Second Sunday in Advent (B)
December 10, 2017
Text: Mark 1:1-8
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1; ESV). Quite an introductory sentence to the shortest of the four Gospels. Really, it’s the title of St. Mark’s book. But it also serves as the thematic statement for Mark’s Gospel as a whole, and our text in particular. Mark gets right to it. He tells us what the Gospel is and how it is delivered. It is the coming of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in the flesh, in fulfillment of the whole Old Testament. This is the One we’ve been waiting for, the Messiah who comes to save us. And now this is what happens as a result, in order to bring that Gospel to the people: God sends a preacher. He sends His prophet, his man, St. John the Baptist, the voice. He sends him out into the wilderness, the place of nothingness and lifelessness, aside from the wild beasts… a place the people believed to be a haunt of demons. It is just to that place that God sends His preacher. To do what? To cry: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (v. 3). The Christ is coming. Repent of your sins. Turn from them. Give them up. Return to the LORD your God, and to His Messiah, His Son. Believe the Good News. (The word “Gospel” means “good news,” or “good tidings,” like a herald announcing the visit of a king or a great victory over the enemy.) John preaches repentance and faith in the empty wasteland of beasts and demons. And there he stands, in the dirty, stinking Jordan River, pouring water all over sinners, washing away, not the dirt of the body, but the defilement of the soul and the body, sin. His baptism is for repentance and the forgiveness of sins, and the people come out to him there, in the middle of nowhere, confessing their sins, being washed, forgiven, and set free.
That’s the Gospel happening, the life-giving Gospel blooming in the desert, putting demons to flight, making saints out of sinners, Christians out of brute beasts. Do you see what this means? The nature of the Gospel, the good news that God is reconciled to sinners in the coming of Jesus and His death and resurrection, that all our sins are forgiven… the nature of this Gospel is that it be proclaimed. It’s right there in the definition of the word Gospel: Good news, good tidings, to be told. And so, when God does His Gospel, He sends a preacher. They’re not always much to look at, these preachers. St. John was clothed in a leather belt and a camels’ hair suit. It was weird even then. They’re sometimes socially awkward and their behavior can be off-putting. St. John lived as a hermit in the wilderness, ate locusts caught with his own hands, and raided bees’ nests for the wild honey. He was rather blunt in his speech. He didn’t beat around the bush. He called sinners out for their sin. And he was pretty specific. Painfully so. “You there, stop being so greedy. Share what you have. You tax collectors, stop stealing from the people. You soldiers, stop bullying people and extorting money. Be content with your wages, with the provision God has given to you. And you, Herod… It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife. Thou shalt not commit adultery. You are not your own. Your body is not your own to do with as you please. And Herodias is not your wife. She is Philip’s. Repent” (Cf. Luke 3). It would get him beheaded.
No, John was not a people-pleaser. Can you imagine the trouble he’d get into if he pastored a congregation in the Missouri Synod? But this is what God does when He sends His man: He calls sinners to repentance and faith. He sends a voice to preach, hands to baptize, ears to hear confession, a voice to absolve. But the man is nothing. In the end, he’s expendable. Even St. John. It is God who does the Gospeling. It is God who preaches, baptizes, and absolves. It is God who feeds with better fare than locusts and wild honey, who clothes with better than camels’ hair and leather. When God sends a preacher, it is God Himself who comes into the wilderness. And when you hear a preacher preaching repentance and faith, you hear the voice of the living God.
And that means when a preacher declares your sins forgiven, they really are forgiven before God in heaven, for it is God who has done the forgiving… not the man in the strange outfit. The man is clothed in an office. St. John was dressed remarkably like Elijah! He was clothed in the mantle of a prophet. This was to decrease John, and magnify the Christ he proclaimed. Your pastor is dressed remarkably like the clergy have dressed since Roman times. He is clothed in the mantle of the Public Preaching Office. This is to decrease him, and magnify the Christ he proclaims, nay, the Christ who speaks, directly, to you in His holy Word, and who washes you in Baptism, forgives your sins and clothes you in His own righteousness in the Holy Absolution, and feeds you with Himself, His body and blood, crucified and risen, in the Holy Supper. That is God doing His Gospel to you.
