LOVE. Advent 4. Mark opens his gospel introducing John the Baptist, a bit of a wild looking prophet emerging from the wilderness and calling to the people to prepare for “one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie,” who is coming. Prepare by repenting, changing. We might say, “Get your act together!” There is no love in this message. If we stop there, those of us who are a bit honest with ourselves about those dark habits that seem to keep us from the “good life” if only we could repent and turn ourselves around, might walk away. Some of us look at today as it approaches and foresee a trip to the hospital, or choosing between food and Christmas presents for our kids, or even another less than gratifying zoom meeting. I hear the little voice whispering in my ear, “Where’s God and that love of Advent?” We are tempted to turn our back and walk away from the mystery of faith. A better tomorrow must involve people repenting, changing, “a major course correction.”
BUT (and there always seems to be a “but”), Mark continues his gospel in 1:9 with “at that time,” in the midst of the call for repentance, Jesus visits John the Baptist at the river Jordon and is baptized. As he comes up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descends like a dove and a voice speaks from heaven. “You are my Son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.” “Whom I love” are such powerful words. Let’s think about it! Jesus has done nothing miraculous or helpful. He has not entered ministry, earned any degree, solved any problems. He has done nothing of note. He comes from small town Israel, from an ordinary family, and from a questionable birth. It sounds a bit like most of us. We are just normal and unspectacular. A voice breaks into his experience and pronounces, “whom I love.” No “high five, good job, son.” No graduation certificate. No promotion raise. Before any deeds to dazzle our eyes, God says, ”whom I love.”
Mark’s Advent story opens with love, Advent 4’s theme. As a person, so desiring love, it is easy to hear the prolog of “repent” and so hard to hear the affirmation of “love.” I realize my love is conditional and focused on today or the past track record. Also, I am conditioned to believe love is conditional on my beauty, on my performance, on my talents, on MY whatever – on me being and controlling my life well. The Advent journey calls us to “wait” for a God who brings love to us because “God is love. (1John 4:16)” “We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:19)”
The pressure is on right now. Christmas is two days away. Presents still need to be bought, food prepared, and zoom gatherings planned. That is not to mention questions of vaccinations or political transitions and, of course, weather. It is easy to fret or despair. Advent 4 focuses on love, the love that comes in the Christmas story not because of who we are but because of who God is. May we remember as we face the challenges of today that God loves us and walks with us into the future. Blessings.