Last week here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we lit a candle for hope and reflected on a message titled “Restore Us O God.” On the second Sunday of Advent we light a candle for “Peace.”
Our reading will be from Mark 1:1-8. The second gospel opens abruptly. No birth narrative. No childhood stories. After quoting Isaiah and briefly introducing “John the baptizer,” the reader is left expectantly hanging on to the hope that an even “more powerful” character is coming!
From these first verses we are well aware that Mark is telling us a story. We are at the “Beginning” of that account. His story will tell of “Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” It will be “Good news.” In Rome such terms were used exclusively of the emperor. The emperor was a “Son of God” and his decrees alone were described as “Good news.” So begins the dramatic tale!
From John's mouth come the words of a great prophet who came before him. "In the wilderness prepare the way for the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.” (Isaiah 40:3-4)
This highway that John and Isaiah speak of is a highway towards peace. The people have strayed from the path of obedience and blessing and landed themselves in a desert like situation. Their lives are not being refreshed. Every step seems to be a struggle. Molehills have become mountains and valleys have become canyons that threaten to swallow them up.
“No more!” declare Isaiah and John. God is at work. Doing something new. Doing something unexpected. It was time to get with the program. It was time to “turn around” (or “repent” as John would phrase it.) And just so everybody knew that something awesome was taking place, John requests that you let him dunk you in the river and immerse you beneath the waters, to mark the fact that this was a time of “Good news” beginnings.
Neither John, nor Isaiah, are to be the One to fulfill the promise. They are just preparing the way. As John says, “I baptize you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." (Mark 1:8). During Advent, we prepare our hearts to follow the Christ. We hear Him described as “The Prince of Peace” prophesied from days of old.
We light a candle for peace and we pray, that in this world where “Peace” is still a dream to be fulfilled, our lives will manifest the peace that Jesus offers. Maybe during this season we will have the opportunity to sing that wonderful carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and reflect on Christ's birth, as we sing “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.” Here is a gentle version of the carol performed by Sarah McLachlan from her album “Wintersong.”
Fears. Terrifying canyons to cross. Impossible mountains to climb. They can arise in all of our lives. So we pray that “The peace of God that passes all understanding will keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Last Sunday we lit a candle for hope. This Sunday we light a candle for peace.
The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D