2017 December Issue
of The Sermon Mall

index

Sermon Ideas For Mark 1:1-8 Part 5

I write this as my wife, Sharon, and I await the birth of our first child due in two months. Waiting for a first child has universal characteristics: announcements, tears, joy, and fear blended. We purge our space of leftovers from our past life and bring in the crib, changing table, stroller, tiny clothes, new paint on the walls, cartoon characters on the furniture. We celebrate, attend showers, and worry.

Since we will adopt our child, my wife's soul is doubly pregnant. We waited much longer than nine months for a miracle that rivals conception, the miracle that the birth mother who needs us and the life mother who needs the child will find each other. With the help of a good agency, we found her and she, us. Everyone feels swept away by something bigger than us. We feel frightened and strangely trusting.

Of parenthood, our experienced friends tell us repeatedly, "It will change everything." Married for seventeen years, we know too well the enormity of the old patterns that this will upset, that this already upsets. Sharon and I are best friends, lovers, and children to each other. Now we will welcome a new one, a son (says the ultrasound) whom we already love instinctively and who will claim our love all the more for his helplessness and innocence.

God takes our old order, makes it into chaos, and orders it again. The Potter with the clay. The wind of God over the waters. God creates and re-creates, always constructing the new order around a nucleus of love. We cannot define love as God can, so we are helpless ourselves, strangely trusting as God works this upheaving and tender miracle.

Mark's gospel tells the story of God's most decisive act of changing the old order into the new. "The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" (Mk 1:1) is a divine hand globbing the still wet clay pot of history and refashioning it. It is wind over chaotic waters, shaping and quickening a world.

So the opening verses of the gospel show us hand and wind at work. There is chaos enough: people in the cities feel something peculiar like the tingle in the air before lightning strikes or the vague nausea in their guts when the earth's crust shifts. They hear rumors that something will happen, someone will come, and it will change everything. They must prepare for it, whatever it is, whatever it will do, so they leave the city and journey through the desert to find a prophet.

Prophets keep an eye on the divine Potter's hand and an ear to the wind well enough to anticipate God's work. Prophecy tends to last. Stay close to prophets, the true ones at least, when you hear the far off thunder or the tremors below. They offer the substance of the old that remains in the new.

This prophet, John, worked in the desert, not a strange place to prepare for the Potter's hand, the earthquake, the lightning, the coming of the promised child. In the desert, we can see the barrenness of our souls laid out on the terrain around us, and we can feel the heat of our sin in the dry air. In the desert we can prepare to give up our old life and embrace the new.

So the prophet in the desert called them to repentance. With attire of camel's hair and leather belt and with diet of locusts and honey, he lived in the chaos inwardly and outwardly. He spoke of the violence and order to come in the clenching of the Potter's hand, in the howling of the invisible wind, in the coming of a child more powerful than the prophet. Chaos is coming, but so is a road, a straight path through the desert surrounding the old order, the desert in our restless souls.

A child is coming into your household. Prepare. Clean out the clutter in your soul. Pack lightly for a long journey. Die to the old order here in the River Jordan, immerse yourself, and rise again to the new. Make room for the child to come whom you will love not only for his power, but for his helplessness. He will change everything.

"He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit" (v. 8b), John said, and how could anyone know what that means? How could John know what that means? They did not, of course, and we do not. But we hear that stomachs turn with the tremor of the earth, so feeling something like it, we prepare for a journey. We hear that the air tingles with an electrical charge before lightning strikes, and feeling something like it, we must prepare to die. We hear that everything changes when a child comes, so we must prepare to live. We strangely trust that it all amounts in the end to a joy like none we have ever known.

J. Marshall Jenkins

Mount Berry, GA