2 Advent Proper B2                                 
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Mark 1:1-8 Sermon                                                         
December 4, 2011

Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
62 "O Come, O Come Emmanuel"
63 "On Jordan's Banks The Baptist's Cry"
70 "Hosanna To The Living Lord"
83 "Hark!  What Mean These Holy Voices"


 TEXT (vs. 4-5): " 4 John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins."

            There seems to be a lot of advertising for prescription medications these days.  Magazines seem to have an abundance of them; but many pharmaceutical companies are turning to the television screen to promote the benefits of their product.

            If you've listened to any of these commercials, the announcer goes through a list of warnings and possible side effects of the medication.  Usually the announcer does so in rapid-fire fashion, and in sort of a subdued voice, probably so it won't attract attention, or to make it seem like what he's saying isn't very important.

            There are several medications being advertised that really make me wonder.  There's one popular anti-depressant medication in particular that I've heard on television from time-to-time, that has one of the most detailed lists I've encountered.  Now I'm not going to mention the medication by name (after all, I don't want to get sued), but I'll go through their laundry list of warnings and possible side effects.  Listen and see what you think about this:

            Here are the more common ones: Nausea, Dry mouth, Headaches, Drowsiness, Fatigue, Dizziness, Insomnia, Constipation, Diarrhea, Loss of appetite, Sweating, and Abdominal pain. 

            Then there's the somewhat less common, but still measurable incidents of:  Vomiting, Sore throat or runny nose, A decreased sex drive, Upper respiratory tract infection, Coughing, Shakiness or tremors, Muscle pain, Sexual side effects (and I won't detail all of those), Blurred vision, Anxiety or agitation, Weight loss, Hot flashes, Yawning, Indigestion or heartburn, Muscle spasms, The flu, Abnormal dreams, Suicidal thoughts or behavior, Anxiety, agitation, or panic attacks, Hostility or aggressiveness, Engaging in unusual or dangerous activities, Restlessness or inability to sit still, Extreme elation or feelings of happiness that may switch back and forth with a depressed or sad mood, Other unusual changes in behavior, Signs of serotonin syndrome (a rare but dangerous problem associated with certain medications) such as:  Confusion or other mental changes, A rapid heart rate, Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, Hallucinations, Blood pressure changes, An irregular heart rhythm, Overactive reflexes, Fever, sweating, or shivering, Shakiness, Agitation, Seizures, Coma, Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), Chest palpitations, Difficulty passing urine, Signs of an allergic reaction, including an unexplained rash, hives, itching, unexplained swelling, wheezing, or difficulty breathing or swallowing.

            As I look at this, I'm beginning to think that this particular medication has at least the probability to cause almost every ailment known to modern medicine.  This is quite a warning!  In my opinion, the mental disorder might not be as debilitating as the cure for it!  I know that I'm not going to be phoning my doctor, asking him for a script for it, that is if I had any need for it in the first place.

            But we also know that there will be doctors who will write scripts for this drug, and patients who will take it upon their doctor's advice without so much as reading the warnings or giving any thought to the side effects.  Now I know only too well the importance of proper psychotropic medications for people with mental illnesses.  And I also know that the benefits usually outweigh any risk involved.  But the warnings are still there, and they need to be read.  People need to understand those warnings and how they affect them.

            In today's Gospel lesson, we meet up with one of the more key people in the life of Jesus.  This is Jesus' second cousin, the son of his mother Mary's cousin Elizabeth and her husband Zechariah.  This is John the Baptist, the one that the prophet Isaiah speaks about in our Old Testament Lesson for today.  He is part of the prophecy about the coming Messiah, the Christ, God's one and only anointed Son, the one who is the Saviour of the world.

            The evangelist Mark begins his account with a very important statement.  In Chapter 1, verse 1 he says:  "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God."  From this point on, Mark will record what Jesus did to bring that Gospel to us today. 

            The word, "Gospel" we know means "good news."  The life of Jesus wouldn't always be good news for him.  In fact, Jesus would have a most difficult life ahead of him.  From his birth in a stable to his death on the cross, the path Jesus would take would not be the easy one.

            It might not have been easy, but it was necessary.  Because of this, we have this good news of the Gospel made very real for us.  Jesus wanted to be sure that this Gospel would redeem everybody from their sins, so he gladly and willingly did what he had to do, simply because of his love for humanity.  God's unquestionable and undying love is indeed great news for an entire world lost in the darkness of sin.

            In the second chapter of Luke's Gospel, he records the message of the angels to the shepherds at Bethlehem:  "Behold!  I bring you good news of great joy, which shall be for all the people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour which is Christ the Lord."  The good news of God's great salvation had been brought to earth in human form.

            Today we are considering John the Baptist's role in all of this.  And when we think about it, John seems to be a very unlikely candidate to prepare the way of the Lord; that is, according to human logic. 

            John was anything but a polished high-society type of an individual.  He was very crudely dressed.  He ate wild honey and locusts, which I tend to believe, were the pods from the locust tree, and not the cicadas, those insects that we hear singing in the trees during the summer.  He was also a man of the wilderness, somebody we would describe as homeless.

            So now, let's see what John was up to.  Our Gospel lesson for today tells us in verses 4-5:  "John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins."

