December 10th Sermon: Wake Up! With John the Baptizer
The first class-wide assembly that all freshmen had to attend
At Drake University began with a segment called:
WAKE UP! With Wanda.
By the time that this assembly rolled around,
All parents and guardians had been kicked off of campus,
And students were left to figure out
How to live without parental supervision:
Laundry, making friends, getting from point A to point B,
Tying up shoes without mom’s help.
The usual things.
“WAKE UP!” With Wanda
Addressed these students directly
In this new, uncomfortable situation.
Wanda was the vice provost of student affairs at Drake.
She was an older, thin black woman who spoke with authority.
Her schpeel went something like this:
You are no longer in the confines of your home that you’ve known.
You are facing something new and
It is you who makes the decisions.
College may give you a new lease on life,
Or it may be a time of many rude awakenings.
Either way, it’s going to be a SHOCK to your system.
What are you going to do about it?
Much like WAKE UP with Wanda,
Advent is a big old wake-up call!
This season of preparation anticipates
That God incarnate will come and turn the order of things upside down,
And bring the Kingdom of God to earth!
How can we NOT be shocked by that?
Pastor Tim, last week,
Likened Advent to
Settling into the covers of your bed,
And then, before you get warm,
The covers get TOSSED off, the cold of the outer world
Invades your bones,
And you’re immediately on high alert.
WAKE UP! It’s Advent.
At the beginning of the Gospel according to Mark,
We again find ourselves in a strange place, not sure what to make of it,
But we are sure that there is something weird afoot.
What might conventional wisdom expect at the beginning of a gospel?
Manger and animals? Nothing.
Shepherds or angels? Nope.
A nice hymn or two? Nay.
There isn’t even a genealogy that explains Jesus’ family tree.
The account begins simply enough,
As it gives a brief description of what will come:
“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
It’s a “Too Long; Didn’t Read” (TL; DR) version of the story, perhaps.
The good news—this is the gospel,
The good news of salvation
Brought to us by and through this Jesus Christ the Messiah, Son of God.
For us today, this seems pretty par-for-the course and digestible,
Even though it is a really radical claim!
Lutheran theology has conditioned us to expect all this from Jesus.
But then, the gospel account gets a little weird for us, doesn’t it?
We are transported not into an inn or even a space with a manger;
Rather, we transition into that liminal space where spiritual battles are often waged:
Instead of an angel calling to Mary or Joseph,
We get an Old Testament-style prophet
Clothed in camel’s hair
And the trendiest diet of locusts and wild honey—
The original Weight Watchers diet, perhaps.
Instead of a message of “unto us a child is born,”
We get this strange man proclaiming a baptism of repentance
For the forgiveness of sins,
Out in the river Jordan.
He’s telling people to repent!
Turn your life away from sin
And back toward God!
Jesus is coming soon!
WAKE UP! With John the Baptizer.
What seems strangest to me
Is that the whole Judean countryside and Jerusalem
Comes out to the wilderness to John.
He would have a few thousand followers on Twitter right now,
Or something like that.
Imagine yourself going out to such a man today,
One with a strange diet and unusual clothing,
Meeting him in the wilderness,
And receive a baptism of repentance!
Now, it is really easy to dismiss someone who fits this description.
Common sense reasoning would tell us to go the other way,
Cross the street, or take the long way around,
Just to avoid the camel-shirt man.
But, when we find this person in the Bible,
We are asked to take him seriously.
Perhaps this is the toughest part to digest
About the beginning of Mark’s gospel:
We are given a strange man in a strange place
And we are supposed to believe that
He is the prophet who proclaims that the Messiah
Is on his way, due to arrive shortly.
WAKE UP! Jesus is coming.
God certainly works in mysterious ways through mysterious means.
John, in the wilderness, wielding a baptism of repentance
Is where we wait for Christ this Advent.
That is the plain truth of it.
Today, we anticipate God breaking into our lives here.
God speaks to us through the Scriptures,
And graces us through the water and bread and wine of the sacraments,
Which seem like such ordinary things on their face but indeed are extraordinary.
Today, we anticipate God is breaking into the culture at large,
Where some victims of sexual assault and harassment are putting their
Stories out into the public consciousness.
Today, we anticipate God breaking into New Haven,
Where many people experience homelessness and other serious travails,
And have very little hope to speak up for themselves
In a culture that empowers those already well off.
In reckoning with John the Baptizer, we are called to look for God
In the unexpected, the unheard, the unusual.
After all, John is not the only one
Who “is not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of [Jesus’s] sandals.”
None of us are worthy.
Yet, God will never stop calling out and reaching out to us.
Biblical accounts may subvert our expectations.
Prophets may grate against our sense of normalcy.
People may be deemed expendable by the culture in which we live.
But, we are called to WAKE UP!
And see God come in the flesh
To offer the gift of that oh-so good news of salvation.