Isaiah 40:1-11 Mark 1:1-8

December 7, 2014 by Ken Dale

Mark?s gospel is so wonderfully different. It is the earliest of the four gospels. Either Mark didn?t know those nice Christmas stories in Luke and Matthew, or he didn?t think they were that important. In Mark there are no shepherds watching over their flocks, no manger, no Mary, no Joseph, no ?In the beginning was the word?? (which I dearly love!!). In Mark there isn?t even a baby Jesus! Mark opens with ?The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.? And he speaks of the prophet Isaiah. Mark opens his gospel pretty much the way Isaiah came into our worship this morning. Isaiah speaks of sending a messenger who will prepare the way.?? Mark begins his gospel with a socially, religiously and politically incorrect wild man in the desert.

Dressed in camel?s hair with leather belt and honey dipped locust on his breath. John the baptizer?s message: ?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.? John had no credentials and baptized anyone and everyone who wanted to start again. I mean think about it! How many Christmas pageants have you witnessed with John the Baptist in it? Think of the fun dressing up a child as that character.

Three verses later Jesus is baptized by John and a voice from above says, ?You are my Son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased.??? This is Advent we prepare for the presence of God, come to us in the flesh, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. That?s a pretty bold statement! Only Christianity contends that the infinite God descended, taking on the form of our finitude. The God whom we cannot reach, reaches down to us. The mysterious God, the inaccessible to human sight and human reason God, comes to be with us in the mystery of Incarnation ? which comes from the Latin ?in the flesh.? The mystery is that Jesus is fully God ? fully human. Many do not believe it ? but I do ? and I believe it about God because it does not make any sense at all. It is beyond my comprehension ? but somehow that?s the point for me! We are speaking of God here. But believing is so very powerful. It reveals so much more about God ? that God is even more than unrestrained power and undeniable glory ? a greatness such that Moses was only allowed to see the back of it. In this life of Jesus we also learn that God is glorious suffering, powerfully redemptive love who comes among us a lowly servant who healed, taught, forgave, suffered, died and rose again. We see in this life of Jesus God who is with us in all those things as well. We see God who works with all those things out of love for this world.

So I wonder how that strikes us? This is the same God that the hymn captures with these words: ?immortal, invincible God only wise, in light inaccessible hid from our eyes, most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days.? How does it strike us that THAT GOD would come so close? Isaiah brings God?s word ?comfort, comfort you my people.? Is THAT GOD ? THAT CLOSE ? too close for comfort?

That God in the world! That God in the world ? that close ? incarnation! Where have you seen that God in this world? We?ve heard some responses already ? in the beauty of nature yes, but also in the beauty of God?s people as they reach out and cry out in the same way that God has reached out and cried out to this world in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. And God the person of Jesus bids us to come and follow ? repent and begin anew. We are called to bring the presence of Christ with our lives to others ? to others as near as our own family and friends, and as distant as complete strangers we haven?t even met yet. In celebration of that faith we are challenged to take a closer look at what Christmas is all about ? the shopping or the sacred? Christmas is a chance to live in God?s presence ? and then living in that presence sharing ? sharing of our love, of God?s love within us. So often that is how God?s love makes it into this world ? especially to those in need. Those in need include: those who do not have the resources even for their daily needs let alone Christmas gifts, those who are broken in spirit for some reason, those who are alone. Those in need include people who are victims of injustice which is in today?s world such a difficult call. The events in Ferguson and most recently New York City ? so difficult to understand ? so different and with varied perspectives. But where there is injustice ? racism, or any ?ism? that keeps people from experiencing equality and justice, God is present when the people of God cry out. God is present when God?s people act in concrete ways.

Yes it is overwhelming this celebration we call Christmas ? if we think about it?s true meaning and what that meaning calls us to. It is awesome that God would get that close. But God does that for a reason ? and the reason is love enough to change the direction of things ? but then we are called to get that close as well. It is probably impossible for us to get Christmas right ? to fully comprehend and fully live what it?s all about ? because it?s all about the love of God ? so transcendent and yet so imminent.

The point is captured in this story. Composer Igor Stravinsky had written a new piece with a difficult violin passage. After they rehearsed for several weeks the solo violinist came to Stravinsky and said that he was sorry, he had tried his best, but the passage was just too difficult, no violinist could play it. Stravinsky replied, ?I understand that. What I?m after is the sound of someone trying to play it.? (?Preparing for Peace? Brett Younger)

I believe those are the words we need to hear God saying to us as we strive to live faithfully. We do not come as angels ? we come as that mix of saint and sinner, and with love for one another ? yet bearing the burdens of old grudges, we come with regrets and we come with hope, we come seeking God?s comfort yet oblivious to God?s presence with us. We come wanting to sing and share the music of God?s love for and God?s presence in the life of this world ? knowing no one can play it perfectly. So can we hear God?s voice saying, ?What I?m after is the sound of someone trying to play it??

By the grace of God ? we will!