First Lesson: Isaiah 9: 2-7
Responsive Reading: Psalm 96
Second Lesson: Titus 2: 11-14
Gospel Lesson: Luke 2: 1-20
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Author Barbara Robinson tells the tale of the Herdman children1. We all know kids like the Herdmans. The Herdmans were the type of kids that Mom didn’t want you to play with growing up. The Herdmans were unsupervised children who traveled all over town creating mischief. You think of something that a kid would do to get in trouble then the Herdmans probably did it. The Herdmans lied; they stole, they swore, and they even set fire to their neighbor’s’ tool shed. Teachers kept passing the Herdmans along in school, because no teacher would ever want to put up with two Herdmans at the same time.
One day though one of the Herdmans (Leroy Herdman) hears something that changes his life forever. Leroy hears from one of his classmates that they could get all the free desserts that they ever wanted if they went to church. The Herdmans begin to show up at church every Sunday. Church didn’t initially change the Herdmans though; their behavior remained as rough as ever. The Herdmans would take from the offering plate as it was passed in front of them, they stole and drank all the wine from the Communion jug, and they even smoked cigars in the church bathroom.
The troubles between the Herdmans and the church were just beginning though; soon casting would begin for the church’s annual Christmas pageant. Most of the kids were bored by this, figuring it was the same story with the same people in the same parts every year. This year would be different though as the Herdmans wanted to take part. The Herdmans landed all the parts through the only ways they knew how in bullying and intimidation. All the characters from Joseph to the Wise Men to Angels were going to be played by Herdmans. The most interesting casting choice though was the meanest Herdman of them all in Imogene Herdman was going to be playing Mary.
The whole church gets in an uproar upon hearing this news. No one was going to dare to let their infant play Jesus so that he could be taken care of by the rough and tumble Herdmans. Everyone in the church assumes that the Christmas pageant starring the Herdmans will be a disaster.
The evening started off according to predictions as the Herdmans went off script, not knowing the Christmas story all that well. The Wise Men thought the gifts of Frankincense and Myrrh were stupid, so they decided to bring the Baby Jesus a “Ham” instead they received from the church’s welfare basket. Mary starts burping a “baby doll” just like it a real baby. The Wise Men fail to exit the stage at the proper time. The Angel gets mad at the audience so to get them to quiet down starts yelling “Unto to you a child is born.”
Something happened though over the course of the pageant, and it was the most unlikely of outcomes. The Herdmans begin to get the meaning of the Christmas story. The Herdmans begin to realize that this birth about which they knew nothing was special. Mary shocks the audience when she begins to cry on stage. Mary played by Imogene Herdman had dealt with years of feeling broken not quite right with the world. It was on stage that Imogene became overwhelmed by the depths of God’s love for her. The meanest of girls had come to realize the meaning of grace. The meaning of grace is that God forgives even when we might be unable to forgive ourselves.
The Herdmans story is a humorous portrayal of the Christmas season, the idea of the rough and tumble being at the center of God’s story has some basis in reality.
Let’s look at the main characters in our Christmas story for tonight as we see how they’re not that different from the rough and tumble Herdmans.
Let’s start with the Shepherds. Shepherds did not possess high esteem in the days that Luke wrote his gospel. Shepherds were considered to be one step above the sheep that they took care. No one desired to be a shepherd. Shepherds spent their nights lying in the field, where food was often lacking. The role of shepherd tended to fall to the youngest and weakest son. The shepherd was the son who wasn’t going to receive any land out of the father’s inheritance. Being a shepherd was a job that tended only to appeal to the anti-social. Being a shepherd only made sense if you had no desire to have children on your own. Shepherds were the type of family members that every year, you hoped would finally get their act together.
Let’s look at Joseph. Joseph was a mere common laborer, a carpenter more of a grunt than a master builder. Joseph’s bank account probably had very little in it. Joseph’s contributions to the synagogue were probably quite meager. Joseph was such a sub-standard provider for Mary that he didn’t even have a safe place for her to give birth.
Finally, we get to Mary. Mary was merely a girl about the age of thirteen. Mary didn’t stand out from the crowd in that she was no great beauty, no great talent, or didn’t even possess extraordinary piety. Mary even lacked any sort of socially acceptable explanation for her pregnancy2.
These were the people that were the cast of characters at the scene of the Lord’s birth. If you took a photo of this scene to put on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, people might have pictured this baby’s birth as evidence of all that is wrong with society.
