Holy Slowness…

Sermon Preached at Christ the King on December 7, 2008

Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
2 Peter 3:8-15a
Mark 1:1-8
Advent 2B

I.N.I. (In the name of Jesus)

But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.

We wait this second week for the advent of our Lord, not on our time, but on the Lord’s. Time much different than our plugged-in, wireless, surround-sound, instant messenger, 24/7 world in which we live. Time unable to be measured by digital watches or atomic clocks… Time, we try to mark and measure… Time that is unfathomable, evoking our frustration, inflaming our impatience… a Holy slowness, divine, eternal, and infinite.

Last week I said that Mark’s Gospel frames Jesus as an action figure, moving quickly from encounter to encounter, the Son of Man performing miracles and telling stories, fully God and fully human. Today we find ourselves in the beginning of the Gospel of Mark, the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Our action hero is not introduced in a familiar nativity story. Rather we meet a different sort of action figure first, John the Baptizer. We listen to John and we wait for Jesus to appear, much as the people the Gospel of Mark was written for did.

Preparing and Waiting

John the Baptizer, the “other” John if you will, is in the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance. This odd man who bears some resemblance to the prophet Elijah, a hairy coat and leather belt, also observes unusual dietary practices. But it is the wilderness experience where John cries out and breaks the Holy slowness and silence of waiting that resonates.

The wilderness is a place of familiarity for the people of Israel. Wilderness experiences, both literal and figurative are woven throughout their history as a people. Wilderness is a place of wandering, but also a place where God is with the people of the promise. Some see the wilderness in Mark not so much as a geographic location, but a place of salvation for Israel. John the Baptizer the messenger spoken of in Isaiah 40 has come to prepare the way for Jesus. Dan Nelson, Commentary on Mark 1:1-8, http://sio.midco.net/danelson9/yearb/advent2.htm

The people of the whole Judean countryside and Jerusalem who in their lives of Holy slowness impatiently waiting for the Son of Man were drawn to this wild and odd man John. Seeking forgiveness for their sinful ways and to turn their lives around, the people beat a path to him. John the Baptizer calls them out, they listen. He proclaims to them a baptism of repentance, and they come. He washes them in the Jordan, and they confess their sins.

The people who received the second letter of Peter were also waiting as impatiently as the Mark community. Where was Jesus? He said he would return and yet he had not. The people find themselves experiencing Holy slowness of God’s promise and doubting the coming of Christ. They are not only no longer preparing or ready; they are being seduced by the godlessness and immorality that surrounds them.
L. Ann Jervis, Commentary on 2 Peter 3:8-15a http://www.workingpreacher.com

An Urban Wilderness Experience

I stood on the platform at Market East Station in Philadelphia bent over, trying to catch my breath as I watch the doors of the R1 Airport Express pull away. In spite of the R7 being just two minutes late and my mad dash, I missed the train that was the middle leg of my trip home for Christmas. I regrouped and moved away from the edge of the platform to wait, trying to find a place among the throngs of commuters heading home and shoppers juggling their purchases. In my worrying about how long the security line would be at the airport, I didn’t notice the Christmas music being played on a violin, or ratty fiddle might be a better description, by a guy sitting on the floor about ten feet away.

Strains of “I’ll be Home for Christmas” filled the loud station and I wondered if I would make my flight, or have more frustration filled waiting ahead. It was then that I heard a loud noise and noticed a disheveled man who appeared to be homeless come through the doors and head my way. He wove his way through the crowded platform and it was remarkable how people accommodated his stumbling path. He was only four or five foot away from me when I smelled a smell worse than any I have ever encountered, and I then knew why my fellow travelers so graciously moved out of his path.

Thankfully he walked by and took the stench with him but paused as he passed the eerie sounds of Silent Night and then stopped. Looking down at the musician and then wildly at the crowd, he began to speak. Quietly at first, I really couldn’t understand him and no one seemed to pay him any attention. And then he got louder and louder until his voice cut through the noise of the station. There were no trains providing background noise and the station fell surprisingly quiet, except for the fiddler’s music, “all is calm, all is bright.”

