December 6, 2020 “This Is How It Begins”

“This Is How It Begins”

Isaiah 40:1-11

Mark 1:1-8

Let’s talk about Mark- particularly the gospel of Mark. I was told long ago that if you were only allowed only one gospel to read and study to understand the life and death and teachings of Jesus Christ, then pick Mark. Mark’s Gospel is almost exactly half the length of Matthew and Luke which in the day when scrolls were quite expensive, made Mark’s gospel a real bargain and I’m sure there were quite a few of them floating around. Now, it’s safe to assume that the gospel was written by a John Mark, the same John Mark that had somewhat of a falling out with the Apostle Paul early in his ministry.(Acts 13:13) It’s the time he spent with Peter, however, that proved to be so valuable. The Lord smiled that Peter was able to tell so many of the stories of Christ’s ministry on earth and that Mark was able to record them. In fact, a goodly portion of the  gospel writings of Matthew and Luke came from – you guessed it – the writings of John Mark.

Our Gospel lesson today is the very beginning of Mark’s Gospel. This is the opening salvo, the declaration of what’s to come – of what to expect. But here’s the thing: as we find ourselves approaching the middle of the Advent season and looking forward to decorating and doing whatever we can to make Christmas meaningful, is John the Baptist really what we need right now? I mean, in better times when the nation wasn’t ripped apart by our politics and the world wasn’t under siege by a devastating disease; in better times, we could get behind the whole idea of “A voice crying out in the wilderness; a voice telling us to prepare the way of the Lord – to make his paths straight.” In better times- in normal times – this would have been simply a part of the Advent liturgy that we are used to: on the 2nd Sunday of Advent, it’s always all about John the Baptist. We read the story and roll our eyes at this man who eats bugs and wild honey dressed in a camel hair shirt. It ain’t a pretty sight.

I met a kid years ago who grew up in central California. He used to show up with his guitar and we played songs and just enjoyed ourselves that way. But I remember him telling me about an old guy he knew when he still lived in California: a sheepherder whose family came from the Basque region of Spain. John used to go visit him any chance he could get and this old guy was always glad for the company, being as he spent his days with no one except – – sheep. John said that he was wise beyond his years, though, and he spent many hours listening to the amazing stories this Basque would tell. “I was always eager to go up there in the scrub country to visit,” he said. “It was the most barren, desolate country you can imagine: nothing but lizards and snakes and manzanita brush. But I looked forward to going up,” he said, “except for one thing: he smelled; I mean he smelled really, really bad.” John told me that he struggled with how to deal with this. He didn’t want to hurt the old guy’s feelings, but maybe there was something he could do to help out. Maybe help build some kind of a shower or haul up a tub from town. Something – anything.

Finally, John worked up the nerve to ask the sheepherder the question that had been on his mind for months and months. “So tell me,” he said, “if you don’t mind me asking, why don’t you ever take a shower?” Right off the bat he could tell he had hit a nerve, but he wasn’t expecting the answer that came next as the old guy scrunched up his wrinkled face, looked John right in the eye, and then said, “Some people just don’t like to get wet.” And that was the end of it.

They remained good friends right up to the time that John moved to Montana and John swears that some of the best moments in his life came from his visits to the borderline wilderness in California with a Basque sheepherder that just didn’t like to get wet.

My point is, in a roundabout way, that God seems to have a real liking for revealing himself when we find ourselves in those wilderness moments. These are the moments when we find ourselves a little lost, vulnerable, and out of our element. The wilderness of scripture is not a place we choose to go. Sometimes we’re taken there against our will. The loss of a loved one, the betrayal of a friend, when the faith we’ve always taken for granted starts to dry up – these are the times that try us. These are the times when we sorely need a little good news. So, I need to bring up Mark’s message one more time here. The very first words of this important gospel (TLB) tell it all: Here begins the wonderful story of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God. In the book written by the prophet Isaiah, God announced that he would send his Son to earth, and that a special messenger would arrive first to prepare the world for his coming.“This messenger will live out in the barren wilderness,” Isaiah said, “and will proclaim that everyone must straighten out his life to be ready for the Lord’s arrival.”

“This is how it begins,” he says; “the wonderful story of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.” This is how it begins – not in the halls of cathedrals or the courtyards of temples. This is how it begins – not in palaces of kings or the staterooms of the capital. This is how it begins – not even at the manger; not even at the wonder of the virgin birth. No, this is how it begins: it begins with the prophets speaking of a voice, a voice who will tell us to prepare the way for the Lord; to exalt the valleys and flatten the mountains; to level the playing field. It begins with a genuine call for repentance from a guy that probably smelled really bad, yet all walks of men came to be baptized by him. “Prepare the way for the Lord.” It was uncomfortable, it was dirty, it was smelly, yet this is how it begins.

It’s interesting to note that of the 3 synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – only Matthew and Luke have an account of the birth of Christ. In Mark, there is no mention of it at all. So when we find ourselves missing the traditions of this season; when we ache for the lights and the carols and the gathering of family and friends, let’s listen for the voice that calls us to make way for the one who is eternal. “Comfort waits for us in the desert. God promises to come to us in the wilderness. Let’s believe that. This will pass, but for now, like the prophets who came before us, let us become brave voices in hard places, preparing the way for the Lord.” *

Amen & Shalom

*Debie Thomas – Nov 29, 2020


To view a video of this sermon from Pastor Ken, please visit the site –

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