            This is the part that I find so incredible.  God didn't put John in the middle of Jerusalem where he could be amongst the Jewish population of the city.  He didn't put him in Athens or Mars Hill where he could be amongst the philosophers.  God puts John out in the wilderness, basically out in the middle of nowhere!

            John didn't go to the people; rather, the people came out to him.  They sought him out!  The Bible doesn't tell us how many came to him; but judging by the way this is described, it had to be an impressively large number.  He even had his own group of disciples.  The people heard his message, they were baptized, and then they returned home again.

            John's message wouldn't have been an easy one to listen to either.  He was preaching a message of repentance.  He was condemning a life of sin.  He wanted people to be anxiously awaiting the promised Saviour for the forgiveness they needed.  He was doing just as Isaiah had prophesied; he was preparing the way for the Lord Jesus.

            John's message of repentance was telling them in effect, "Hey people!  You're headed the wrong way!  You're going down the wrong path!  You're not following the right person!  You need to get turned around!  You don't have things right!" 

            When you're driving down the road in your car, have you ever had the occasion to make a U-turn?  When I've had to make a U-turn in the car, it means that I'm headed in the wrong direction.  It means that I have to turn myself around 180 degrees, and go the opposite way.  Maybe you've even seen the bumper sticker that says, "If you're headed the wrong way, God allows U-Turns."  When John preached repentance, he was in effect telling the people this very thing.

            When the people returned home after having their experience with John, they returned completely changed people.  They were sinners who had the burden of the law completely lifted from them.  They knew and experienced God's power to forgive.

            If we look at Isaiah's prophecy concerning John in chapter 40, verses 1 and 2 are the introduction to John.  We read:  "Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins."  And then the words in verse 11:  "He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young."

            John's message of repentance was also a message of hope.  The Gospel of the Lord was there to restore where the Law had convicted the people of their sin.  John's duty was to focus the people's attention upon the coming Christ, and what his coming would mean for them.  They knew that faith alone in this coming Saviour would be their only hope for forgiveness and salvation.

            The power behind John's preaching was the power of the Holy Spirit.  Nothing else would have brought the people out in the wilderness to hear him and be baptized.  Nothing else would have brought about repentance in their lives.  Nothing else but the Holy Spirit would give them a saving faith in the coming Messiah.

            I've been attempting to put this into a context I can personally comprehend.  If, for example, someone were to tell me that there was this disheveled homeless guy out at Pawnee Lake who was preaching some type of fire and brimstone, and then baptizing people in the lake, I probably wouldn't go out there.  In fact, I would think he's just another religious nut job, who will wind up at the Regional Center, probably prescribed some type of psychotropic medication with some strange side effects.  I don't think I would even stop by if I happened to be passing.  Just another crackpot in a long line of religious crackpots that we've seen come and go over the years.

            John's rather bizarre set of circumstances shows just how powerful the Holy Spirit is.  Dr. Luther describes the Holy Spirit's work as calling, gathering, enlightening, and sanctifying.  Nothing is more powerful than the Holy Spirit.  And there is no message any more powerful than the message of the Gospel.

            John was, as Donald Trump would say, "the real deal."  John wasn't being influenced by anybody.  Nobody was paying him to say what he was saying.  Nobody was "putting the screws" to him to promote some sort of hidden agenda.  John was the spokesman for God, just as Isaiah had prophesied.

              Read the warnings.  The message John was preaching in the wilderness is the same message that has been preached in Christ's Church right up to this very day.  God the Holy Spirit is working today like he was so long ago.  It's God's power at work here, and not mine or anybody else's. 

            I began my sermon by reading you a long list of possible side effects from a particular psychotropic prescription drug.  The drug companies have to do this because it's the law.  They have to warn you of the particular risks involved, even if the risk is relatively minute.  You are being warned for a reason.

            There's another prescription medication that sticks in my mind that doesn't have such a long list; in fact the warnings are quite simple.  This particular drug is to relieve prostate swelling in men.  However the warning is for women--and I have no idea why a woman would even be considered a candidate for prostate medication.  Anyway, women are not to take this drug during pregnancy.  In fact, a woman is not supposed to even touch a capsule with her fingers, because the drug can be absorbed through the skin.  This drug is so powerful that it can cause severe birth defects in unborn children, even death.  Now that is one very powerful drug with a very serious warning attached.

            In today's Gospel lesson, John is proclaiming a very powerful message with a serious warning attached to it as well.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we heed this warning, and turn to Jesus our Saviour.  If we reject the warning and continue heading down the wrong path according to our own design and desires, then the only thing at the end of that path is eternal death and destruction.  The concept is relatively simple, but the results are permanent and eternal.

            What God offers us through faith alone is comfort and forgiveness.  God gives us warnings because he loves us and cares for us.  He wants to tend us like a gentle shepherd, always looking out for our welfare and eternal well-being.

            Advent is a time of preparation.  We prepare ourselves spiritually to greet our newborn Saviour and King.  We prepare ourselves by turning away from Satan and turning to Jesus our Saviour.  The Holy Spirit calls us to faith in Jesus; and so we look to that manger to see God's love in human flesh.  He has come to rid us from the curse of the law through the call of the Gospel.  Just as God caused Mark to record it, so we believe it.  We heed the warnings and find eternal life through Jesus our Saviour.