The Holy Gospel according to Mark, the first chapter.
Glory to you O Lord.
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, "See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,' " John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today we are celebrating the second week of Advent. Advent is one of those times when the message the church is giving us is the polar opposite of the message we are getting from the world.
The world around us is telling us to rush around, to hurry up and get things done. Hurry up and do more than you usually do. Go to parties and concerts. Buy more gifts. Make more food. Hurry up and work so hard that you barely enjoy the things that are supposed to be there to make life more fun and more meaningful. That’s the message of the world.
The message of Advent is very different. Advent is the season of waiting. The season where the church reminds us that it isn’t Christmas yet. The season that teaches us patience. The season where the church tells us to slow down and notice what is happening.
Today we are reminded that, for God, a thousand years is like a single day. This may sound like a harsh message for us, because we are people who never seem to have enough time and we are always wondering where all the time goes.
And these days is seems as if we are living in something of an in between zone, a time between the past we remember, and the future that has been promised to us.
The good old days are gone. Many people spend a great deal of time and energy bemoaning the loss, or trying to get things to go back to the way they remember them. But we all know deep inside that the world is not as it once was and we can’t change it back.
But for God, a thousand years is like a single day. The old has passed away, but the new has not yet come into being.
We can feel stuck in the middle of nowhere, in an unknown and sometimes scary place, waiting for God to do something new. We can get anxious and we worry about what the world might be coming to.
Advent comes to us as a gift in the midst of these times, to invite us to pause, and notice what is happening in the world and in our lives. Advent invites us to reflect on how God is fulfilling promises in unexpected ways, using unexpected people in unexpected places.
Our gospel for this week tells us of John the Baptist. John certainly qualifies as an unexpected person to bring the message of God’s promises. After all, he dressed strangely, lived in the wilderness, and ate bugs. He sounds scary to me, and if I am going to be honest, I can tell you that I probably would not have gone to hear him preach.
Lots of people did though. People from the city and all over the countryside went in droves to hear him preach. I do wonder what he said and what he sounded like.
Most of the time he is portrayed as a fire and brimstone kind of preacher. You know the type I mean - the guys who yell a lot and whose basic message is repent now or burn in hell. Pretty scary, and not a message I would preach, or go to hear.
But that isn’t how our gospel today describes him. Mark uses our first lesson from the prophet Isaiah to describe John’s message. “Comfort, O comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem…”
What if the message from John the Baptist is a message of comfort rather than a threat? What if he spoke tenderly to the people of Jerusalem and the countryside? What if the call to repentance was an invitation to forgiveness?
I know that I am much more likely to accept an invitation to turn my life around from someone who speaks tenderly to me. I am much more likely to acknowledge my bad decisions and choices to someone who is comforting me rather than to someone who is threatening me.
I imagine that the crowds who came to hear John preach might have felt the same way. He told them to repent - to turn their lives around - to turn their backs on the sins of their past - to prepare for a new day, a new life.
He told them that the world was changing, that God was doing a new thing. He told them to prepare for the new age to come and he told them how to live while they wait.
He called them to be baptized. He called them to repentance - to change their lives and return to following God - to return to the law - to love God and love their neighbors.
He gave them the good news of forgiveness. And forgiveness is a comforting message. It is a message of hope. Hope for a future that is not bound by the mistakes and problems of the past. A future where there is justice and peace and righteousness for all, no matter who they are, or where they live, or what color their skin is.
We have hope for the future because the Messiah, the Christ who comes, is also the Christ who went to the cross for us, the one who died for our forgiveness. The one who overcame death for us, the one who promises us that he will come again bringing a new heaven and a new earth.
A thousand years for God is like a single day. We don’t always like that, and we might wish instead to make God in our image. We want to tell God to hurry up and rush around and get things done. After all, ‘tis the season for that. I know I can be impatient for God to get to work when I see things that I think God ought to do something about right now.
But God isn’t being slow. God is being patient with us. God is being patient with our neighbors, too. God is even being patient with our enemies, because God loves all of us and doesn’t even want our enemies to perish.
So the message of the second week of Advent is a gift for you. It is the gift of being told to slow down and notice that God is working in unexpected people and places.
It is the gift of being spoken to tenderly and comforted with the good news that Christ brings us all forgiveness.
A thousand years may be like a single day, but the patience of the Lord is our salvation. God promises that Jesus will come again.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.