Perhaps there is something to say for Jesus being born amongst the people who most desperately need him.
What we can take from our message tonight is that we know the Shepherds, we know Mary and Joseph, and we know the Herdmans. To all these people a savior has been born on this evening.
The thing about the Herdmans is their role had a genuine skepticism attached to it by people who had experienced them before, people who couldn’t believe that the future could be different3.
The future is different. At the center of our story tonight is a helpless baby. Tonight, we hear a story of how God became powerless, how the word became flesh to dwell among us4.
Martin Luther one time gave a sermon on Christmas and the Shepherds roles within it when he explained the Holiday quite well. I read Luther’s words on this evening.
“The Christian faith is foolishness. It says that God can do anything and yet makes himself so weak that either his Son had no power or wisdom or else the whole story is made up.”… “If I had come to Bethlehem and seen it, I would have said: ‘This does not make sense. Can this be the Messiah? This is sheer nonsense.’ I would not have let myself be found inside the stable5.”
What we hear tonight is that God came into the world amongst those living at the bottom of it. The Angel announced Christ’s birth to the very people you wouldn’t have expected to hear it.
What this background says as we gather here on this night is that some force is bringing us together here. I believe that the Lord has led you here: whether you were nagged or attended out of “family obligations”. The Lord led you here tonight so you may see that Christmas matters because The Cross and Resurrection matter. Christmas matters because “New Life” has been breathed into an old and dying world at a manager in Bethlehem. Amen
1 Robinson in 1971 wrote The Best Christmas Pageant Ever published by Harper& Row. The Best Christmas Pageant ever serves as the motivation for this evening’s sermon. H/T to my mom Joan Carlson a retired middle school English teacher from North Branch, Minnesota for giving me this sermon idea.
2 This description of the Holy Family was inspired by an article written by Matt Fitzgerald published over at The Christian Century on December 19, 2014 entitled “God among the imperfect”.
3 An excellent faith-based commentary on The Best Christmas Pageant Ever can be found at classbookworm.wordpress.com published on December 24,2012.
4 John 1:1-18
5 These quotes were found in an article published by David Zahl at mbird.com (Mockingbird) in an article entitled “Martin Luther on Christmas” published on December 14th, 2010. These Luther quotes come from a Christmas sermon on The Shepherds.
First Lesson: 2 Samuel 7: 1-11, 16
Responsive Reading: Psalm 89: 1-4, 19-26
Second Lesson: Romans 16: 25-27
Gospel Lesson: Luke 1: 26-38
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
This morning, I want to tell you the story of an ordinary Mary. We all know a girl like Mary. Mary had just turned that awkward age of thirteen. Mary’s body was changing before her very eyes.
She was just coming into the years of your life that unless you’re extraordinarily pretty or cool are some of the most difficult years of life. Mary grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. Mary had no distinguishing features. Her clothes weren’t fancy. Mary had to fight breakouts like any other kid. Mary dreaded looking into the mirror to see her own reflection. If Mary had walked down the hall of any middle school that you’ve ever been to, Mary would have blended in with the crowd. For everywhere that Mary looked she saw someone prettier, someone smarter, and someone more physically capable. Mary was at the age where her failures seem to magnify nearly every single day.
Mary didn’t have very high hopes for the future, in fact; Mary thought of the future as depressing. Her mother had been a hand-maiden, a servant. Mary figured that her life would be nothing special. Mary saw herself doing nothing different from what her mother did spending her days washing clothes.
Mary had one positive though in her life. Mary had recently met a guy named Joe. Mary and Joe’s parents had known each other. Joe was a few years older than Mary. Joe was at the age where every little bit of fuzz that sprung up on his face was a sign of pending manhood. Joe was the kid that would have loved shop classes. Joe wanted to be a carpenter like his father and his father before him.
Joe was a nice guy. Mary was at first taken back by Joe because he was the first guy that would have really showed an interest in her. Joe had made a promise to Mary. Joe told Mary that ‘he loved her’. Joe said that they were going to get married someday.
One night Mary’s life changed forever, Mary was in her room, getting ready for bed, performing rituals that she had done countless nights before. When with no prior warning appearing before Mary was an Angel of the Lord named “Gabriel”. Mary didn’t know quite what to make of this at first. Mary figured that maybe she had just eaten something bad, or this was her lack of sleep finally catching up with her.
