Second Sunday in Advent  /  December 4, 2005

Text:  Mark 1: 1 – 8  /  Message Title:  I Just Love Surprises!

Message by:  Rev. Carol Haynes Kniseley

Resurrection Lutheran Church  /  Fredericksburg, VA


I just love surprises.    Don’t you?   In fact, one of my greatest joys is to purchase something on the spur of the moment…and give it to a special someone…just for the heck of it.     No strings attached.    Well a few weeks ago, while on a retreat to Williamsburg, I saw a little something that I wanted to take back and surprise Pastor Jim with.     What first caught my attention was the box that the item came in.    Nearly jumping off the shelf and into my hands, I simply read the words that appeared on the side of the box marked ‘quotablemugs’:  


        peace.     It does not mean to be in a place

 where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work.

 It means to be in the midst of those things

 and still be calm in your heart.’     (unknown)


Little did I know…that the one in for the surprise was not Pastor Jim, but me.     You see it never dawned on me to open up the box and actually look at the mug inside…to see if it contained the same message.     Not until I had purchased the mug and returned to the hotel, did I discover an entirely different message on the mug.    Instead of a nice, resolute emphasis on ‘peace’…the message read:


        what would you attempt to do…

                      if you knew you could not fail?’


Pastor Jim loved the quote on the mug, by the way…and you know who got to keep the box.      And then it hit me.     John the Baptist had discovered ‘peace’ not by running from noise, trouble, or hard work.    John discovered ‘peace’ the day he started living as if he knew he could not fail.  


John the Baptist is one of those characters that your momma told you never to be seen with…much less have any kind of contact.    And yet, every year on the  second Sunday in Advent…without fail…John manages to crash into every single one of our manger scenes and demands to be heard.


His message is far from one of blissful peace, but instead is one of searing hot passion…meant to awaken us from sleep.     Perhaps John knows something, that you and I have only suspected up until now.    Perhaps John knows what we in the mainstream of early December shopping aren’t ready to face.   Perhaps John knows, all too well, that our lives…aren’t as clean as we think they are.


In fact, we aren’t even as good as we would like others to believe.    Talk about making a list and checking it twice.     A reality check would remind us that we aren’t exactly talking about Santa Clause here.     No, we’re talking about our relationship with God.     And how even we need to join John for a cold bath of Jordan River reality, to do what?   


Wash away our pretensions, and at the very least to remind us that the cuddly baby Jesus seen in the manger…came into the world for just one reason and one reason alone.       Jesus…came into this world…to save sinners.     Sinners like you and like me, and John isn’t about to let us forget that part of the story.


If you were to ask me what John was attempting ‘to do’  with his life…then I would have to say off the top of my head, that John’s soul purpose was to point to where God was.      And the most telling part about all of this…is that according to Mark’s Gospel…people traveled from miles and miles around to hear what John had to say.    Whether it was his passionate preaching or their longing for something deeper than the same old ho-hum existence, Mark says they came in droves.     Which when we stop to think about it, is really pretty amazing.   


Here is a guy who for all intents and purposes has intentionally broken with any link to the religious organizations of his day.     Which makes me wonder why anyone in their right mind would be attracted to someone like John?    He was scary.   He was uncivilized.   He was, in many people’s eyes, from a different planet altogether.   And yet…there was something about John’s message that did more than simply turn people’s heads.     It was a message that set their hearts on fire.    People were drawn to him because he offered them a chance to come clean, to stop pretending they were someone else and to start over again, by allowing him to wash them off.


The bath was his own idea.     There were not any rules about how it was suppose to be done.    The rabbis had not okayed it.      It was just something that John offered to anyone who came to him, even women who were not even allowed in the Temple.     John’s baptism bypassed the temple and all of it’s rites.    Setting up shop in the wilderness, he called people to ‘wake up’, to turn around, so that they would not miss the new thing God was doing right before their very eyes.


And if people thought that this ‘new thing’ would bring everlasting peace into their lives…then John was here to tell them that they were sorely mistaken.     This ‘new thing’ was not a thing at all…but instead a person who had been sent by God to set the story straight.      His name would be Jesus.    And in due time, even John would begin to understand what it meant to be surprised by God.    And if that means crashing each one of our manger scenes with his imposing personality every second Sunday in Advent, then I say so be it.    After all, I love a good surprise.   Don’t you?  


And to think, this is only the 2nd week of Advent.