Advent 2023: Make some noise

December 10 | 2nd sunday of advent |Year B

Echoes of a Dream

Mark 1:1-8 | Isaiah 40:1-11 | Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13 | 2 Peter 3:8-15a


Mark 1:1-8

AIM commentary

Scott Bullock

Ancient lens

What’s the historical context?

Good News for Whom?

When we read the gospels, we have three distinct audiences with which we are dealing. The first audience are those in the scene set by the Gospel writer. The 1st century natives of Palestine. The crowds, the disciples, the priests, the Romans, and even a donkey or two are on the stage. An on-stage audience? The cast that are in the production are an audience because they experience first-hand, whether they realize it or not, God’s unfolding story played out before them. The second audience are those who receive the written play, in this case, the Gospel of Mark which was intended for the Gentile Christians of Rome. They are removed from the stage culturally and linguistically. Nevertheless, they are transported to the successive scenes by the strength of a reed pen on papyrus through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The third audience are those of us who read the text, preach the text, or hear it preached, the moderns of any period removed from that of its original recipients. 

The preacher has to interact with all three audiences, especially the stage players and, of course, her own, to bring the Jordan to Jacksonville, the Palestinian desert to Palm Springs and a little slice of ancient history into the present day. And sometimes it is easier to understand what a text means to one audience over that of another. Take our passage for this Sunday as an example. It is good news for all, but when John the Baptist landed on the muddy banks of the Jordan, it was “really” good news for the masses of Israel. 

David E. Garland in Zondervan’s Mark: The NIV Application Commentary quotes a later rabbinical source as saying, “If Israel repents for one day, forthwith the Son of David will come” (p. 46). Mark’s stage of players certainly anticipated that later articulation. John the Baptist represented repentance. John the Baptist represented the Son of David. John the Baptist, along with his peculiar message and means, represented hope that something good was afoot. A couple of centuries of foreign rule made for a hullabaloo of hype and a hankering for emancipation that, at least in this moment of history, all centered on John and his prophetic machinations. 

Just as It is Written

To understand the crowds that rushed out to the Jordan River to be baptized by John, we have to understand the role that he played. The prophet Isaiah was a prominent voice in the religious and cultural longings of the people of Israel. The voice of the one whom he had declared would prepare the way of the Lord (Isaiah 40:3) would be the one to usher in the presence of God and the Messianic age. Could it actually be that this voice crying out in the wilderness, calling the people to repentance, was in fact this voice of whom Isaiah spoke? It seems that the people certainly thought so. 

Do The Chosen Need Baptism?

The practice of baptism within 1st century Judaism was performed in the mikvah, which were baths for ritual cleansing. For the Jews baptism was not linked to repentance and the forgiveness of sin; temple sacrifice was. The mass Jordan River mikvah that followed the repentance of the people gives a clue to the unique place this moment in history and the man that called them forth held in their imagination. 

Why Camel Hair and Locusts Make for a Perfect Opening Act

I grew up in the Land of Lincoln. A stovepipe hat and beard conjured up images of learning about good old Abe during elementary school. There weren’t any photos in John’s day or any memorials of Elijah in Jerusalem, but the descriptive stories of Elijah the prophet would have come to life when the people saw John the Baptist, a man wearing a hairy garment and a leather belt around his waist. The desert prophet from the days of their nation’s divided kingdom had materialized to usher in the dreadful and wonderful day of the Lord, “See, I will send the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse” (Malachi 4:5-6). John was the perfect opening act to Jesus’ arrival. 

Jesus lens

How do we point to Jesus?

One Greater Than Me

When you think about it, the arrival of Jesus wasn’t that spectacular in comparison to John. Everyone recognized Elijah–I mean John–but few recognized Jesus. There is even a smidge of skepticism on John’s part as to whether or not Jesus is really the “ONE.” Thousands of people stream into the waters of the Jordan River and Jesus ends up being one of the many. He is just another one of the crowd in Times Square, indistinguishable from the rest. Yet, John declares before the people that the one coming behind him is his superlative. So much so, that John declares he isn’t even worthy to be a servant that unties his shoes. The crowd must have looked up and down for this great one, “Where is he?” but they wouldn’t recognize him quite yet. For the moment, they were content to be baptized with water. Baptism in the Spirit would have to wait. 

Modern lens

How does this impact us today?

The Hero Focuses the Narrative, So Don’t Settle for the Appetizers

All subplots come together when the hero arrives on the scene. All the pre-show events anticipate the main event. Jesus is the hero and star of the story. We may like the opening acts, the subplots, and the pregame hype, but it isn’t the main dish. 

There are more occasions than I care to recall when I’ve missed the main event because of a focus on the side show. I happen to do that with food. I can gorge on the hors d’oeuvres, or pack away the chips and salsa and have no room for the filet mignon or fajitas which were prepared for me to savor and to satiate my hunger. We can do the same with Jesus. 

When We Like the Opening Act More Than the Main Event

Taylor Swift had a major tour this year. The fanfare for her concerts at SoFi stadium in Los Angeles was off the charts. Six sold out shows in August. We had a neighbor who had purchased five VIP tickets. She sent her kids along with a friend and sold the remaining two tickets for substantially more than she had purchased the collective five. A Swift concert is the cotton candy pop version of a John the Baptist river revival without the necessity of repentance or the revival. Swift had two opening acts, rock star Gayle and sister band Haim, who were apparently quite solid, but they merely primed the pump for the real deal. 