Mary initially feared Gabriel no differently than we would fear any uninvited intruder into our bedroom.
Gabriel sought to put Mary’s fears to rest with his first words “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.”-Luke 1:30
“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.”-Luke 1:31
Mary was by no means a religious scholar. She would attend synagogue with her family on a weekly basis. Mary like many kids her age never followed along with the service all that well. Yet when Mary heard the name “Jesus” she knew what this name meant.
You see Jesus is from the Hebrew word meaning “savior”. The Son she was going to bare was going to be the one to save all of God’s people.
Mary still couldn’t figure out the biology involved in all this. Mary was so young that she didn’t even know that she could give birth to a child.
She heard the word “pregnant” and knew that Joe and her hadn’t been together in “this way” so it made no sense for her to be pregnant. Yet Gabriel assured her that this would be no ordinary birth. Mary would give birth as a virgin.
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.”- Luke 1: 35
Mary was at that age where she was completely unsure of herself around any adults, let alone an angel of the Lord. So Mary was timid in Gabriels presence like anyone in her situation would have been upon hearing this most shocking of the news.
Gabriel knew that Mary would need help processing what she had just heard. So before leaving Gabriel gave Mary a little bit of advice. Go visit a relative of yours named Elizabeth. Mary didn’t know Elizabeth all that well as she was an old woman, where as Mary was a young girl. Elizabeth could be a source of support for Mary though as went through her process. Elizabeth like Mary had also been visited recently by an angel. Elizabeth had been told that in her old age that she was going to give birth to a son named “John” who would later be known as “The Baptist”.
What happened after the angel Gabriel left the room? Mary stayed awake almost in a trance. Mary figured that she would break down crying uncontrollably as her world would never be the same again, only Mary didn’t do this. It was as if some higher force was going to guide Mary through this process and give her strength.
Mary’s range of thoughts was no different than any thirteen year old girl. Mary figured as soon as her parents heard this news of her pregnancy that they would scream at her till her ears bleed.
Mary wondered about her friends. Mary thought that she had friends. But Mary knew that people are fickle and will turn on you, once you downgrade their cool factor. Mary worried about her friends ignoring her and making fun of her behind her back.
Mary knew as people saw her ever expanding body that she would look like a “freak”. Mary knew that the next several months would result in Mary being an object of derision and scorn. Mary’s was the type of pregnancy that would have people telling her to get out of it, not to wreck her life by any means possible.
Mary worried about Joe. Would Joe dump her? Joe could make all sorts of assumptions that she was nothing but a no good, dirty cheat. Joe could have gone out and bragged to all his bros “about how was better off without Mary”. For the easy thing for Joe would be to dump her, and never respond to her again.
Mary wondered if anyone could ever possibly love her upon hearing this news.
Mary wondered most of all how much is this all going to hurt?
It was Gabriel’s final words to Mary that she could just not shake from her head, as she prepared to endure the next nine months of her life “For no word from God will ever fail?.”- Luke 1:37
What can we make of the story of this ordinary Mary on a Sunday such as this one?
Whereas Mary might not have been unique to the world around her, Mary was special. Mary hears that her son will be special. Mary’s son would be called “The Son of the Most High.” Mary’s son would be a King.
Mary’s story is a story of transformation, not so much a story about Mary’s spiritual transformation or personal transformation. Mary’s story is a story of God’s transformation. Mary’s story is a reminder how God enters into the world in the most plain and ordinary form.
Surely God could have chosen someone else, yet he didn’t. God could have chosen someone different to bring his son into the world. Perhaps God could have been born into the family of a Roman aristocrat, rather than a hick country girl. God does not work according to our terms; God works in defiance of our terms. In Mary, God saw something different; God saw one that he had chosen, one whom he had favored. Where as Mary might have thought no one would ever notice her, she had been noticed from on high. God was not going to see what other people saw, or even what Mary herself saw.
Every so often you might see a beautiful looking baby with a Mom who seemingly hasn’t gained a pound. We picture the type of Mom whose eyes seem unaffected by sleepless nights. We encounter a Mom who apparently has been blinded to all the weird bodily functions and distress of child-birth. Mary was not this mother. Mary was a scared, insecure thirteen-year-old girl who had just had the weight of the whole world placed upon her shoulders. Mary came to believe that with God nothing shall be impossible.
