Second Sunday in Advent
[1:1] The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,
"Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
 the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight."
 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.  Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.  And he preached, saying, "After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.  I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." Mark 1:1-8 (ESV)
So the question here is: how is the way prepared? The voice crying in the wilderness says: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” And then he comes baptizing in the wilderness, washing people in the shallow creek of a dirty river called the Jordan. “Proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” that by his own admission accomplishes naught. “I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” What I did was nothing but water, wait till you see the one who comes after me. Wait till you see what he does.
John the Baptist came proclaiming, preaching if your will a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Repentance always precedes forgiveness, if not actually than theologically. And John was a man to do it. He lived an austere ascetic life in the desert. That is he ate locusts and wild honey, wore a simple coat made of camels hair. No not one of those expensive sport coats made of combed camels hair, but a rough coat held together with a leather belt, the spitting image of Elijah who wore the same modest dress (2 Kings 1:8). We might say he dressed poorly, unlike Jesus who wore a garment so fine the soldiers who crucified Him would refuse to cut it. Unlike Jesus who would identify John the Baptist, his cousin, as the very Elijah who was to come before the Christ:
 And they asked him, "Why do the scribes say that first Elijah must come?"  And he said to them, "Elijah does come first to restore all things. And how is it written of the Son of Man that he should suffer many things and be treated with contempt?  But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him." