wilderness – He cries in the desert and baptises in the wilderness. Author, historian, and theologian Diana Butler Bass commented on this in one of her articles. She notes that the wilderness is used in scripture to represent both chaos and contemplation. “It is a raw and unknowable place of encounter where we come face-to-cace with ourselves…”

John was not the one being sent, but he knew he still had work to do. In my Fundamentalist days I would have called John the Baptist the sign pointing to Jesus. What Mark does so well in his story should be an interesting point for us today. Compared to Matthew and Luke, Mark’s John doesn’t seem to know who Jesus is (1:9-11). John doesn’t seem to be looking for Jesus in Mark, but looking for God. If John was looking for Jesus, why would he baptise him for the forgiveness of sins (v.4)?

Let’s expand this story with a little creative license. To me, John is doing the work that he was called to do. John is calling people to a new way of relating to God. He wants us to turn back to the desert – the wilderness – to find ourselves and God. An interesting interpretation of this would be that he is confronted with Jesus at his baptism and sees the true love of God at the pronouncement (v. 11). That must have been hard to John – to have your purpose change radically, quickly, and publicly.

What Now?

We are called to bring the Kingdom of God here to earth – that’s one of the theme’s of the Lord’s Prayer. However, we can think we are doing the work we should, but then suddenly be confronted with a new way. What do we do when this happens? The White American Church has been obsessed with Theocracy over Kingdom. Are we going to be able to see the better path forward and make the hard, sudden, drastic, and public change that’s required?

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