God promises to Mary on this day a Son. God extends to us on this day, the same type of promise. Today, we will receive a Son given unto the world in words of promise “For Christ’s sake your sins are forgiven”. Do not be afraid as we go home on this day, for you have found favor with God. Just as the Gospels begin with an earth-shaking miracle of birth, they would end with another earth-transforming miracle of resurrection. Amen
First Lesson: Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11
Responsive Reading: Psalm 126
Second Lesson: 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24
Gospel Lesson: John 1: 6-8, 19-28
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Several years back, my dad and I went to a Minnesota Timberwolves game. The Timberwolves were so bad that there were times that you were able to get two hundred dollar tickets for twenty bucks. The Timberwolves had recently traded away the best player in team history and arguably the best player in the league, Kevin Garnett, because they weren’t even able to win with him on the roster. Desperate times call for desperate measures! So what the Timberwolves in the darkest of times wanted to sell was hope, so they came up with a new slogan “Build It”.
“Build It” was meant to encourage fans on the ground level to follow the team because they believed that they would be good down the line.
The “Build It” plan didn’t work on the terms set out for it. The Timberwolves currently have the longest playoff drought in the league and are currently the worst team in their conference. This season the Timberwolves have lost games by 48, 28, 17, 26, 22, and 19. The Timberwolves have only been able to sell hope for the past several years.
What the struggle of basketball fandom reminds us is that in the midst of darkness that we yearn for nothing more than light. A sign that a new way forward is coming soon!
The story of trying to find hope in the midst of despair brings us to our Gospel lesson for today from John 1. It’s another lesson centering around the person of John the Baptist. Whereas last week, we looked at John’s background, today; we look at the specific goals of John’s ministry.
Our lesson includes the goal of John’s ministry quite clear in verse 23 which says “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.”
So how did John make straight the way for the Lord? How did John get people ready for Jesus’ coming?
I think the mistake that we make when we think of John the Baptist’s life is to think of him as Jesus’ sidekick. Sure, John the Baptist and Jesus were related by blood, but they probably had no interaction with each other growing up as children.
Elizabeth had John as an old woman. Mary had Jesus as a young virgin. Jesus grew up in Nazareth. John grew up in the wilderness. It is possible that Jesus’ baptism was the first time that they would have met each other.
Another interesting example of John’s distance from Jesus is the interaction between their followers.
Further evidence that these two men had very little interaction with each other throughout their lives comes from Luke the 7th chapter where a group of John’s disciples approach Jesus by saying “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
If those closest to John were unable to identify Jesus standing before them, this points out how the encounters between these two men were probably quite limited. What this background reminds us is how John the Baptist needed to proceed by faith in his ministry just as much as anybody else.
So where our story connects to John is in the central task of his ministry “Making straight the way for the Lord” or preparing people for the Messiah’s coming. How John built a ministry at the Jordan River is what I want to look at this morning.
The first thing that I noticed about John this morning in reading our text for this morning is John’s great humility. John knows exactly who he is and who he isn’t.
“I am not the light.”
“I am not Elijah.”
“I am not the Christ.”
John states in some of his more famous words that “the one that was coming after him; his sandal he was unworthy to untie.” John’s sense of humility guided his whole ministry. But perhaps even more importantly than this, John believed that he was a part of something much bigger than himself or his sense of earthly comfort.
Second story, a while back I came across a quote by Gopher Football Coach Jerry Kill. Kill took over a program that like the Timberwolves was in the dumps. Kill has achieved some success. Kill said something that struck me during a recent interview. Kill talked about how he didn’t think he would be a witness to the type of success that the Gophers are having. What Kill believed is that he would lay the groundwork, the administration would get frustrated; Kill would get fired, and then the next guy would turn it around.
The often lack of outward success for our work brings us back to John the Baptist. John was a part of something special when he baptized our Lord. This famous baptism is why we know John, yet John didn’t get to see the outcome for his most famous of life events. John didn’t witness any healing miracles, and John didn’t witness the resurrection. John continued to live in hardship until the day of his execution. John’s ministry centers upon fleeting encounters. John was used to this. John probably baptized all sorts of people that he never saw again. What John ultimately believed is that his Baptism would ultimately serve a greater purpose even if he never got to see its outcome.
John’s story can bring us to thinking about people within our life. Each and every person in this room can probably speak about people who have profoundly influenced our faith life without them knowing the outcome.
