December 6, 2020, 2nd Sunday of Advent
Have you heard of Sarah K. Evans? How about Claudette Colvin? Rosa Parks? Yeah, most of us know who Rosa Parks was. But the other two were actually forerunners to the civil rights icon Parks. We know that on December 1, 1955, Parks was arrested for refusing a bus driver's instructions to give up her seat to a white passenger. She later recalled that her refusal wasn't because she was physically tired, but that she was tired of giving in. That was a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement. But few of us realize that she wasn't the first to be arrested for this act. Earlier that year, another woman, a young black teenager, Claudette Colvin, refused to give up her bus seat to a white person. In explaining her actions, she noted the influence of Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman had emboldened her. She was handcuffed and arrested. And three years earlier, in 1952, on the way home from a military assignment, then Private Sarah Evans refused to move to the back of the bus. Upon this refusal, she was taken to jail and detained for 13 hours. The stories of Evans and Colvin were hidden until recent years. It took many years for these forerunners in the civil rights movement to be recognized along with Rosa Parks.
John the Baptist was also a forerunner, the forerunner of Jesus Christ.
My sermon series in Advent is about the Verbs of Advent. The main verb describing this forerunner of Jesus is clear-- prepare. John was preparing his own followers for the coming of the Savior by preaching a baptism of repentance. He was the last in a long line of messengers preparing the world for the Messiah. The great purpose of the Old Testament was to prepare the world for the coming of the Christ. Our Psalm this morning is part of that preparation. We study it as it prepares the reader to receive the good news that Mark says is the story of his gospel; the story of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And so, like last week, let's look at the verbs the writer has used.
The first two verses are about remembering what God has done for the people of Israel, ”You have been gracious, you have restored; You have forgiven and blotted out all their sins.” The psalmist looked back at how the Lord had shown grace. It seems that is a pattern for these psalms they start by looking back, usually in thanksgiving. That is also a model for our personal prayer time, look back and give thanks. But as I said last week, Advent is more about looking forward than looking back. And there are promises in this passage, promises fulfilled in the time of Christ but promises that we can continue to claim today.
And the psalmist uses some literary fancy work to tell us what Jesus would bring: Salvation, glory, Mercy, truth, righteousness and peace. These are promises for us to claim in these times of uncertainty; times of looking forward. The literary work he does is make these traits Anthropomorphic, that is having human qualities and actions. “Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth shall spring up... righteousness shall look down...” He uses verbs to emphasize these gifts, “have met, have kissed, shall spring up, shall look down.” For John, these gifts would be fulfilled in the one he heralded; “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.” We can be pretty certain that John didn't know what the ministry of Jesus was going to look like. But we can be sure that he trusted that God was with him.
Now John did more than proclaim the coming of Jesus, he proclaimed a need for the forgiveness of sins and he called for action. Repent and be baptized! Mark's gospel is a gospel full of action. Mark seems to be in a hurry to get to Jesus' story and the promise of the forgiveness of sins. Notice that there is no birth narrative in Mark. Just, BOOM, Mark has John presenting the Messiah. No Mary and Joseph, no angels singing Glory to God in the highest, no manger and no wise men. Just John and Jesus in the wilderness. John the forerunner, Jesus the one promised in the Old Testament. And the shared purpose, the forgiveness of sin.
We are having communion this morning. When Jesus shared the last supper with his disciples, he told them to remember; to look back and recall his teachings and his life of love. And so we remember the life and times of our Savior. But we are also called to look forward. I will pray in the communion prayer these words, “We eagerly await his coming again that his rule may be complete and (his) righteousness reign over all the world and we feast together at his royal banquet.” But we don't have to wait for the sweet by and by. We can experience the fulfillment of peace in the present world. Claim these promises as you struggle with the trials we face moving ahead. From the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, Isaiah 9:6 “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” and Isaiah 54:10 “The mountains may shift, and the hills may be shaken, but my faithful love won't shift from you, and my covenant of peace won't be shaken, says the LORD.” And from Jesus himself, John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 16: 33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Just as the Psalmist wrote about peace, and forgiveness and mercy, so Jesus promises these things are fulfilled in his life, death and resurrection.
John looked forward-- preparing a way in the wilderness for the Lord. So we are to look ahead in Advent. Not passively, but actively being lights in the wilderness showing the love and peace of Jesus. And we look back and ahead in communion, nourishing ourselves with the things of the Spirit. May we leave this time of worship knowing the forgiveness of sin, knowing mercy and truth, and as the final verse of our psalm says, “Righteousness shall go before (us), and peace shall be a pathway for (our) feet.” Amen
Hymn: Hark, the Herald Angels Sing