Second Sunday in Advent

by Crossings

Desert Springs
Mark 1:1-8
(Second Sunday in Advent)
analysis by Lori Cornell

1The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'” 4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

DIAGNOSIS: Consigned to the Desert

Step 1: Initial Diagnosis: Thirsty
When Mark tells us there are sinners in the desert, we shouldn’t be surprised. After all, the Israeli desert is a much better place for sinners than the Jerusalem temple. Sinners can’t enter the sanctuary of the righteous. Nor do they deserve to stand in the presence of the Lord. No, it makes sense that sinners came to John in the desert to repent. You don’t need to be in the desert to prove you live the arid existence of a sinner, though. Walk into any corporate headquarters, enter a chat room on the Internet, or parent a child, and you will know the arid existence of a sinner. Even when we are surrounded by a flurry of activity, even when we find someone with whom we can talk candidly, even when we parent our children well, our lives can seem pretty arid. We long to find something — or someone — to quench our thirst.

Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis: Dried Up
So we search for something to fill the void — something to satisfy our thirst. We listen to the seductive voices of the desert, promising us happiness and guaranteeing satisfaction, and we believe them. We long for their promises to be true. We buy or we sell, thinking more or less will make us happier. And, if that doesn’t work, we follow those voices deeper into the desert to contemplate our arid existence — as if contemplating it will tell us something we don’t already know about ourselves. But, after listening to all those voices, all we have left is our same arid lives. We are dried up. And, try as we might to quench our arid existence, we cannot, because we are looking for water in all the wrong places. No commercial product, no job promotion, no support group, no retreat will do the trick. They only leave us more dried up than when we began.

Step 3: Final Diagnosis: Deserted
Our thirst still isn’t satisfied. And, what’s worse, all of our failed attempts to find water have only made us realize how parched we really are. Is there no end to this thirst? Does anybody care whether we wither and die? Or have we really been deserted — not just by those seductive voices — but by God? Left to die in the desert! That is where we are!

PROGNOSIS: Assigned to the Deserted

Step 4: Initial Prognosis: Reclaimed
John knew what he was doing when he called sinners to repent in the desert. What better place to come clean about your sin than in a place that is as parched as your own life? But John was only the opening act. John was only the MC introducing the main event. Confess your thirst, John tells the crowd, and then he introduces the One who can quench their thirst: Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And as soon as Jesus steps into that wilderness and plunges himself into the murky waters of the Jordan he demonstrates the way he will satisfy thirsty sinners. This holy and powerful One will go where the righteous have never been seen before. He steps onto unholy ground — mixes and mingles with people who have something to repent. His actions are not only a breach of etiquette, they are a radical statement about where God will be found now that Jesus is on the scene: Don’t look in the temple. Don’t look in the courts of the righteous. Look in the unholy places, because the heavens have been torn open and the Holy One has come down to mix with the unholy. God has unleashed his power on earth in this man; God has given us something worth thirsting for.

Step 5: Advanced Prognosis: Refreshed
For those who thirst, the call of John and the promise of Jesus, put all other voices to shame. John’s call to repent forces us to confess that we have been listening to the wrong voices, that we have been trying to satisfy our own thirst. But our confession still doesn’t quench our thirst. More important than our repentance, is the One who comes in power to baptize us with the Holy Spirit. He is the one who offers forgiveness– refreshment — for thirsty souls. And since he is unafraid of being where us parched sinners are found — since he is unafraid of the desert — we can trust that he will not desert us. (Other voices may still try to tempt us away, but this One who walked into the desert and plunged into the Jordan with sinners, promises that unlike those others he will keep his promises.) Wherever we encounter him — in Word and Sacrament — we will be refreshed, satisfied, reclaimed.

Step 6: Final Prognosis: Gushing
Once a believer has been quenched with such satisfying news, it’s hard not to gush: Jesus satisfies our thirst — and that’s no empty promise. It is a cup of blessing — a promise that fills us to overflowing. And what better place to deliver that water of life than back to all those arid places we know? (After all, in this lifetime we Christians still experience the desert in this lifetime. We just know who quenches that parched existence.) So we share what we have been given: Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And, because he continues to grace us with his watery presence, we never run dry.


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