A voice in the wilderness

By Rev Elizabeth Raine

This is the second week in the season of Advent. The theme for Advent 2 is peace.  You might like to set up a worship space at home for the Advent season, with a purple cloth, an advent wreath (four purple candles and one white one) or a single purple candle. Other symbols you could place in your space could include a dove to symbolise peace, a star to signify hope, a heart to signify love and an angel for joy.

Opening Prayer

(adapted from Spill the Beans Iss.37)

Eternal God,
without endings or beginnings, you stepped into time in Jesus
(or that is the best our clumsy words can do
to express the indefinable wonder of your presence in him).
But where does that story begin?
Not in Bethlehem or Nazareth,
despite the fuss that we make of his birth.
Not with the prophets,
who simply spoke what they saw and heard,
deep truths that they hardly understood themselves.
His story has its roots,
as does mine and that of everybody here, in the fathomless mystery of your love.
We stop for a moment to ponder what that means, and the difference
it could make to everything.
We were made in love, and for love.
We are loved, and worth loving.
We are not alone, for if you were with us then,
and then for you is now, then our now is…..
Wonderful God, let us simply worship,
as did wise men and shepherds,
and the angel hosts in heaven.
Let us go back to the very beginning,
and rest in the assurance of your love.
Thanks be to God. Amen.

Mark 1:1-8

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

2As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,

who will prepare your way; 3the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”

4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Reflecting on the Word

For Mark, the story of Jesus and the good news begins with the prophets: Isaiah, whose prophecy John the Baptist fulfills; Elijah, whose dress code he emulates (see 2 Kings 1:8); and Micah (4:8) who said that Elijah’s return would signal the coming of the “great and terrible day of the Lord”.

Who in our time is the “voice crying in the wilderness”? Where do we hear the prophetic voices today, and how are we to recognise if they are the authentic voice of God?

What is the heart of the “good news” that has Mark so keen to write it down and share it decades after the events which he describes?

John’s baptism for the forgiveness of sin was a sign of God’s forgiveness but was not in itself the good news. John’s coming laid the groundwork that was required for the radically new and different gospel of grace that Jesus was to offer.

John’s baptism with the Holy Spirit asked that people undergo metanoia, a Greek word that means to radically reshape and transform your life. It meant being ready to infused with the holy Spirit, and to hear and live out Jesus’ message of the coming kingdom of God.

Reflecting on the passage

• Read Mark 1:1-8 again.

This is the start of Mark’s whole story about Jesus’ life, most likely the earliest written gospel.

• Is this where you expected the story of Jesus to begin?

• How would you go about announcing a new thing to the world today?

• Would your idea spread the message of Jesus and good news?

Sometimes, the best way to share a message is person to person. Whom will you talk to about Jesus this week?

Prayer for ourselves and others

(adapted from Spill the Beans, Iss.37)

God of faithful grace and goodness,
we give thanks for the words of hope and comfort
that echo down the centuries from Isaiah to John the Baptist,
from Jesus of Nazareth through Mark the evangelist,
through translators, and publishers and printers to us here today.
“Comfort them,” the prophet is told,
“tell them that they have suffered long enough, their sins are forgiven”.
Faithful God, may we be open to hear your word,
and daring enough to look in unlikely places for signs of your presence.
May we be wise enough to discern which of the many voices that we hear
speaks for you, and brave enough to pass on the radical good news that we hear.
As John spoke from a barren, desert place to people on the margins,
far from the centres of power, so we pray for those who live on the margins now,
their births uncelebrated; their deaths not publicly grieved.
We pray for refugees and asylum-seekers;
for clients of food banks in this country, and for others who lack even that safety net.
We pray for those whose fragile hold on coping
has been shaken by the effects of Covid:
those without secure jobs or money in the bank;
those for whom home is not a place of safety;
students without loving parents to go back to;
old people without children to look out for them.
We pray for those in positions of power,
the best of whom feel powerless, and admit it;
troubled by the huge responsibility that they bear.
May this be an opportunity for all of us to reassess what really matters,
and what sort of world we want to live in.
May our vulnerability create a crack through which your light can shine,
as the solid ground of our confidence is shaken,
may a tiny mustard-seed of faith drop in, and your kingdom have a chance to grow.
God, in just such times at these you have sent your prophets to challenge
the powerful and comfort the oppressed.
In just such times as these you have slipped in alongside your people
to let them know that they are not alone, for you are with them.
May we be among those who help to prepare the way for your coming,
and may all the honour and glory be yours.
Amen.

Blessing

(adapted from Spill the Beans, Iss.37)

As we go into this week,
may we prepare the way of the Lord,
making straight the paths
that lead to God,
in our hearts and souls,
through our words and actions,
by our choices and decisions.
May we go as God’s beloved,
Blessed and filled with the Holy Spirit.
Amen.

Photo of Rev Elizabeth Raine

Written by Rev Elizabeth Raine

Elizabeth is minister at Tuggeranong Uniting, beginning her ministry here in December 2018. 

Over the years, she has had a number of diverse and interesting placements, such as a school chaplaincy, a tenancy worker with UnitingCare, a congregational minister, a lecturer at UTC, a Presbytery minister, and as an Intentional Interim minister. 

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