Year B Advent 2 Mark 1
Prepare the Way
Mark 1:1-8

His name was John. People knew him locally as the Baptist. Some would say of him that he was a religious eccentric. Others less kind would dismiss him as being simply a flake. He definitely did not seem to be the kind of "How to win friends and influence people" type of personality to usher in the news of the Messiah's coming. He just somehow doesn't seem to fit in with shepherds and wise men and the other characters that we traditionally associate with the Christmas story. Yet, this was God's unlikely servant chosen to herald the spectacular events that would soon follow. A most unlikely promotions man to be sure, but God's man nevertheless.

From the very beginning everything about John was unique. His mother Elizabeth was related to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Elizabeth conceived six months before Mary. But Mary happened to be a very young girl, indeed almost a child. Most scholars put her probable age at thirteen. It was not unusual for a girl in that day and time to be of childbearing age at such a tender age. Indeed, it is not unheard of even in cotemporary America.

Elizabeth, on the other hand, was a woman who was in the golden years of her life. She had never given birth to a child. You would think of her more in the category of great grandmother than mother. Yet, she and her aging priest of a husband were the unlikely candidates. It's not out of the question today with recent advances in medicine, but beg the grandmother's here today, don't take this as a word from the Lord!

And then there was John himself. Being the same age as Jesus they grow up together, played together, yet as they reached adulthood they were different in so many ways. When John began his ministry he lived in the desert solitude of Judea, a rugged desert wilderness. He fed on honey and wild locust and dressed in garments of camel hair. He constantly brooded over the scriptures, especially the prophetic ministry of Elijah, after whom he modeled his own ministry.

Nor was John a respecter of persons or rank. He had an intimidating personality. For that reason the upper class folk rejected both he and his message. You can read about that in Luke 7:29.

Yet, John gathered a respectable following. He attracted many hearers among the lower class, many of whom received baptism by his hands. John even drew a group of disciples around him, which is significant for two reasons. First, some of these disciples later became disciples of our Lord. Secondly, a number of people began to think of John himself as being the long expected Messiah. For that reason John's gospel felt obliged to specifically point out "There was a man sent from God whose name was John, He came for testimony to bear witness to the light that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but he came to bear witness to the light.

What drew people to John and his message? Well, John was far-fetched. His austere life style was a compelling reason to listen to him and perhaps his strange ways convinced some people to follow him. I think many thought he was Elijah the prophet who returned. But there was more to John than simply a bizarre strange life. John understood that God was about to do something that would shake the foundations of the earth and he needed to prepare the way for that event. He did this in basically three ways...

  1. John lived a godly life.
  2. John challenged the people's sins.
  3. John pointed the way to Christ.

John the Stall Cleaner
Mark 1:1-8

"Prep Time."

Do those two words have as much meaning to anyone here as two other new words to the English language: "Thanksgiving pants." [Those are pants with elastic or expandable waists.] I won't ask how many of you are still wearing those "Thanksgiving pants" to church this morning.

Anyone who is trying to organize and host a get together during this busy holiday season knows that what takes the most time is "prep time." Even Rachael Ray, who cheats by having all her veggies pre-washed, her chicken skinned and boneless, and a refrigerator that is not stuffed with two dozen old Cool Whip containers holding scary and unknown left-overs: even Rachael Ray has to keep chopping and slicing during the commercial breaks in order to make a "30 Minute Meal."

The other big time-consumer when you move into "party prep" mode is cleaning out all those corners that magically and magnetically collect piles of junk, lost gloves, wadded up sweatshirts, and cascades of catalogs. In fact, isn't one of the best things about hosting a big party when it's over, and everyone goes home, you actually have an unusually clean house to live in, at least for a while.

Tim Forbess, senior pastor of First United Methodist in Dayton, Ohio, got to thinking about how and what kind of preparations had to be made for that first Christmas, and realized there is no mention in any of the gospels of who got to be the "official" stall cleaner. Think about it. On the night that overflow guests arrived to use the animals stabling place as a birthing place, there had to be a stall cleaner. And what does a stall cleaner do? The task is known as "mucking out." -

Every one of you here knows the meaning of that phrase, "mucking out." It is every bit as nasty as it sounds, the nastiness only less or more depending upon how long it has been since the last "muck out." Considering the hygiene habits in the first century I' m guessing the muck out accomplished before Mary and Joseph moved into their stall, aka birthing center, was on the high side of horrible.

But prep time, cleaning out time, is necessary if we are going open up space, transform space, re-envision space in our lives for the miracle that is Advent approaching.

Today's gospel text is the prologue to the earliest of the written gospels: The Gospel of mark. The focus of this prologue is on preparation. God's preparation of the world, God's preparation of the people, involves far more than mucking out one stable stall. John the Baptist is called by God to be the ultimate "preparer," the Advent stable cleaner... presents Leonard Sweet