Just like professional pregame shows, opening acts are the time to get your hotdogs and soda and settle in for the ride that is coming. A lot of people thought John the Baptist was the main act, the “Taylor Swift,” when all along he was merely Gayle and Haim, good, but not Jesus. John knew that and he wants us to know that. The main act would arrive. He was only promoting, pointing to the star.

Wait for Him

John teaches us an important lesson. Wait for him. A baptism of repentance by an Elijah-like figure may fool us into thinking the ONE has arrived, but Jesus is coming and he is going to be more than what we could have ever hoped for or imagined. Maybe we’ve gotten comfortable with church as we know it, a religion of crutch and comfort. Jesus wants more for us. Will we wait for him? Will we let him be the main act and fill the hunger of our souls? 

Sermon resources

Key Quote

The whole Bible is God’s Word to us, but Jesus is the sniff test through which we understand it all.

—Shane Claiborne in Rethinking Life: Embracing the Sacredness of Every Person (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Books, 2023)

Key Illustration

Where Are You?

For all the wandering, this is the first question of the Old Testament—God coming to ask after you, “Where are you?” Where are you in your life? Where are you—from Me? To get where you want to go, the first question you always have to answer is Where am I? “Our fall was, has always been, and always will be, that we aren’t satisfied in God and what He gives. We hunger for something more, something other.”

The only thing that will satisfy our hunger for more is to hunger for the One who comes down to Bethlehem, house of Bread, the One who comes after us and offers Himself as Bread for our starved souls.

And for all the wondering, this is the first question of the New Testament, when the wise men come asking, “Where is he?” (Matthew 2:2). We only find out where we are when we find out where He is. We only find ourselves . . . when we find Him. We lost ourselves at one tree. And only find ourselves at another. Wise men are only wise because they make their priority the seeking of Christ.

Ann Voskamp, The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas (p. 22). Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Discussion Questions

  • There was pent up frustration within the nation of Israel accompanied by hopeful longing for something better when John the Baptist burst onto the scene. For us, what modern event might compare with John the Baptist’s arrival in 1st century Judea?
  • How does John’s presence play into the prophetic imagination of the people of Judea? The people were clearly looking for a sign of something good afoot; what spiritual imagination ignites us when it comes to looking out for Jesus?
    John downplays himself and his role while elevating that of Jesus. Does that same humility play out in our own lives as we point others to Jesus? How so? In what ways do we point more to ourselves and our “way” of being a Christian than we do to Jesus?
  • Have you ever been to a concert and liked the opening act more than the main artist? Is it possible to get that way in our life of faith where we like the subplots and first acts, the moral stories, principles, or the rituals and rites more than we do Jesus and his Gospel?
  • What is repentance and how is it a precursor to the coming of Christ? As you prepare for Jesus’ arrival are there ways in which you need to turn your life around (take some time to reflect on this in silence)?

Liturgical resources

Prayer of Invocation

Almighty and Everlasting God, Who ordered all things in heaven and on earth, and Who did make all ages a preparation for the coming of your Son; prepare us by your Holy Spirit for the coming of Him Whom You did send, that we may behold His glory and receive the fullness of your blessing; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

From Church of Scotland Committee on Public Worship and Aids to Devotion, Prayers for the Christian Year, Oxford University Press, London. Language Modernized by Stuart Strachan Jr.

Prayer of Confession

Lord, you came to us when we least expected. We thought that all hope for humanity was lost, or that it was up to humanity to save ourselves or we would not be saved, or that some god or other would swoop down from the heavens and deliver us. Then you came to us in the dark of night, born to Mary and Joseph; you came to us as a baby. Lord, forgive us when we don’t see you because we look in the wrong places, or because you give us hope for your advent, or because we expect you to come in power, majesty, and glory rather than in humility, poverty, and meekness. Lord, help us to experience your birth among us. God with us. God with us not on our terms, but on your terms, as a baby, Jesus, a human one who took upon himself our humanity that we might be brought back to God. Amen.

Will Willimons Lectionary Sermon Resource: Year A Part 1, Abingdon Press, 2019.

Assurance of Pardon

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

Isaiah 53:1-5


Psalm 85 says, “Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.” As we go forth today, may we go in love, in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in peace. Amen.

Psalm 85, adapted by Cody Sandahl

Advent 2023

Detail of The St John Altarpiece by Rogier van der Weyden, c. 1455, oil-on-oak wood altarpiece.
John the Baptist, in red, baptises Jesus in the Jordan River, attended by an angel.
Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

More Quotes: Advent 2

More Illustrations: Advent 2

Scott Bullock

Scott Bullock is a Board Member and Contributor with The Pastors Workshop. He is an ordained Presbyterian minister who has served churches in Illinois, New Jersey, and California. He holds an MA in New Testament Studies from Wheaton College, an MDiv from Fuller Theological Seminary, and a ThM in New Testament from Princeton Theological Seminary. Scott is married with three teen-aged children.