Second Advent

The Introduction 

‘There’s good news, and there’s bad news’. A whole body of jokes begins this way, and we laugh ruefully because that statement is generally true. The news is hardly ever good or bad, but rather an amalgam of results better for some than for others. One ball team beats another; is this good news or bad?

John the Baptist preaches repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Good news or bad? It’s great news for sinners who repent. It’s good news for people who yearn to be forgiven and know they have reason to be. It’s not so good for people who have no intention of leaving their sin behind. And it’s positively bad news for the self-righteous, convinced of their innocence and resentful that sinful types are getting off the hook.

The message of John the Baptist is comfort with a catch. The catch is baptism, a drowning of the old way and a resurrection into gasping new life. We can’t find comfort in religion – not this religion! – if we intend to remain just as we are. John’s baptism is with water, bracing and cold. The Mighty One is coming along soon with fire and Spirit. Things are going to change.

How does the message of John comfort you? How does it challenge you?

Give a little comfort this season. Listen to someone who has a story to tell. Include the lonely at your table. Remember the poor. ‘His baptism will change you from the inside out’.

The Scripture (Mark 1: 4-8 The Preaching of John the Baptist)

John the Baptiser appeared in the wild, preaching a baptism of life-change that leads to the forgiveness of sins. People thronged to him from Judea and Jerusalem and, as they confessed their sins, were baptised by him in the Jordan River into a changed life. John wore a camel-hair habit, tied at the waist with a leather belt. He ate locusts and wild honey. As he preached he said, ‘The real action comes next: The star in this drama, to whom I’m a mere stagehand, will change your life. I’m baptising you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. His baptism- a holy baptism by the Holy Spirit-will change you from the inside out’.

The Story – Find your place this Advent

It all begins with a cry in the wilderness. In the amazing musical The Lion King (both on stage and on screen), the action opens with the piercing wake-up call of Rafiki, the wise old baboon, who calls all the animals of the kingdom to take their place in the circle of life. The slow, insistent gathering of the animals is a powerful symbol of how every creature responds to the one call. This week we read the opening lines of the gospel of Mark, which begins similarly, with the wise and wild John the Baptist calling all who would listen to take their place in the reign of God. It’s a wake-up call, a voice crying out in the wilderness. Prepare the way.

At the culmination of this opening number of The Lion King, all the animals of the jungle have gathered and focused on the king and on the arrival of the king’s son, who is held high above all the other creatures. The culmination of John the Baptist’s preaching was to focus everyone on the will of God and to point to God’s son, Jesus, the one ‘who is mightier than I’. In each scenario, all creatures gain a reference point beyond themselves and a focus that lets them know who they are and how they are to live.

The Reflection

In the movie The Cemetery Club, Esther, a middle-aged widow, reflects on the sudden death of her husband, Murray: ‘By the time the ambulance got there, he was gone. It just seems so unreal, you know? There we were, enjoying a wonderful dinner and …When I got home that night, his cigar was still in the ashtray. His toothbrush was still damp. I just couldn’t make sense of it, you know? It’s like one day you’re looking into his face as he proposes and the next day you’re standing at his grave remembering how nervous he had been – and, between those two days, 39 years had gone by!’

How are we using our time?

The Commissioning

Go from here as those who have heard the Baptist.
We will search for simplicity;
we will be ready to repent;
we will be prepared to receive God’s Promised One;
we will know the joy of encountering Jesus Christ.
Go from here as those who have heard the Baptist.

GPBS © (2023)

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