I’ve spoken before about how I don’t believe I’d be a pastor if it wasn’t for my great-grandpa Arvid. Arvid’s been dead nearly twenty years, he was never going to know the outcome of his influence. This never stopped him from acting! We must remember that God works in a wide variety of ways. God works not only in pastors, God works in people at work, God works in neighbors, and God works in family members.
Another story, a while back I was leading services at the Veterans Home. After the service the chaplain asks me to go visit with a guy we’ll call Bob, who had recently lost his wife. Bob was devastated as she died away from him, living in another nursing home.
As we sat down together that day, Bob recalled a lot of things about life. Bob talked about their sixty years of wonderful marriage. Bob talked about trying to make sense of it all because of his faith. Bob shared his frustration about being confined to a wheelchair. The conversation was emotionally intense as Bob broke down several times within it.
Bob finally put me on the spot in the midst of our conversation when he asked “What was God’s purpose in keeping him around?” Believe me this question seems always to be asked whenever I’m visiting with someone who is unable to live life according to their wishes. I wished I could give Bob a smooth, easy to understand answer. This question got me thinking about our purpose in this world.
The thing about a purpose is that it we often don’t easily discover it. So what I told Bob is “I don’t know why God has you here.” “God might have you here to witness to a great-grandchild or even a nursing home staff member years down the line”, no different than my Great-Grandpa influenced my life well into his nineties.
It’s helpful to remember this as we talk to our own kids and grand kids about faith and seemingly have to bang our heads against the wall. You might not see the outcome of your witness a generation before.
God might have you around for an outcome that you will be unable to observe just like John the Baptist. Remember the famous words from Philippians as we question how we can be more patient and articulate “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
John the Baptist’s greatest trait was that he was able to see the limits of his own powers. Advent is a future looking season. Today we lookout upon the congregation to ask the following questions: What might this church look like ten years from now…or twenty years from now? What might this congregation look like once we are beyond the point of being able to influence it?
I think the important thing to remember is that there will come a day when we are no longer able to change our surroundings. What we must also remember is that day is not today. We must remember that the odds for revival might seem long if not impossible. We must also remember that God builds the church on resurrection.
We are a unique body with a unique purpose and calling, no different than John the Baptist. “To make straight the paths for Our Lord.”
To prepare people for Christ’s coming. We go forth with a mission of seeking to educate people about our God. The Mission is no different than John’s purpose in seeking to instruct the Levites in today’s lesson. Our God is neither an angry God nor a vengeful God. Our God is not merely concerned with petty rules and regulations. Our God seeks to make this world whole once again.
John’s humility saved him from the error that many a pastor and many a church fall into in thinking they can do so much. The future of this church or any church does not belong to us. John didn’t evaluate the success of his baptism in the same ways that we evaluate the success of our own ministry. John wasn’t going to be around to see Jesus rise, John wasn’t going to be around to see the Christian church born, yet for John this didn’t mean that his task wasn’t an important one. John realized that the Lord brought him to a certain time and certain place for a purpose to serve out.
I’m sure as word spread around Galilee of John the Baptist’s execution, his critics felt justified. Yet what the critics could not see was what was going on beneath the surface. A community of faith was in the process of being built that was going to be present long after John was gone. John the Baptist did not fail, because God’s timeline was ultimately going to be more important than his own.
Doors were going to close, people would dream big, ideas would fizzle out, and expiration dates would expire. Within these times, many of John’s disciples would become Jesus’ disciples. These disciples would eventually get to witness a resurrection from the darkest of place. Amen
 Luke 7:20 is the exact verse quoted. The full story takes place from Luke 7:18-35
 A paraphrase of John 1:8
 John 1:21
 John 1:20
 John 1:27
 These comments took place in an interview with WCCO’s Mark Rosen which aired on November 30th, 2014.
 These comments were inspired when re-reading Ed Markquart’s Gospel analysis for John 1:6-8, 19-28 this week at sermonsforseattle.com for Advent 3B.
 Philippians 4:13
 I was reading through an essay this week by Pastor Russell Rathbun entitled “ Give Your Church an Expiration Date” for Renew 52: Ideas to Change the Church put out by Luther Seminary and edited by David Lose. Rathbun’s easy is found on page 87. Rathbun’s essay reminds me of many of the key points that I sought to make within this sermon regarding the nature of failure and success within the church.
