Printable PDF: 12-6-2020 Advent 2 Sermon
Pastor Mark R Jacobson ~ Advent 2 ~ December 6, 2020 ~ Mark 1:1-8
1The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, 2as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”— 3“a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” 4And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
IS THE GOOD NEWS FOR ALL, GOOD NEWS FOR YOU?
The opening verse of Mark’s gospel introduces a change we have never seen in the history of our world. “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.” You have to turn back to Genesis chapter one verse one to find a comparable change. At that time the world was formless, empty, and dark, and in the course of 6 days, the world changed: land and light; the sun, moon, and stars; vegetation; all kinds of animals; and humanity. We see all of those same things today. What a change God made when he created the world!
We have that same kind of drastic change in today’s gospel. Jesus is the good news of great joy that is for all the people. This is the best news since God said to God, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26). The sharing of this good news ought to be spectacular, but it isn’t. With the most important news our world has ever heard, our God chooses to operate with inconceivable lowliness. “As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way’ – ‘a voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight paths for him.’” There ought to be an army of messengers, but there’s only one. That one messenger ought to be described as having charisma and personality, but all we are told of him is he has a voice. The messenger ought to set up shop in Jerusalem or Rome, but he works in the wilderness. People will have to walk a long way, through hills and valleys to just hear him. And what will the messenger say? Only what Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God wants him to say. The messenger will preach of repentance.
- Be diligent, not complacent, about repentance.
Repentance is a difficult message to preach. Repentance is an even more difficult message to listen to. God through the prophet Isaiah compares repentance to road construction and says, “make straight paths for him.” Straight paths is a tall task in the wilderness. The wilderness is full of obstacles. There aren’t many straight paths. Even in our modern society straight paths are hard work. Try to count the number of orange and white barriers on your way home today, if indeed you can count them. Still more difficult than straight paths in the wilderness of this world are straight paths in the wilderness of the human heart. This was the construction work John the Baptist did in his preaching of repentance. Other Gospel writers share how John spoke to people directly about their stations and situations in life. John spoke to soldiers about taking bribes and to tax collectors cheating tax payers. John rebuked King Herod for his affair and religious leaders for their hypocrisy.
What would God have said to you about your station and situation in life? Do you have a sin that needs straightening out? Are you addressing it with God’s Word or are you taking the chance God won’t care that much on the Day of Judgment? Do you have a mountain of arrogance that needs to be made low? Are you treating people poorly because you think you are better than they? Do you have a valley of self-pity that needs filling in? Are you avoiding people and serving them because you think they are better off without you? Be diligent, not complacent, about repentance! Some would rather ignore sin, putting a blindfold over the eyes of their conscience. They’d rather alibi for sin, pointing to others who are worse. They’d rather sugarcoat sin with sweet phrases like “cultural change.” But John preaches about sin in plain terms, and I better listen. If the good news of Jesus is going to mean anything to me, I need to know how much I need Jesus as my Savior. Is the good news for all, good news for you? Be diligent, not complacent, about repentance. Genuine repentance delivers the wonderful result: the forgiveness of sins.
- Be optimistic, not pessimistic, about the gospel.
If you could turn back time and undo your sin, wouldn’t you do that? If you could find a way to unsay the sinful words that hurt people, wouldn’t you take back those words? You can’t undo what has been done. You can’t make pure and holy what has become polluted and stained, but listen to the voice of this preacher, “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
“More powerful than I,” John the Baptist says. John the Baptist was powerful. In verse 8 alone John the Baptist sees the finish line of Jesus’ great work of salvation. John the Baptist sees the ascended Savior sending the Holy Spirit on people in a powerful way. Yet the disparity of powerful is so great John the Baptist declares himself unfit to stoop down and untie the straps of his sandals.
How powerful is this Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God? He undoes what can’t be undone. He washes away what can’t be washed away. So great is what he does we should never hear the absolution or witness a baptism in the same way again. In baptism God takes a baby into his arms and washes away all of his sins for all of time. In the absolution I am reminded God has not changed his opinion about me even though week after week I change back and forth from serving him and sinning against him.
The good news is so great the messenger does not need a prime location and an army of messengers. The messenger doesn’t need to dress to impress or pretend to be something she isn’t. Just a voice will do and the people will change. Mark reports, “The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.” Other Gospel writers share more fully the problems John the Baptist had in his ministry. Not everyone confessed their sins and were baptized, but many of them did confess their sins and were baptized and changed their lives.
Be optimistic, not pessimistic, about the gospel. People can change. That is why Jesus came into this world. That is why Jesus sent John to be his messenger. That is still why Jesus still sends messengers today. Some of those messengers, like John the Baptist, are called workers. Other messengers have this calling as a Christian father or mother. At times, children and little children have served as God’s messengers, and Lord-willing, they will do so again in a couple of weeks, and Spirit-willing, the adults will confess their sins and be changed. Once God spoke his Word and brought change through the mouth of a donkey. God can bring positive change through your speaking, too.
Be optimistic, not pessimistic about the gospel. People can change, but that means you must change as well. Let God’s Word and sacraments change you. Trust your baptism. You are truly forgiven. Let God speak to you through your Bible reading, your pastors’ preaching and teaching, and Christian conversations so that you may live the life God wants you to live in his name. The great change of Mark chapter 1 verse 1 was the greatest change since Genesis 1:1, but there is still one more great change we are pondering during this Advent season and in this New Testament time. In the future Jesus will change our bodies to be like our glorious bodies. At that time he will give us new clothes, a white robe we will wear all the days of our eternity. It will be another new beginning with Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God made possible through the good news we’ve heard today. That Day of Judgment won’t be good news for all, but through faith, through the hard work of repentance, Jesus will come with good news of salvation for you and for all who believe as you do. Amen.