I asked this question this morning at a gathering, ‘Are you ready for Christmas?’ There were sincere shaking of heads, and I could feel the palpable weight of ‘things to be done’ before the festivities could begin. Even good, faithful Christians get bogged down with the expectations of turkey and all the trimmings. I think we are asking the wrong question, and the passage from Mark’s gospel today helps us to realign ourselves with the right one: Are you ready for Christ?
Advent is not simply the countdown to Christmas, although our Advent calendars would suggest that it is. Advent is about the expectation of God coming to be present with us. Nowadays, that coming of Jesus, is often the retelling of the Christmas Nativity, whether it be told by infants wearing dressing gowns and tea towels or bedecked in tinsel, or by 9 lessons and carols read and sung by candlelight. Both are part of our traditions, but do they really engage in us the sense of hope and expectation that builds our faith? Do they help us look forward with God, or to review history?
The retelling of John’s role as prophet and baptiser reminds us to keep looking forward. It is also, quite helpfully for our year of engaging with Mark, the opening verses of his gospel. If you have been following Mark, Read and Inwardly Digest on Facebook and twitter courtesy of the Walloping Vicar, you will have had chance to mull over these 8 verses already. Mark doesn’t give us any account of Jesus’ nativity (which is why he will go silent on the lectionary readings over the next few weeks) or childhood, he doesn’t even give us any sense of his ancestry. Mark jumps in with ‘the good news’, or Gospel if you like to read New Testament Greek, that God is with us here and now.
What we do get, though, is a reminder of the promises of the prophets of long ago. John isn’t Elijah whose return had been expected ahead of Emmanuel’s, but one who looks and dresses like Elijah – an Elijah looky-likey if you like! A prophet who looks, acts and speaks like one of the greatest all-time prophets has come, and he is pointing the way for one greater than him! All the connections are being made, and the people of Israel are excited and responding to John’s call to be prepared. The wilderness is no longer the empty place it once was, it has been swamped with expectant people hearing the call to repentance and diving headlong into hope. John’s call isn’t to sweep clean your homes, but to disinfect your hearts. Yes, God is coming in person, and will need a place to rest his head, to eat and sleep, but Jesus is looking to make his home in hearts made ready to be filled with his love.
That is the message of the dessert, but it is also the message of Advent too. Prepare ye the way: hang your tinsel and light up your house if you so desire, but be sure to make ready your hearts and souls, because that is where the baby Jesus longs to be born this Christmas.
This Sunday we light the second candle on the Advent Wreath, it is the candle of Peace. If we are willing to offer up our customs and traditions and the tearing around overcrowded shopping centres and Black Friday websites, we may find time to be still. We may find time to re-engage with that sense of expectation we had when we were children and felt no responsibilities for stuffing turkeys or stockings or over boiling sprouts and dry roasting parsnips. Perhaps if we rediscover the longing and hope for God’s presence with us, we may also find our seasonal woes and stresses lifted, and Emmanuel’s peace descend.
Something to do:
Light 2 candles. Read aloud the passage from Mark 1: 1-8. Take some time to sit quietly with the reading. What images are created in your head? What associated words come to mind? What feelings and emotions are created within you? What music can you hear? If you feel comfortable, share these with others.
Something to watch:
Something to think about:
- What is your least favourite ‘preparation’ for Christmas celebrations? Which is your most favourite?
- Are there things that you feel obliged to do in order to celebrate Christmas ‘properly’?
- How do you hear John’s words to ‘Prepare the way’? What could they mean to us as we embrace Advent?
- Mark is the first to refer to the ‘Gospel’ of Jesus, thus coining the term ‘The Gospel according to…’ what Good News can we see in the portion appointed for today? Is this news good for society today, or just for that part of history. How does it differ?
- What do you think of this quote from Lamar Williamson Jr? Do you agree with him?
In no Gospel is the humanity of Jesus more transparent, nor his divine authority more striking.
- Can this be seen in today’s passage? Can it be found in our understanding of Advent?
- What would it mean to receive an Advent baptism – what would you want to be cleansed of? What would you want to repent with regards to Christmas?
- How can we release ourselves from ‘Christmas’ in order to experience the Peace of Christ?
Something to pray:
As we light the candles we will rejoice that Christ has come to us.
He is Emmanuel…God with us.
On this second Sunday of Advent,
as we think about the coming of Jesus Christ,
we light the candle of peace.
Jesus, help us to light candles of Peace in our own hearts. Help us to prepare a way for you to come and live within our hearts and homes. Rekindle that sense of hope and expectation, as we await your return.