People made faces, backed-up and turned away as the man took another deep breathe and spoke to no one and to everyone. “You are all going to hell,” he screamed. “Father God is not pleased and you must change your wicked ways! Stop your dirty living… Get off of those damn drugs and quit ignoring God.” The fiddler stopped and folks turned around to see what this crazed, screaming lunatic would say next. The man continued to tell the people gathered in that Philadelphia train station to repent and I found myself not only paying attention, but agreeing with the man.

The fiddler packed up quickly and he was already headed down the platform when the SEPTA police showed-up, grabbed the passionate preacher and escorted him off the platform. Silent Night, Holy Night ran through my head as I processed this “voice” who cried out in the wilderness of an urban train station.

The odd, wild-mannered man entered the pre-Christmas rush and in that crowded wilderness, cried out, breaking the slow and silent waiting of each person on that platform in some way. While most framed this action figure as a religious nut case, some heard and listened. Some changed their paths that day, and some continue to break the calm and proclaim.

Yet, all is not calm. There are wilderness places and voices that call us out, and urge us to repent and we ignore them, write them off, or dismiss them as being some kind of crazy ramblings, outlandish statements made by the unstable. Repentance is not for me, but for that other person. I don’t need to turn my life around. I don’t need to refocus on what really matters. I don’t need to prepare or pay attention to the dawn of redeeming grace, Christ the Savior, Emmanuel—God with us in the wilderness of our lives.

We take pride in worlds that we control. We can make it on our own, we have what it takes to survive. We live vicariously through “reality television shows” like Survivor, where wilderness survival is an individual game of strategy and resourcefulness. And we live reality trying to survive the wilderness of cut-throat workplaces, economic wastelands, and desolate relationships on our own, relying on ourselves alone for our survival.

Good News: Gracious Beginnings

In Eugene Peterson’s introduction to the Gospel of Mark in the Message version of the Bible, he says that:

Mark wastes no time in getting down to business—a single-sentence introduction, and not a digression can be found from beginning to end. An event has taken place that radically changes the way we look at and experience the world, and he can’t wait to tell us about it. There is an air of breathless excitement about in nearly every sentence he writes. The sooner we get the message, the better off we’ll be, for the message is good, incredibly good… God is here right now, and on our side, actively seeking to help us in the way we most need help—this qualifies as news.

Jesus is the manifestation of God, the Son of Man who Mark is in a hurry to tell us about and how passionate God is to save us.
Eugene Peterson, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language, Colorado Springs, CO: Navpress 2002.

Waiting in Second Peter is laid out as living in peace and godliness and the author reminds the people of God’s promise and patience. The people may wonder what that day will be like, but the day of the Lord will come.

Mark begins with a verb-less sentence outlining the core of the message of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The first word in Mark is simply “beginning” and we get a sense of the urgency: now, ready set go! Followed by John the Baptizer’s actions, listeners are to prepare for Jesus and they signal the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Mark commentator James R. Edwards calls Mark “the Gospel appears in person” and sees the introduction of Jesus as no less momentous than the creation of the world. For in Jesus, a new creation is at hand!
James R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. Eerdmans, 2002.

Thirty years ago this week, Archbishop Oscar Romero wrote:

God comes, and his ways are near to us.
God saves in history.
Each person’s life, each one’s history,is the meeting place God comes to.
How satisfying to know one need not go to the desert to meet him,
Need not go to some particular spot in the world.
God is in your own heart.

James R. Brockman, Oscar Romero The Violence of Love, Rifton, NY: Plough Publishing, 1998.

We wait impatiently, as those from Mark and Second Peter did, in Holy slowness. We listen to the urgency of the Good News, the Word. We are part of its history between Genesis and Revelation. We wash in it, daily dying and rising, our sins forgiven and the promise marking us forever by water and the Holy Spirit. We feel it change and grow within us as we hear and consume the Word made flesh, the Son of Man, Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. Emmanuel—God with us.

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