Prepare Ye the Way Of the Lord

Mark 1:1-8
1:1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

1:2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way;

1:3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'”

1:4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

1:5 And 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.

1:6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.

1:7 He 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.

1:8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 

The lectionary Gospel lesson for the Second Sunday of Advent always centers on John the Baptist, “the voice crying in the wilderness.”  In just a few verses, Mark will send Jesus out into the wilderness where he experiences temptation. 

Mark was well acquainted with the wilderness, as was Jesus. In terms of the geography of the Holy Land, there is Galilee where things are lush and green and water is plentiful.  Less than 100 miles to the south, there is the stark contrast of the wilderness where the land is barren and dry and dusty. 

John the Baptizer was well acquainted with the wilderness. 

So here he is, “A voice crying in the wilderness. Prepare. Make straight.” Get your affairs in order. There is One coming whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. 

The wilderness isn’t a Condo at the beach. 

The wilderness is not just somewhere out there.

For some of us, the wilderness is a place inside our hearts. It is an emptiness. It is longing. 

It is an absence of the presence of God. It is a place where no grace is found. 

In the Biblical sense, wilderness was a place where Israel lost its way. It was a place where there was no home. It was a place where the children of Israel bowed before other gods. 

Wilderness, we will remember in just a few weeks, was the place where Jesus was tempted to abandon God’s will. 

Wilderness. Bewildered. 

To be clear, wilderness is not so much a place as it is a terrifying experience. There are no clear paths. Much chaos, plenty of temptation and bewilderment sets in. 

And yet, the music this text sings is that out in the wilderness God comes. In a wild place where the screams of wild animals are heard, there is a different song being sung.

“Prepare Ye the way of Lord.” 

I can still hear in my mind the pure, steady voices from the musical Godspell ( ) that many church youth choirs sang in my years as a youth. 

Maybe the reason John comes pointing the way to Jesus is that we can’t find our way to him on our own, so God has to come to us. 

And this voice crying out is calling us to a different way of living—a call to listen to a different kind of voice.  Not the voices that demand you to do something or go somewhere but rather a voice that calls for a change in direction. A chance to come clean. An opportunity to stop pretending. To start over. To get washed clean. This is the Lord’s voice, spoken through one of his very own.

This call is more than a mild adjustment to our attitude or practices. It is an invitation to rewrite the script of our lives. It is an invitation to encounter the past we have lived through but have not fully experienced. It is to remember. Before we can more forward, we remember. 

Eudora Welty comes close to this when she writes in her small volume, “One Writer’s Beginnings,” about what deep insight can come when people explore memories of experiences they thought they already fully understood. She writes, “connections slowly emerge…cause and effect begin to align themselves…and suddenly a light is thrown back, like when a train rounds a curve showing there has been a mountain of meaning rising behind you on the way you have come…and is rising still.” 

This is the terrain about which John is preaching. This is the territory of repentance. 

Sometimes, if we are not careful, because of our familiarity with a particular passage of scripture, we will gloss over a text or will try to make it say something it does not mean. 

There are other times when because of the circumstances of life or what we are enduring in a season we pause in a different way and hear the scripture anew. When we allow the Holy Spirit to speak in that way, the Bible will encounter us anew. The demanding possibilities will come front and center, and we will receive that new word for our lives. That is when, I contend, we are in a posture of repentance.  We rise and go in a different direction, follow Christ into new places, in new ways. 

And we see more of God’s hand at work than we ever knew or expected.

Then, then, we, too, begin to sing…prepare ye the way of the Lord.

I’m listening. The world needs your voice to join with the voices already singing. Together we can prepare to receive the Christ anew. 

Bishop William T. McAlilly