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Prepare the Way - Pray

December 6, 2020 Speaker: Rev. Jack Meehan Series: Prepare the Way

Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 1:1–1:8

The Second Sunday in Advent

December 6, 2020

Mark 1:1-8

 “Prepare the Way: Pray”

Every Thursday evening, there is a small group of members from our congregation who come together to pray. They are St. John’s Prayer Team. Prior to the pandemic, this happened in person, but since then, this weekly gathering has taken place virtually on Zoom. Like so many other activities and meetings, we have discovered that God’s people can pray just as well virtually as we can in person. Besides this small group that gathers there are many others who are not present on Thursday evenings, but who also join in prayer. Each week, there are anywhere from 4-5 pages of prayer requests that have been received, some from within our congregation, but some from other parts of the world that come to us via our website. As you might imagine, many of these prayer requests are for healing. Almost one whole page is regularly taken up with the names of cancer patients. But there are other requests as well: thanksgiving for blessings received; chronic conditions; the bereaved; employment and work, ministry and mission; national and world issues; traveling mercies; and more. All of these prayer requests are kept confidential unless permission has been given for this information to be shared. We do not always know the circumstances of those requesting prayer. Nor do we always know how the Lord chooses to answer these prayers, but in faith we trust that He does indeed listen to our prayers and will answer them as He knows best. To come before the Lord in prayer is both a privilege and a responsibility for the child of God. Prayer is one of the tools in our spiritual toolbox, and it is always available to us at all times and in all places, whether spoken aloud or silently within the heart. The season of Advent, like the season of Lent, is a time of heightened devotion and prayer for Christ’s people. Both Advent and Lent call us to repentance and prayer. With these things before us, our preaching series for Advent, “Prepare the Way,” continues on this Second Sunday in Advent as we focus on “Pray.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.

John the Baptist is before us in today’s Gospel lesson, and the opening words of Mark’s Gospel are heard: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1). This is how Mark’s Gospel begins, and it closes in a similar way after Jesus’ crucifixion when the Roman centurion, who witnessed Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, declared, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39). Before we can encounter Jesus the Son of God, we must first encounter this fiery figure who was the forerunner of Jesus: John the Baptist. The people of John the Baptist’s day were much like us: busy, preoccupied with life, trying to get ahead. What can we learn from them? After a period of some 400 years in which there was no prophet whom God had raised up, suddenly John the Baptist appears out in the wilderness. He looked and sounded like one of the prophets of old: dressed in rough clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt, eating a sparse diet of locusts and wild honey. It was in this very wilderness where John was baptizing that Elijah of old made his last appearance. John was a living illustration of how little we really need here below – something we are prone to forget. In drawing people out into the wilderness after him, John made them share a bit of his own austere life. People left homes, work, daily life, and for a time at least gave their thoughts to higher things. There, out in the wilderness, John the Baptist became the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy that we hear in today’s Old Testament lesson: “A voice cries, ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God” (Isaiah 40:3). John’s whole ministry was to prepare people for the One who was to come. As great as John was (see Matthew 11:11), he was nothing compared to the One who would come after him: “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:7-8).

There are deep and rich words in today’s Gospel lesson associated with the ministry of John the Baptist: baptism (βάπτισμα), repentance (μετανοίας), forgiveness of sins (άφεσιν αμαρτιων). Each of these words merits an entire sermon series! Although it is not mentioned in today’s Gospel lesson, there is another word that is associated with these words, and that is prayer. Prayer accompanies and undergirds baptism, repentance, and forgiveness of sins. In prayer, we ask that we would lead a life worthy of our calling as Christ’s baptized people “in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (2 Peter 3:11b-12a). In prayer, we ask God that our hearts and minds would, by the power of the Holy Spirit, do an about-face and turn to the Lord with heart-felt repentance. In prayer, we hold fast to the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation which Jesus has won for us through his atoning death on the cross. Prayer really does prepare the way for us to receive our Lord, and our Lord comes to us today in his Word and holy Supper. Here in these means of grace, our Lord comes to us with the gifts that only he can give: blood-bought redemption that gives blessed assurance and peace which passes all understanding. In Jesus our Advent Lord, even when we die yet shall we live (John 11:25). The One whose coming John the Baptist prepared the way comes to you and me with mercy and grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus Christ, the Son of God, but it is Jesus himself who is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6). Now in these days leading up to Christmas, we are busily preparing many things: decorating, shopping, baking, sending cards and greetings. Even though our celebration of Jesus’ birth at Christmas will look and feel different this year due to the coronavirus, we are still preparing. In the midst of our outward preparation, let us not neglect our inward preparation, not just for Jesus’ birth at Christmas, but for his coming again. Let us resolve to spend time in prayer during this Advent season that our hearts may be ready to welcome our Lord as he comes to us now and when he will come again. Amen. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Amen.

 

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