And He does it right here in the wilderness, doesn’t He? You do realize, don’t you, that we live in a wilderness even more lifeless and full of nothing but wild beasts and demons than St. John did? For all of our shopping malls, restaurants, and big box stores, we really live in no-man’s land. None of the stuff money can buy fills us. None of it satisfies us or makes us happy. Remember that when it comes time to open presents at the end of the month. It’s great and all, but it doesn’t add to you and it won’t make you happy. (Truth be told, you’ll probably take it back to the store.) In many and various ways, Christmas has become for us one giant exercise in hedonism and selling ourselves to other gods for nothing more than a mess of pottage… or an i-Pad-Pod-Phone-Thingamajiggy that will be obsolete on December 26th.
Beloved in the Lord, repent. Stop being so greedy. Stop coveting. Stop worrying that if you’re too generous, there won’t be enough for you. Believe in God, and in Christ His Son. Believe the God who shed His blood and died for you, to make you His own, and know that He will never forsake you and He never holds out on you. He blesses you to be a blessing. Give it away. Share. Give gifts. Sacrifice. And rejoice in Jesus, who is all you need. Don’t bully. Don’t covet. Be content with your wages. Delight in the spouse God has given you, and have eyes only for him or her. And if God has not given you a spouse, wait upon Him and pray and give thanks that you are never alone. He is always with you. Honor your father and mother. Pay your taxes and pray for the president. Confess your sins. Be forgiven and cleansed.
For you are baptized into Christ, and that means something pretty incredible. What Christ is, you are. You are a son of God in the Son of God, Jesus Christ. You have died. You got your death over with at the font, where you were baptized into the death of Christ! So you don’t need to fear death. When you die, you keep living. Because Christ is risen, and you live in Him, and you will never taste death. You will live forever with Him, and on the Day of His return, He will raise you bodily from the dead. That’s pretty good news, right?! And your sins can’t haunt you. They’re washed away. The Law cannot accuse you or condemn you. You’ve died to its power. The devil? Oh, he cannot accuse you either. His tyranny is at an end. He’s hell-bound without you, praise be to Christ! And all of your enemies: sin, Satan, death, and hell itself, the things to which you used to be enslaved… these will be thrown into the Lake of Fire on that Day where their worm does not die and their fire is not quenched, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Those things can’t hurt you anymore. You belong to Christ! You are baptized into Christ!
And there is this difference between John’s Baptism and yours. John’s Baptism was interminably great, to be sure. It was a Baptism by which God turned the sinner from sin to Himself. God repented the sinner, and forgave the sinner all his sins. Tremendous stuff, that. But as great as it was, it was but a shadow of your Baptism into Christ. It was the type. Yours is the fulfillment. In your Baptism, you have all that John’s Baptism gives. And you have more. John’s pointed forward to Christ. Yours delivers Him. John’s prepared sinners for the coming of the Savior. Yours saves by giving you His salvation. John’s Baptism was with water, but yours delivered the Holy Spirit, who brought you to faith in Jesus Christ and sustains your faith as you live each day in your Baptism. God writes His Name on you in your Baptism, His Name in all its fullness as Jesus has revealed it: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And your Baptism is no one-time event. It is the daily reality in which you live. It’s not that you were baptized, it’s that you are baptized. Repentance is a daily return to your Baptism. Absolution in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit puts you right back into the water. That’s how God does His Gospel to you.
So now you know what you really need to survive life in this lifeless and demon-possessed wilderness. Go where God Gospels you. Go where the preacher is and where God is giving His gifts. Hear the preaching. Repent of your sins. Live in your Baptism. Believe the Absolution. And eat what God gives at this Table. St. Mark records the beginning of the Gospel. Here in the holy Church is the continuation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Here is where He gives it for you. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.