Looking Back to Move Forward

 Mark 1:1-8                                                                December 7, 2014 (Advent 2)

We take the gospel of Mark for granted, don’t we?

It’s the shortest gospel and leaves out many of the rich details that Luke and Matthew offer, so it’s easy to see it as a more crude or primitive.

As you read Mark, it almost seems like something that was written on the run; he doesn’t take a lot of time to explain or embellish; the first verse gives us a sense of how this book will read “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

No fancy beginnings, no elaborate birth stories, no wise men visiting from the East, no plot by Herod to kill this child,

No, none of our favorite Christmas stories make an appearance in the gospel according to Mark.

The first time we meet Jesus in this account, he’s old enough to come out from Nazareth and receive his baptism by John in the Jordan.

The heavens are torn apart and the Spirit descends upon him like a dove, and a voice speaks from heaven, saying “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased”.

Mark starts from a different point.

He’s not content to begin with the birth of Jesus.

He goes further back to begin his account.

“As it is written in the prophet Isaiah” he says. “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”

It’s important for Mark, that his readers understand that there is a backstory to the events he’s interested in relating.

He never intended his gospel to be read independently from the traditions and the history that made this good news possible.

We could learn a few things, not just from Mark’s gospel, but also from the way the author wrote it.

Our lives have back stories.

We are formed by our history.

Our past impacts our present much more than our culture would ever acknowledge.

And we do ourselves no favors when we pretend otherwise.

But back to Mark for a second.

He opens his gospel by looking back; hooking into Isaiah to begin his account of the life and times of Jesus the Christ.

And I’d like to suggest this morning, that that’s where the good news always starts.

It always starts by hooking into a story that’s already been unfolding since the beginning of the heavens and the earth.

In other words, Redemption means nothing unless there’s something to redeem.

It’s not a matter of forgetting the past. It’s a matter of setting a new course.

The way you do that is by taking stock of where you’re at, where the past has taken you.

This is how we prepare for the future…by looking to the past.

Even Christ himself relied on the past in order to chart his course; even his way needed to be prepared.


And so it is that today we read about One crying out in the wilderness, the Unworthy One; who calls those with ears to hear, back to God; back to faithfulness.

John the Baptist arrives on the scene early on in Mark, and paves the way for Jesus.

And it’s interesting, that Mark, while he’s so short on most details, he does give us a few about John.

He’s out in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

He’s not offering a clean slate. He’s proclaiming repentance, and forgiveness.

He’s not saying your past doesn’t matter…that’s a pretty modern concept.

And if you scratch beneath the surface of it, you’ll find out pretty quickly, that your past actually does matter.

It matters a great deal.

The manner in which you’ve arrived here this morning…it matters!

I’m not talking about what route you took, or which car you brought; I’m talking about all the choices you made in your life that have brought you to this moment.

It matters.

Did I ever tell you about sixth grade?

I can remember pretty clearly, being in sixth grade and having my life pretty much all figured out. 🙂

My plan, in sixth grade, was to stay in school, go to college, become either a scientist or a veterinarian, hopefully get married and have kids, become rich, and then I even decided that I was going to wait until I was almost dead to become a Christian.

I figured that way, I could still have a whole lifetime of enjoying myself, and still get into heaven when I died and enjoy the afterlife as well. 🙂

That tells you something about the messages I received about joining church in my childhood, doesn’t it?

There’s something wrong when you want to wait until your deathbed to make a faith commitment because of the damper you think it’s going to put on the rest of your life.

I thought about that as I was preparing this week.

In my sixth grade mind, I saw baptism as a way of separating myself from my past.

I heard all the language about fresh starts and a new beginning and wiping the slate clean, that I started to get the idea that I could spend my life doing pretty much whatever I wanted to do, then cash in on my ticket to heaven just in time to avoid all of the consequences of my actions.

There are at least a couple of things really wrong with that thinking…for one, the most obvious, none of us is guaranteed a death bed.

(I was reminded of that this week when I was rear-ended and nearly pushed into an oncoming Semi Truck.)

But the second thing is even more fundamental;

That is, that the past matters.

When you become a Christian, you still have a past that you can’t disown.

You can be freed from it’s tyranny over your life; you can be freed from defining yourself on the terms of your past…but you still need to own it.

Now, the great thing about God is that with the help of the Holy Spirit, and through following the way prepared and proclaimed by the prophets and John and Prepared for the rest of us by Jesus…in following this way our past can be redeemed…not forgotten, but redeemed!

And that’s the good news.

See, the theme of the morning is a longing for God to reveal His Peace.

And we worship a God who I believe exists throughout all space and time…after all, we’re told in 2nd Peter “that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day.”

We’ve got to make peace with our pasts in order to embrace the future.

God’s work is redemptive.

The Peace offered at Advent time is the Peace of reconciliation…it’s the Peace of forgiveness, it’s the peace that comes from repentance.

John proclaimed the way; he was the voice crying out in the wilderness…but Jesus prepared the way.

And we know the way to the Father by looking at the Son; that all who believe in him, shall inherit this eternal life.

That’s our Advent hope. that repentance is possible; change does come, we are not chained to our past; but we are free to embrace the newness of life that comes from knowing, trusting, and following Christ Jesus, the savior of the world.

So take stock and take charge.

For the Lord our God is with us; He has gone before us, preparing the way.