First Lesson: Isaiah 40: 1-11
Responsive Reading: Psalm 85: 1-2, 8-13
Second Lesson: 2 Peter 3: 8-15a
Gospel Lesson: Mark 1: 1-8
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.”- Malachi 3:1
“A voice cries: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”- Isaiah 40:3
I want to begin this morning by having you picture a couple of people. The people that I describe might even sound like people that you know.
There was once a man who seemingly had it all. This man lived in a home that some might even dare call a “palace.” This man was clean-cut and good-looking. This man wore the finest clothes. His meals consisted of only the finest foods. This man was super-smooth, and he had the people skills of the most successful of politicians. This man had nearly unlimited power. This man seemingly had everything. He was so charismatic that people flocked to him figuring they were better off being seen with him. This man was the George Clooney of his day. This man had an ego, but very few with his success in life don’t have one.
This man had a rival. This man’s rival would have seemed far from his equal. These two men being considered rivals would be like a high school football team calling another team its rival having not lost to the other team for decades. If you put these two men side by side together, this would seemingly convince you that life isn’t fair.
This man’s rival was unkept. If you saw him walking down the street, you’d think he looked like a homeless person. This man lived off the grid, far away from civilization. Whenever people would see him, he always dresses in a funny costume. People would snicker behind his back that he looked like a “fool”. The rival ate bugs, locusts to be in fact. When this man opened his mouth, he was super-awkward. He made people uncomfortable whenever he talked. He was the like the type of guy; people wished would leave them alone at the lunch table. People would call him all sorts of names “nerd” “spas” “geek” “freak”.
These two men played life out like a high school movie with the popular jock versus the anti-social weirdo.
Who are these two men? The first man, the cool dude, is Herod Antipas (Ruler of Galilee). The second man is the loner preacher and baptizer John the Baptist. Herod had everything; John had nothing.
These two men are the key figures in our Gospel lesson for today from Mark the 1st Chapter.
As soon as we hear these two men’s names, we instantly recognize something. We don’t know all that much about Herod Antipas. Herod Antipas was merely a cookie-cutter big shot. Herod Antipas was successful don’t get me wrong, just like the guy who drives the nice car with a nice home and above average wife is successful. Herod’s dad had been a real big shot. Herod’s Dad was so power hungry that he ordered all boys born in the vicinity of the town of Bethlehem under the age of 2 to be put to death fearing a move on his throne. His dad even went by the name “Herod the Great”.
Herod Antipas gave people nothing they hadn’t encountered before. Herod Antipas was merely a ruler that no one cared enough in the end to die.
What we know about John the Baptist is as odd as he may have been; he got people ready for the Messiah (the Son of God) in Christ Jesus. Why did John the Baptist’s message catch on whereas Herod’s didn’t’?
I think there’s something worth noting as you consider John the Baptist’s story. Consider the place where John the Baptist lived in the wilderness. John the Baptist was a preacher on the farthest reaches of Herod’s territory. Think of the type of place in Lake County where there are more moose than people. When you get way to the middle of nowhere, this was the type of remote place where John the Baptist preached.
The wilderness was where people were actually going to encounter God, not inside Herod’s palace. The wilderness causes people to think about the important things in life: sin, forgiveness, heaven, and hell.
Funny thing about John, people traveled in droves to hear John’s message. People traveled from as far away from Jerusalem to receive John’s baptism. There was no fancy music bringing them to hear John. John wasn’t one of those preachers who was a great natural story teller. John wasn’t very good with jokes, nor did he have a popular brand of humor. John’s preaching didn’t sell “unlocking your inner potential”. John could have cared less about applause or compliments within the receiving line.
John was just going to deal with the meat and potato issues of life. John was going to speak the truth of God as it was revealed to him.
John wasn’t going to need any elaborate lighting. It was almost as if some unexplainable spirit was pulling people in John’s direction. John’s Baptism was the means to get people ready for Christ’s coming.
There might be truth to the saying that only when we go where John is, do we see that the Messiah is on his way. God’s intention is to come into the muck of life of his people.
John lived at the Jordan River famous throughout the Old Testament as being the boundary to enter into the Promised Land. When God’s people crossed the Jordan River after forty years in the desert, it served as a reminder to them that God’s promises were about to be fulfilled. The coming of John the Baptist spoke to this spiritual truth more than anything else.
