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Where to Begin?

Where to Begin? Isaiah 40:1-5 Mark 1:1-8

How many of us are ready for Christmas? I mean... really ready for Christmas? You’ve already bought all your gifts... wrapped them... and they’re under your tree (assuming your tree is up and decorated yet)? What about cooking? Have you already bought all your supplies? Christmas cards?

Have you been to Tiger Town or the Mall lately? Or even Wal*Mart? All those parking lots that are usually only half full at best, are overflowing! Everyone and their third cousin twice removed is out shopping!

There’s so much extra stuff to do this time of year! It’s so hectic... sometimes it makes you wonder that to tend to first!

And, Mark, the Gospel writer, faced a similar problem. He had the huge, herculean task of being inspired by God to write the story of Jesus’ life. Can you imagine? It was a monumental calling to say the least. I mean... where do you begin to do something like that? Where do you start when it comes to describing the most historically influential and spiritually significant person who ever lived?

Think about it! All the stories... the miracles, the teachings, the sayings, the acts of compassion and grace... and so much more that the Bible itself tells us the volumes of the world couldn’t contain it all!

Of course, Matthew and Luke began with Jesus’ family tree, and the story of the manger, and Wise Men and Shepherds. John’s gospel goes all the way back before creation... to the very beginning... when there was nothing more than the mind or Word of God itself!

But Mark... well, Mark is different.

The Gospel of Mark begins with the prophecy concerning John the Baptist. “A voice of one calling out in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord...’”

Of course, John the Baptist was called to prepare the people for the coming of the Christ (it was his job). And it was a job and calling he took seriously! John went about preaching “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” And the amazing thing is (if you can imagine this) the PEOPLE ACTUALLY LISTENED! They came from all over the place to hear John preach, and to be baptized in response to his message.

And John was crystal clear... telling those he baptized, “After me comes the ONE more powerful that I, the straps of whose sandals I’m not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Listen to me, for just a moment. Most of the world, including us (you and me - even those of us who are in church every Sunday) begin our Christmas preparations by making trips to the mall. We focus on all the external stuff... the materialistic side of the season. And there’s nothing wrong with celebrating by buying & giving gifts... and putting up garland & decorating a tree! Nothing at all. But that’s NOT where you and I, as followers of Christ, should begin. And I’m as guilty as anyone else.

We should begin with Jesus. We should begin by preparing ourselves, spiritually, to receive Christ.

You know... I read all kinds of articles, every week, about church growth... and church trends. And one article I read last week, said that Christmas has officially surpassed Easter as the time of year when the most “unchurched” people are not only willing to attend services... but actually do attend worship. Particularly on Christmas Eve.

That’s why it’s so very important for us to prepare to worship Christ... to prepare to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas in relevant and meaningful ways. Because we have the opportunity to share the Good News with others, who may not get to hear it during any other season of the year! It’s our calling... it’s our job.

Of course, I read another article, this past Monday, that told of a church in Glendale, California, that decided to rent their parking lot to the mall that built up next door... because the mall needed the space and the church didn’t!

What strikes me to the core about such things... is shouldn’t the complete opposite be true! Should NOT the MALL be leasing space to the church during “the most wonderful time of the year” - because the CHURCH needs the extra parking space... not the mall!

If you ever begin to feel like we’ve accomplished our mission... that there’s no need to reach out and share the Good News... think again.

We have work to do... we have a voice to share... a gift... the greatest gift of all... to give.

Of course, if we have our priorities skewed... if we, as followers of Jesus Christ, put the world’s idea of “Christmas” first... if we put the “holly and the ivy” above the infant King lying in a manger... how can ever hope to alter the world with the Good News of God’s love and light and peace?

You and I, like it or not, are called to be the ones in our day, who “prepare the way.” We are called to be “a voice” crying out into the wilderness. It’s our job to “make straight” the path for Christ.

And we do that by pointing the world around us to the ONE who is more powerful than me, myself & I. We do it by sharing the grace and mercy and forgiveness of the ONE whose “sandals [we’re] not worthy to stoop down and untie.” We do it by living and sharing the ONE who baptizes, not with water, but with the Holy Spirit.

In what ways are you and I preparing the way for the Lord?

I want to do something a little different this morning (and I know that scares you all to death!).

I want us to take a few moments to pray... to join together, as the body of Christ, and pray for our world... for our country... for our church and THE church universal. Let’s pray for peace... Let’s pray for forgiveness... for God’s light to shine upon us, filling us with hope and purpose... and a willing spirit that shares the Good News.

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