Year B Advent 2 Mark 1 2011
Prepare the Way
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 contemporary 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...
- John lived a godly life.
- John challenged the people’s sins.
- John pointed the way to Christ.
The Four Scents of Adventing
A traditional accounting of the number of “senses” the human body registers is five: sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. We now know there are between 9 and 21 actual senses, depending on who’s counting. But still there are five main ones, and two biggies in the five: sight and sound.
Even those of us with poor vision and tin ears still rely heavily on sight and sound to get around. Taste and touch are less obviously used, but absolutely necessary. Our sense of touch keeps us from absent-mindedly leaning on a red hot burner or petting a puppy with the disposition of a boxer. Sight, sound, touch, taste -- they are the four senses that give us crucial information and safely connect us to our environment.
Of all the senses, whether in the top 5 or all 21, the sense of smell usually gets short shrift. Mostly we notice its presence when we wish we didn’t have it. When we are cleaning out the diaper pail. Or giving the skunk-adorned dog a bath. Or driving home the eighth-grade basketball team.
For most of us the first thought we have about our sense of smell is . . . it stinks. Nasty odors tighten our stomachs and ruin our days. But our sense of smell offers us a lot more than obnoxious odors. Olfactory memories are among the most personal and poignant our brain can produce. Not just those sweat socks that send you back to your junior high locker room. Not just that foul stench that lets you know the milk has gone bad. There are a thousand other smells filed away in our minds and hearts and souls that trigger deep responses.
Cooking show chefs are always bemoaning the fact that there is no such thing as “smell-o-vision.” All restaurants that advertize on tv would agree. “Foodies” know that the single most attractive, addictive sense is that of smell.
We just finished getting rid of the Thanksgiving leftovers and, by the time we’ve made turkey sandwiches, turkey casserole, and turkey soup, we realize this thing is just an overgrown chicken. So why do we bother with it?
It’s the smell. Turkeys have to cook for a long time. They torture us with their smell for hours on end. Same thing goes with good barbecue. Or a big old pot roast. The smell entices and entrances over hours of cooking.
There are distinctive aromas that are attached to Advent...