Our reading for December 3, 2018 is Mark 1:1-8.
The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 It is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”— 3 “a voice of one calling in the desert ,’Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.'”4 And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” NIV
The implication of Mark is simple, he equates John we know as the Baptist as the fulfillment of this prophesy from Isaiah which was composed six hundred or more years before John’s birth. As further evidence to this conclusion Mark describes John’s appearance, lifestyle and activity, all of which fits the portrayal of the prophets from the Old Testament prophetic period. He certainly chose a lifestyle contrary to that of normal persons.
John’s testimony certainly conveys his belief that he fit the prophetic description and calling. He called the populous who were interested in his message to repentance and made no bones about the fact his work as preceding the one the nation of Israel was anticipating who would be their Messiah or national savior. But within John’s description of his purpose he betrays a deeper understanding of the messiah. He claimed the one who would soon appear would baptize whoever was interested with the Holy Spirit which the people listening to John would take to mean an intangible presence of God. This was then suggesting a spiritual salvation rather than a nationalistic political leader. The spiritual nature of this yet undisclosed person is suggested also by the fact personal repentance was required by those who would receive him.
Of interest to me this evening is those who heard the message of John, who could be qualified to embrace the Messiah prophesied and anticipated for so long. The motivation of the people who came out of their way to see and hear John is important for not everyone took the trouble or interest in checking him out. Most stayed home and took care of ordinary business. Like many today who have heard the claim of the church to offer connection to God only dismiss whatever testimony the church might offer.
Still there were those who were curious because they heard about the promise of a Messiah and wondered if John might be him. Some were hopeful and looking for any possible chance the promise was going to be fulfilled in their lifetime due to the desperation of their circumstance. They wanted a Savior to be sent from God.
Still others who were of the religious establishment wanted to check out any claims to this identity to weed out those who were imposters and would use the prophecy to prey on weak and vulnerable followers of Judaism. These would also be concerned with false prophets who might instigate rebellion against the occupying forces of Palestine an jeopardize the fragile security and status quo of the nation under Roman control.
Only those who were truly seeking the truth would hear the words of truth spoken by John and then would be open to the teaching and activity of the person John was pointing to when that person would be revealed. We too much check out our motivation for seeking and following Christ. Only a heart sincerely seeking the truth would take heed of John’s call of repentance and actively watch for the revelation of the Messiah John spoke of.
Likewise today we look for the truth and be sincerely interested in finding it before we can recognize the spiritual presence of Christ spoken of in our spiritual observance of Christmas. We can miss him all together or find him near depending on the disposition of our heart. What is it you are looking for? I want God and only the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God can connect me to God. John testifies that it is only Jesus who can baptize us with God’ presence. What must we turn from to find him? May we approach this season with the right intention to discover the gift God offers of Emmanuel – God made flesh, revealed to us, revealed in us.
O God, I want to see Jesus in my life. I want to feel his presence with me; I want his help and the assurance of his love for me. All I want for Christmas is Jesus! Amen.