7 December 2008/Advent 2B * Isaiah 40:1-11/Mark 1: 1-8
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland
The Beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
The Bible begins, “In the beginning….” Mark begins, “The beginning…” Mark means to take us back. Way back to the very beginning. So Mark quotes Exodus, Malachi and Isaiah. Those who first heard this story of Mark’s would know that, would hear that. Standing in the ruins of Jerusalem on top of Mount Zion after the Roman legions had quelled the Jewish revolt of 66-70ce, Mark means to give them a story of hope and redemption: some Good News, or Gospel. As they listen to these opening verses, standing amidst the ashes, this is what they hear.
Once upon a time, in an ancient and faraway country, when there were no cities and no towns, only small tribes and caravans of people living on the land, wandering from place to place, looking for fresh water and green vegetation, there was a mountain top.
Those who climbed up to the top of this mountain said they felt the presence of God. A presence that says, “Love the One God who loves you and cares for you always, and love and care for one another, especially the others, the poor, the widows, the orphans and strangers.”
So they would come down from the mountain and tell others to Love God and Love others, all others. Throughout the years those who would go to the top of the mountain would leave a stone at the place where they felt the presence of God to commemorate their time there. Even those who did not experience God left a stone to remember the stories they had heard of those who had.
Each placed a stone, a token, one atop the other, year after year, until one day a magnificent Cathedral covered the place on the mountain top where God’s presence could be found and felt and heard: Love God and Love Others. People would come to the Cathedral, and entering they would know that something important was there, something sacred and true. They would stop and praise God and remember the stories of all those in the past who had been to the mountain top.
Over the years as more and more people made the journey to the top of the mountain leaving more and more stones one atop the other, soon a city was built around the Cathedral, with long winding, narrow streets, lined with homes and shops and plazas and fountains. People coming to the mountain to experience God and hear the stories of the past would need to stop and ask directions to find their way to the Cathedral so as not to get lost in the back streets of the city. And each in turn would leave a stone to remember the great events and stories of the past.
Soon there were so many stones a great wall surrounded the city with majestic gates and ramparts. People coming to the mountain to go to the Cathedral would have to find a gate they would be allowed to enter. Sometimes the gates were open, sometimes the gates were closed.
For many people, even in the city, the top of the mountain became more difficult to find. It had been covered with so many many stones. The gates were crowded, the streets noisy and narrow, there was so much activity, so many distractions and attractions that no one could hear the directions to find their way to the top of the mountain where God’s presence stood ready to remind them to Love the God who loves and cares for them always, and to love and care for one another, especially the others beyond the walls of the city.
Far away, beyond the walls of the city, was a man, lonely in the wilderness. His name was John. He would cry out loud in the wilderness, “Prepare, prepare the way of the Lord. Make a way for God to return!” High above the crowded and noisy streets, above the gates, above the walls, above the top of the Cathedral itself, his voice could be heard floating on the wind. Some people, discouraged at no longer being able to find the top of the mountain could hear his voice, so loud and lovely was the voice of the man, lonely in the wilderness.
First one, then another went beyond the gates of the city and followed the sound of that voice. They followed the sound floating on the winds. They could hear it like music in the sky! When they found him they listened as he cried, “Prepare, prepare the way of the Lord. Make a way for God to return!”
More and more people came out of the city and from all the surrounding countryside to be with the man, lonely in the wilderness, until soon, all the inhabitants both inside and outside the walls of the city found themselves together with the man, lonely in the wilderness. Soon they all joined in singing, “Prepare, prepare the way of the Lord. Make a way for God to return!” Everyone everywhere could hear the cry carried on the wind to the four corners of the Earth!
Then the man, lonely in the wilderness, led them down to the River – the River their ancestors had crossed long long ago to come to the mountain. John invited them to bathe in the water, confess their sins of forgetting God’s Way, and remember their God – the God who loves them and cares for them always. “Remember to love God and to love the others, all others, especially the poor, the widows, the orphans and the strangers. And I tell you, another will come, stronger than me, who will show us the way back to the top of the mountain, to show us the way back into the Cathedral, to show us the way back to the God who waits to meet us there. Remember, remember, remember today – the one who shall come will show us the way!”
And so it is today. When you listen above the noise of the city, when you listen above the noise of the crowds, when are still and listen wherever you are, a voice can still be heard, floating on the wind, beyond the gates of the city, above the tops of the highest Cathedrals, calling us today, “Prepare, prepare the way of the Lord. Make a way for God to return!”
Remember, remember, remember today – the one who shall come will show us the way! This is the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.