Second Sunday in Advent
Second Sunday in Advent (B)
December 4, 2011
Text: Mark 1:1-8
Text: Mark 1:1-8
Beloved in the Lord, St. John the Baptist proclaims good news to you this morning. That is the meaning of the word “Gospel.” It means “good news.” And the good news that is the Gospel is “ever and always and only about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” St. Mark writes in Chapter One, Verse One: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (ESV), the formal title of his entire work, and then immediately proceeds to the preaching and ministry of John in the wilderness. John is the one of whom Isaiah prophesied, “the voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight’” (Mark 1:3; cf. Is. 40:3). Prepare the way of the Lord… Preparation for the Lord’s coming is what the season of Advent is all about. But how do you prepare? How do you make straight the paths of the Lord? The answer is clear right here in our text. Baptism, repentance, confession of sins, forgiveness of sins, and the preaching of Christ. This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and by this Gospel God prepares you for the Lord’s coming. God prepares you by washing away your sins and placing His Word and Spirit into you. God prepares you actually by killing you and raising you to new life, by drowning you and pulling you up out of the water so that you emerge in newness of life as God’s own child. “John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). As a result, all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem came out to him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. And they were forgiven, John pointing them to the Christ. Baptism, repentance, confession and Absolution, the preaching of Jesus Christ, they all go together. And in this way God prepares you to receive your Savior. This is what Advent is all about.
John appears in the wilderness of all places. He appears in a desolate place, a place of emptiness. It is a place of preparation. It is the place Moses prepared for forty years to lead the people of Israel out of bondage in Egypt. It is a place of wandering. It is the place Israel wandered for another forty years before entering the Promised Land. It is a place of temptation. It is the place our Lord suffers hunger and thirst and the attacks of the devil for forty days and forty nights. It is the place where no one can live unless the Lord brings life. It is our place as we wander and are tempted in the wilderness of this world and our sin. It is our place of preparation as we await the Lord’s return to judge the living and the dead and deliver us. It is a place none of us can live spiritually unless the Lord brings life. It is to that place that the Lord sends His prophet to preach and baptize and absolve. It is to that place that the Lord Himself comes, the Lamb of God to whom John points, who takes away the sin of the world. It is there in the wilderness, knee deep in Jordan’s waters, that the Lamb of God is baptized by St. John, soaking up the sins of the world, so that our Baptism can be a cleansing from sin and a drowning of the Old Adam.
As the children of Israel walked through the Red Sea on dry ground, and as that same sea drowned hard-hearted Pharaoh and all his host, so Baptism saves us. We pass through the water and our sinful nature is drowned. We are delivered to new life on the other side. As the children of Israel again passed through the Jordan River into the Promised Land, so we pass through Baptism into the Kingdom of God. That is why John is in the wilderness, baptizing in the Jordan. It is a re-do for Israel. The people once again come into the Kingdom of God through water. St. John is calling the people to repent, to repent of their taking for granted that they are God’s people, to repent of their pride and arrogance in God’s Law, which, even if they had kept outwardly, they had not kept in their hearts. He was calling the people to repent of their heartless worship, their self-righteousness, their self-idolatry. Tax collectors and prostitutes happily splashed into the water, confessing their sins and receiving the Baptism of repentance and forgiveness from John. They gladly heard his preaching of the Lamb of God. They clung to the Word John proclaimed in faith for their forgiveness and life. Pharisees stood on the shore, not knowing what to think about it all, but certainly not repenting, not confessing their sins, not being forgiven or heeding the preaching. Instead, as we will learn next week, they sent priests and Levites to demand an explanation from John (John 1:19-28).
Beloved in the Lord, John preaches to you this morning. You are the Baptized. You are the holy Christian Church. But do not take your status as the people of God for granted. John calls you to return to your Baptism. John calls you to repent. For the Christian, it is so easy to fall into spiritual pride and arrogance, to stand in judgment over those sinners who commit those wicked acts, to look at all you do for the church (with such humility, of course), to look at your love for others and your model citizenship, and smile at yourself with the approval you think God must have for you. And you don’t want to hear John’s preaching of repentance, or mine. Oh, you don’t mind it when other sinners are cornered in their sins, the ones you don’t commit. You kind of enjoy that, actually. But when your sins are exposed, that is painful. It kills you. Really. It kills you. That’s the point. The Law kills. It puts you to death so that you’re good and dead and you can’t talk anymore about your accomplishments or judge other sinners or take God for granted. And you certainly can’t bring yourself back to life. God must do that, in the preaching of the Gospel, the good news that is not about what you have done, but ever and always and only about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
The Law places you in the wilderness, at Sinai, with the thundering of God giving commandments you cannot and will not keep and sentencing to death anyone who even touches the mountain. The Law places you where there is no hope for life, where no one can live. Unless God brings life. And He does. He sends His prophets. He sends His Son. He sends His Son in the very preaching of the prophets, the apostles, and the Christian pastors. He sends His Son, the Lamb of God, to take away the sin of the world. He sends His Son so that you can be baptized into Him, confess your sins, be forgiven, and cling to the One who is preached, even Jesus Christ. And in this way, He prepares you to receive Him. He prepares His own way in your heart. He makes His paths straight by casting down the mighty, the self-righteous, the Pharisee in you, by His Law, and lifting up the lowly, the repentant, the redeemed sinner with His Gospel of forgiveness in Christ.
So how do you prepare for His coming, this Advent season? Return to your Baptism. Happily splash into that water, confessing your sins. Repent. And believe the Word that has been pronounced over you: I forgive you all your sins, in the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. And then go and gladly live the new life God has given you in your Baptism. Remember that your old sinful flesh has been drowned in Baptism and crucified in repentance. You’ve been born anew in Baptism, and you return to that new life every time you are absolved of your sins. So leave the old ways behind. Don’t judge others anymore. Repent when you do. Don’t take pride in yourself anymore. Repent when you do. Don’t take God for granted anymore, despising His Word and Sacraments and His holy Church as if you could take them or leave them. Repent when you do. Know who you are before God, a sinner redeemed by the precious blood of Christ. Always believe that your righteousness is in Christ alone, and that because He came for you in the flesh, born of the Virgin Mary, yet the very Son of God, to die for you, you have the full and free forgiveness of all of your sins. So now live in that faith, and just go love and serve your neighbor.
And hear the preaching, Law and Gospel. Hear and heed. Because that is how God prepares you to receive Jesus. He kills you and makes you alive. That is how He gives you Jesus, namely, in the means of grace. Baptism, repentance, confession and absolution, the preaching of Jesus Christ, they all go together. This is the whole ministry of John the Baptist. This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God. This is all for you. Prepare the way of the Lord by receiving it. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Harold Buls, http://www.pericope.org/buls-notes/mark/mark_1_1_8.htm.
 Harold Buls, http://www.pericope.org/buls-notes/mark/mark_1_1_8.htm.