(New American Standard Bible)
Preaching of John the Baptist
1The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
2As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
"BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER AHEAD OF YOU, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY; 3THE VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, 'MAKE READY THE WAY OF THE LORD, MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT
4John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
5And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins.
6John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist, and his diet was locusts and wild honey.
7And he was preaching, and saying, "After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals.
8"I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
There is no fancy birth narrative,
no Joseph and Mary,
and no stable.
All we have is a voice in the wilderness…
Prepare a way for the Lord.
This is how Mark begins his Gospel.
The day after Thanksgiving,
I found myself traveling into the wilderness
I went to the Appalachians to meet a close old friend for a day of hiking.
Our intentions were good,
but neither of us arrived at the park when we expected.
The reason for our delay…the traffic.
Both of us,
oblivious as we are,
didn’t take into account that in every city,
including small town America,
there was bumper to bumper traffic
because of Christmas shopping.
Suddenly I began to have visions about how the month will unfold.
I will finish up exams, and by the time I get home
Will have a few days to spontaneously
make last minute purchases
and get them under the tree.
Then and only then will I be reminded that once again
I have failed to “Prepare the way of the Lord.”
There seems to be a void.
Contemporary Culture proclaims Christmas
as a season to camp out in parking lots
for the latest and best buys,
and the gospel proclaims
a radically different message.
In the Church, the reason for the season
is the celebration of a birth of a child,
a child who ultimately gives his life
for the sake of our sins.
It is in the spirit of his gift,
that we should give.
I am not sure that an impulsive purchase,
or wrongly chosen sweater conveys the
gravity of Christ’s gift.
Throughout my day in the wilderness,
and on the long return trip home,
I wondered what Christmas would
look like if our (own) gifts were truly gifts.
And then it came to me…
A story I heard many years ago
preached from the pulpit by a former colleage.
The story is titled: A Christmas Story, and is written by the mother of this family. Here is what she writes…It is just a small white envelope, stuck among the branches of our Christmas tree. No name, no identification, no inscription. It has peeked through the branches of our tree for the past 10 years or so. And it all began because my husband Mike hated Christmas.Knowing he felt this way, I decided one year to bypass the usual shirts, sweaters, ties, and so forth, and reach for something special just for Mike.The inspiration came in an unusual way.Mike loved kids… all kids… and he knew them well And that’s when the idea for his Christmas gift came.That afternoon, I (made a gift) anonymously to the inner-city church. On Christmas Eve, I place an envelope on the tree, with a note inside telling Mike what I had done and that this was his gift from me. His smile was the brightest thing about Christmas that year, and in all the years to come. Each Christmas thereafter, I followed the tradition: One year sending a group of mentally handicapped youngsters to a hockey game. And another year giving a check to a pair of elderly brothers whose home had burned to the ground a week before Christmas, and on and on. The envelope became the highlight of our Christmas.It was always the last thing opened on Christmas morning, and our children, ignoring their new toys, would stand with wide-eyed anticipation as their father lifted the envelope from the tree to reveal its contents.The envelope never lost its allure. The story doesn’t end there though. You see…we lost Mike to cancer last year. When Christmas rolled around, I was still so wrapped in grief that I barely got the tree up. But Christmas Eve found me placing an envelope on the tree. And in the morning….it was joined by THREE MORE!!! Each of our boys, unbeknownst to the others, had placed an envelope on the tree for their Dad.The tradition has grown and someday will expand even further, with our grandchildren standing around the tree with wide-eyed anticipation watching as their fathers’ take down the envelope. My Friend’s, the spirit of Christmas is about the “good news” of Jesus Christ, our greatest gift. It is about Christ coming to us, saving us, and equipping us with the power to make his kingdom a reality here and now. During this season of Advent (a time of waiting), let us Prepare a way for the Lord, so that we may both receive and give in the spirit of Christ. AMEN.