Mark 1: 1-8
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way”—
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”
And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
“Pharisees hate him! This camel-clothed man can cleanse you of your sins in one short ritual!”
“Watch man by river eat locusts and wild honey!”
More than a few sermons have impressed on me how much of an oddball John must have been. And it is no secret that outsiders struggled in Jerusalem. Something of a spectacle, they say. Was that why people visited him at first? Did John know they’d be drawn to the spectacle?
Or maybe this was more commonplace than I realize. But if wild men regularly emerged out of the wilderness proclaiming some new truth and the arrival of a new Lord, how did John catch on?
Had he truly moved people? Were they truly prepared for Jesus’ arrival? Ready to give themselves over to new life of peace? Given how the story ends, probably not.
The prophecy does not guarantee readiness, only a messenger. John the Baptist reaches as many as possible with news of Jesus’ arrival and the key points of his ministry: “repentance, forgiveness, baptism.” Some were touched and maybe others were perplexed, but most probably enjoyed the curiosity and went back to their lives.
In that way, John the Baptist’s story conjures up a familiar scene for me. Content creators shower our feeds with amusing videos and clever ads and memes meant to make us laugh, make us think, and most importantly, make us share. Countless inspiring videos warm our hearts with stories of empathy, solidarity, and selflessness that inspire in us a desire to make a difference this season and wait– is that next post a puppy in slippers with a grin on its face? That’s hilarious. What was I thinking about?
And that’s not to knock adorable puppies. They put a smile on just about anyone’s face. But it gets at how hard it can be to pull meaningful messages from even the most well-intentioned content.
Can we pull some meaning from all this attention-grabbing content? How can we prepare? Are we missing some deeper, more critical message? [Spoiler: Undoubtedly.]
Like the Judeans of the past, we collectively miss the message most of the time. Yet Jesus still showed up. And we can learn from their story.
So as you try to keep your eye on the ball for what truly matters this advent and prepare for the upcoming holidays, keep an eye out for Jesus in our lives and continue to do so after the holidays. Because when he arrives, we want to be ready to be unprepared.
Kyle Coombs is a member of Trinity Presbyterian Church. Currently, he lives in New York City where he is pursuing a PhD in economics at Columbia University. When not in class he also attends Broadway Presbyterian Church. He likes to dwell on unsatisfying answers to very complicated religious, spiritual and philosophical questions. That comes out in his writing. He would like to apologize in advance if you were seeking a more cohesive message. Feel free to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to talk about it.