Ready for Hope:
A Bible Study for Asbury's Worship
by Rev. Lee Johnson
November 28, 2021
And, just like that, the Season of Advent arrives - four weeks, four Sundays of preparation, preparing for the arrival of God, the birth of Christ to come and dwell amongst us. Each of the Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John - approach this time of preparation in differing ways. Matthew and Luke account for the events that lead to the actual birth. John sends a word amongst the people, one that has been around since “in the beginning” when God created the world out of God’s spoken word. In Mark, the eight beginning verses tell the story of John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus, who comes to prepare everyone for the arrival of Jesus. John the Baptist points the reader beyond the present reality, or as he says: “The one who is more powerful than I is coming.” Truly, the differing introductions provide testimony to the season that is upon us now, the richness of the Christ event that is uncapturable in one story. The event is bigger than that. As you begin this Advent Season, take a moment, now or this week, to thumb through the different Gospel accounts of how it is Jesus enters the world. All of those accounts are found in the beginning lines, in some cases chapters, of each Gospel. What seems similar? What is different? What does it mean, this year, for you?
Our focus for this study is the beginning of Mark’s story, Mark 1.1-8. To announce the arrival of Jesus, Mark uses well-known words, “the beginning of the Good News,” words that remind the reader that what God does “in the beginning” is create. Meaning, yet again, God is about to create something new. Next, Mark takes the words of one of Israel’s greatest prophets, Isaiah, words spoken by the prophet more than 700 years prior. At another time and place in history, Isaiah prophesied that a messenger would appear to announce the newness of God’s work, “prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” And now, says Mark, that messenger appears from the wilderness, from the very place Israel spent so much time in the suffering of its lostness. From that place comes John the Baptist. God is forever taking something that seems unredeemable and making it into something new. Amazingly, all this occurs in the first three verses! Now it’s John the Baptist’s turn in the story. Before making his appearance, from the wilderness, John had obviously gained a reputation – “all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him” to be baptized in the River Jordan, confessing their sins. “Wait,” says John. “I’m not the one who will set you in right relationship with God, someone greater than me will do that work.” These first eight verses of Mark make for an amazing story. If you haven’t already done so, read Mark 1.1-8, noting how Mark combines images and stories for this new story.
This Advent, when I read through Mark’s introduction, I am drawn to the image of wilderness. Throughout Israel’s history, captured by the prophet Isaiah, the image of wilderness was a time of trouble and testing. Not once, but twice in Isaiah’s history, the Israelites were separated from home – and really God – by lives lived in exile, meaning the wilderness. The Temple, where God resided, had been destroyed as the people of Israel were sent off to live in the wilderness. Little good in life emerged from the wilderness. And now this – in a reversal of fortune, from the wilderness comes a voice marking a new day, from the very place that gave such little life. We don’t have to live in the wilderness to experience the wilderness. When in life have you felt most separated from family and friends, from God? What is the significance of Mark using the wilderness as a place out of which hope, and newness, emerge?
Mark 1: 1-8
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"Out of my wilderness, hope emerges."