December 6, 2020 At St. Peter & St. William Churches in Naples, FL
Isaiah 40, 5, 9-11, 19 + Psalm 85 + 2 Peter 8, 1-14 + Mark 1, 1-8
The first two words of Mark’s Gospel are important for anyone who wants to be open to the power of God’s Word. Does anyone here remember what those two words were? They are the same words that open the Book of Genesis, the story of Creation, and reveal the wonder of God. They are the same first words of John’s Gospel too. There should be a drum roll when we hear those words: “The beginning”, says Mark as he proclaims the coming age of the Messiah, the beginning of a new work of God as original and stupendous as the creation of the universe. “Prepare”, says a man in the wilderness dressed like Elijah whose return in the faith of Israel signaled the age of the Messiah. If “wait” was the word from last week’s Gospel, today we are told by the Gospel what we should do, prepare.
We have just been through a preparation time getting ready for Thanksgiving. For some of us it was a day of grocery shopping, cooking, baking, and table setting. Now, like it or not, we are all preparing again. This time it is for Christmas. There are cards to address, lists to make, shopping on line, and decorations to put out. In the middle of all of this, our Church puts before us a strange, austere, humorless character out in the desert as reminder that Israel’s time for preparation took place in the desert. That wild man John, leads those people to the Jordan just as Moses led Israel to the water through which they crossed into the promised land where it all began just as it was promised to them.
My friends, these pandemic days have been a kind of “desert” experience for most of us. We are away from family and others we love. We have broken some plans, missed old ways of doing things, skipped celebrations, and some of us have even lost friends who have died alone while we cannot embrace the grieving. Here in this wilderness of a pandemic, Mark speaks of beginnings, and we might take the time today or all through this season to think of our beginning, the beginning of our faith, the beginning of our life. Baptism was that beginning for all of us, and we might do well to ask ourselves what was it the beginning of, and is there any evidence that what began is moving toward fulfillment?
Many of us love to play the role of Santa around this time of the year. I’ve already chipped in with my brother-in-law to get some great gifts for his grandchildren, my grandnephews. They will be so excited! I’m still thinking about just what to give my nieces and a few close friends. We all love to play Santa. Yet, there is another role for us that is not so easily understood and not always as much fun. At the time of our Baptisms, there was an expectation that we become Baptizers and embrace the work of the Baptizer, take on the call to be a herald like John as we go through this holiday season.
When we were anointed in the Rite of Baptism, these words were spoken as the Sacred Chrism touched our heads still wet from the water. Listen carefully them now. “The God of power and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has freed you from sin, and given you a new birth by water and the Holy Spirit, and welcomed you into his holy people. He now anoints you with the chrism of salvation. As Christ was anointed Priest, Prophet, and King, so my you live always as a member of body, sharing in everlasting life.”
We are a priestly people who offer sacrifice and prayers for others. We are a royal people who do the works of Justice and Peace teaching, leading, and serving in the style and image of Christ the King. We are a prophetic people too, a people who take on the role of the prophet which means we are a people who proclaim. We, by the power of God, take on the prophetic work of transforming the wilderness and the wastelands around us into harvests of justice and forgiveness creating highways for our God to enter and re-create our world in charity and peace. It has begun, says this Gospel today. It is not right for us to stand in the way of God’s re-creation. We are the ones who prepare in these days for its fulfillment.