John the Baptist’s tale isn’t necessarily an inspirational story; John didn’t pick himself up by the both straps then achieve all sorts of great success. The story doesn’t end well for John.
Herod eventually wins the rivalry by executing John the Baptist. John the Baptist’s big mouth did him in. He had enough of Herod’s shenanigans. John the Baptist was sickened by Herod’s behavior. Herod had it all his whole life, so now he wanted a much younger wife who had impressed him merely by putting her body on display at his raucous birthday party.
See in the end, Herod Antipas was nothing really but an insecure guy, willing to put a guy like John to death, all for the sake of impressing some woman.
In John the Baptist’s execution something funny made itself known. John went forward to death with confidence because he truly believed that God comes to us when we are at our lowest and our weakest. God had come into the world as a little, baby boy. “I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” -Mark 1:8
Whereas the big, strong, pretty boy Herod faced death differently, Herod as he goes by in years becomes consumed with a crippling unconfidence. After John the Baptist is put to death, Herod becomes convinced that John the Baptist had been raised from the dead in the form of Jesus from Nazareth. Herod got the story wrong at first, but eventually he would get it right.
Luke’s Gospel has Herod involved in the plot to take Jesus’ life. Jesus merely laughed Herod off. Jesus called Herod a “fox”.
An old washed- up ladies' man. Herod’s hair didn’t look quite like it once did. Herod by this time probably had a gut. His clothes were beginning to fade of color. No one was running to be by Herod’s side as he was at his boldest.
Jesus merely responded to Herod’s threats by proclaiming “"Go tell that fox, 'I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.”- Luke 13:32
When Jesus finally appears before Herod’s presence, Herod put up his own arrogance as a shield. Herod clamored for Jesus to do a “magic trick” to entertain him like so many others before. Herod had salvation standing before him, yet Herod’s mind could only be consumed with earthly things.
Jesus merely responded to Herod’s last desperate grasp for attention, with the same silence and grace that he displayed marching to his own cross hours later.
Herod’s story ends like many a high school jock where glory eventually fades. Everybody’s eventually not as good as they once was.
Herod eventually does fall. Past jealousies rear their ugly head over his past quarreling with his younger, even more ambitious nephew Agrippa. Someone younger and wiser came to knock the former king off the throne, where as history marched on, rest assured that there will never be another John the Baptist.
Why does Mark’s Gospel begin with the tale of John the Baptist? The author wanted to make an important point.
God is here in this day. One day, God will be victorious. God will reign in the halls of the never-ending high-school that is life.
God will reign in the lives of the uncool; God will reign in the lives of the poor, the lame, the crippled, and the blind. God will reign in the lives of the drunkard, the divorcee, and the screw-up. God will reign in the lives of the broke and the lonely. God is in places like Ferguson; God is seeking to reach people like Eric Garner’s family as they mourn his death.
God will reign even in situations where people cannot even begin to fathom his presence.
God doesn’t come to us in high society; God comes to us around the margins of society. God doesn’t come to us at awards banquets; God comes to us at 2 AM when we have nowhere else to turn. What John the Baptist’s story reminds us is that there is no place or no person to whom God will not go to or go through to reach others.
I leave you this morning with perhaps John the Baptist’s most famous words. These were the words that he spoke to many a people who traveled out to the wilderness to get baptized by him. “Repent and Believe the Good News!”- Mark 1:5.
The call to repentance speaks to something important. God is going to do new things in a new way. God’s intention is to come into the lives of his people. God himself is going to The Cross and coming back again. Believe that Jesus is coming soon! Amen
 Think the Gophers vs Wisconsin in College Football.
 Mark 1:6
 Mark 1:6
 Mark 1:1-8
 Matthew 2:16
 This point is well made by Karoline Lewis at her commentary on Mark 1:1-8 written at workingpreacher.com and published on December 4th, 2011.
 The tale of John the Baptist’s execution takes place in Matthew 14: 1-12 and Mark 6:14-29
 Matthew 14:1-2
 Luke 13:31
 The encounter between Jesus and Herod Antipas takes place in Luke 23:7-12.
 This wording is inspired by lyrics to the Toby Keith song “As Good As I Once Was”.
 This section is inspired by Rachel Held Evans who wrote a blog post entitled “Blessed are the un-cool” in 2010 over at rachelheldevans.com