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Preparing the Way

Sermon on Mark 1:1-8 Preached on the 6th of December 2020 in All Saints' Church Rome

It is rather funny, isn’t it, this is how Mark opens his Gospel. “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” And then he introduces us to John... As an adult, baptising people in the Jordan.

Christmas is nearly here, where we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the infant in the crib, in the stall, with the shepherds and the magi. None of that in Mark’s Gospel though. He rather starts with John, the messenger, quoting Isaiah.

I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.

And I don’t know about you, but when I hear of someone crying “prepare the way!” in the wilderness, I immediatly get images in my head of... explorers swinging machetes in jungles and forests. Like in Indiana Jones, The African Queen, Rambo, Tomb Raider, Tarzan.

“Preparing the way”, what would that have looked like in Johns time? Removing the rocks, getting rid of boulders and taking away stumbling blocks? Perhaps to even out the bumps and hills on the way and fill the holes? A good messenger would put up a sign telling the people to walk this way, not that way, preferably with some yellow arrows?

Today is the second sunday of Advent. Four weeks of preparation in our church life, until Christmas. Til Baby Jesus is being born. And the world is preparing for it as well.

Have you ordered your presents, for your loved ones here in Rome, or in other places? Have you had discussions about who to invite to Christmas dinner given the maximum amount of people you are allowed to have at your table? Have you made a choice out of all your recipes? And have you created a list of all groceries that you need and when to get them?

(punctuate)

There is a lot to plan and a lot to worry about.

But... in that muddle of worrying, choosing and tossing ideas out again, we are clearing our own path. In order to, hopefully, enjoy a Christmas where we can share food, time, gifts and love.

Where we can remember, and can look forward. The new year is on it’s way.

Resolutions of starting over with a new slate. Because next year, I will live life differently, or next year I am going to start that project. Are we just using words and intentions? Or are you actively clearing the way for that as well?

Marks gospel tells us that people traveled to John to be baptised.

Who were these people? Some came from Jerusalem, some came from the Judean countryside. They came to John to repent. They came to John for the forgiveness of their sins. They wanted to start over again.

Starting over again, with a clean slate. These men and women could not go to the temple, because their sins would not allow them to do so. They would get confronted by someone at the door, saying, this temple is not open for you. This oppertunity is not yours.

Perhaps in a way that was less kind, “you are not welcome, get lost!” They were told that this God, who loves everyone, was not accesible for them. Can you imagine what that must have been like?

Sadly enough, this is something that even nowadays a lot of people are confronted with. Based on where they are born, on the color of their skin, on the religion of their parents, on the circumstances they find themselves in.

I gave a euro to someone begging in the trainstation a couple of years ago, asking for some money to get a coffee. Once he had the money he went to stand just around the corner of the Coffee to-go. I thought, that is odd, he wanted coffee, he has the money, why not go in? Out came one of the customers, with two cups of coffee, one for himself, one for the man waiting around the corner. Who was not allowed in, despite being a paying customer. Why not? Because he looked funny, smelled funny, he did not fit in the clientele that the company wanted to receive.

The people who came to John, to be baptised, had been denied access to God. Suddenly they found themselves in front of an open door. This is what John was preaching about. Baptism cleaned their slates and gave them new chances, opened up a new way to walk, with a certain responsibility. But lets not forget that John was only the messenger, the one preparing the way, and something... or rather someone else... was to come.

Before my arrival in Rome, I could not be as involved in church life as I am here. So I experience a lot of “firsts”. For example today, preaching my first ever sermon, or at least attempting it.

Oh, what about Remembrance Sunday, my first time leading a service.

Honestly, beforehand I was a bit nervous, but as we walked down the aisle with the procession, a new feeling took a hold of me. As the congregation looked at us, Tamara holding the cross, Edoardo the Gospel, and me just frantically clutching all my notes. I was looking at the congregation, and that is when it hit me.

That is when I suddenly understood John saying “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.

Because in that moment it wasnt about us..., we were simply the ones preparing the way. Preparing the way for any in our congregation, both in church and at home, to travel down the path and meet the one more powerful than us.

We at All Saints church took away some boulders by streaming our Remembrance service online, we evened the path by providing a service sheet, and we filled up some holes with lovely music and songs.

And in that moment, right about in the middle of the aisle, as we were about to pass the offertory box, I realised I couldn’t make that happen... we couldn’t make that happen... because it wasn’t us. All I sensed in that moment was the responsibility that was given to John. The responsibility to make that way, and keep that door open.

This is where you come in. There is something here for you to do, in the same way the people who came to John needed to do something. God reached out to us through that open door. And as we grasp that hand, we take on the responsibility, asking ourselves:

Is this journey worth it? Is this path accessible to me and to others? Am I keeping the door open for other people?... Thank goodness, we are not alone... And this journey so far has prepared us for the one accompanying us.

So as we plan and worry about Christmas, and a new year, hoping for clean slates and new beginnings. Remember to open that door, to be messengers, to welcome others. Don’t deny them access. Make new paths in the wilderness, so that we can all meet one another on that riverside in preparation for Jesus Christ, the one who is to come.

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