The opening words in the Gospel according to Mark: The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God tell us it’s time to set the GPS for Christmas according to Mark; the beginning that begins in Nazareth, home of Joseph and Mary and their journey on a road called “King’s Highway.” The route that ran East from Egypt, North to Damascus, and was well-traveled by traders and armies and kings; the route that brought the Hebrews from Egypt and their wilderness wanderings to a settled life in and around Jerusalem.
But Mary and Joseph started at the other end where they took a spur route to reach Damascus and traveled South toward Jerusalem, and beyond to the little town named Bethlehem.
Now, as we plot that route on the GPS, we have much to ponder:
The starting point in the North, at Nazareth labeled as an undesirable place of racially mixed and less-than-religiously-devote Jews and guerrilla fighters hiding in the hills. In the judgment of the religious leaders in Jerusalem, nothing good could come from there.
And, the “King’s Highway,” which, as Mary and Joseph set out on that route, will, 30 years later, prompt the writer of the Gospel according to John to made a connection with the Old Testament promise:
“Look, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” (12:15)
A Servant-God coming as a Servant-King to gather a kingdom of servant-people!
As we enter these settings on our GPS centuries later, we can also ponder the significant of passing through Jerusalem, the center of Hebrew history and worship, but not the place for Jesus to be born, a choice with more flashbacks!
At the time when Joseph and Mary began their journey, Jerusalem and the surrounding land had been occupied for 80 years by the Romans. The Jewish people longed for an end and different groups filled the air with mixed emotions and plots:
“Some believed the only option was to collaborate with the Romans. (Chief Priests and Sadducees)
Others retreated to the wilderness seeking purity. (Essenes)
Some plotted for a revolt, practicing with the knives of assassins and plotting a war. (Zealots)
Others said that if they could all just get right with God on all 613 laws, then God would turn the Romans out
of Palestine. The poor were to blame for all of this. (Pharisees)
(Visions from The Catacombs, Week Before December 7, 2014. Posted on December 24, by admincatacomb1)
From our perspective of time we see why the route to Christmas bypassed Jerusalem, a city then and still now, that caused the One born to be the Prince of Peace, to weep as He said, (Luke 19: 42)
“If you had only recognized the things that make for peace.”
It’s obvious why the GPS setting heads us away from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.
But what is not so obvious, is that everyone who retraces the route 30 and more years after Jesus’ Birth, is sent on a roundabout, into the wilderness of wastelands and wild animals, where everyone must stop and listen to the harsh-voiced preaching of Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptizer, shouting:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
Most people prefer the original course and schedule that retraces Joseph and Mary’s journey down the King’s Highway to Bethlehem and the manger, and upon arriving, kneel with the shepherds and reminisce about their report of being serenaded by a choir from heaven.
The updated, revised route that has us stopping to spend time with John the Baptist is so out-of-place…until we venture into the detour and ponder why John’s wilderness stop is now an Advent setting on the way to Christmas.
John’s wilderness, reminiscent of the Hebrews’ wanderings and encampments in a place where there was nothing but absolute silence.
At “a typical lunch hour at the University of California at Berkeley, a dozen different causes can be found on the plaza, trying to outshoot one another. One day a lone figure sat down defiantly in the middle of the crowd and held up a sign which said, "SILENT PROTEST." Someone tapped him on the shoulder and asked, "What are you protesting?" The defiant figure held up another sign which said simply, “NOISE." (Quoted from Sermons.com for Dec. 7, 2014)
John’s wilderness silence broken only by his shout to “repent,” “to change,” from taking up a noisy cause or attitude of Jerusalem’s diverse groups at the time of Joseph and Mary’s journey, and still today, and our own inner noises of anger, guilt, seemingly irresolvable crises driving us to hopelessness and despair, and be changed, silenced by entering into a healing silence that carries the echo of John’s promise: “I have baptized you with water.”
John’s baptism which was more like our personal and public times of confession – a cleaning from whatever it is that separates us from God.
A confessional baptism as Henry Ward Beecher described it:
“God receives the soul as the sea the bather, to return it again, purer and whiter than when he took it.”
A silence that clears the way for God to make a highway
into our hearts to bring us to Christmas as God intends it to be.
Today’s stop where, as we let ourselves be immersed in the pardoning waters of God’s cleansing love, we remember the other Baptism, our own Sacrament of Baptism, when, at the font, we are filled with all the fullness of God and the promise is completed for us:
“he (Christ) will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
The UCC pastor and writer, Tony Robinson, says one time he was terribly depressed and an older friend gave him a 3x5 card with these words written on it: Tony Robinson Stillspeaking Daily Devotional, Nov. 25, 2014
"There is, in the universe, a power forever on the side of those brave enough to trust it."
The Gift of all gifts, the poured-in-presence of God in Christ that gives us the power to trust God is with us no matter what;
the Gift that awaits those who first stop in John’s wilderness.
David Zersen tells of hosting international students during spring break. The ones from Germany insisted on seeing the wastelands of Texas. “Why?” he asked. “It’s just wilderness.” “That’s just it,” they replied, and explained back home they saw villages and greenery everywhere. “We want very much to see nothing.”
Today’s detour into John’s wilderness to see “nothing” but God’s cleansing, healing silence, a necessary stop on the way to a Christmas where the Christ we receive will become the Christ we have to share. AMEN.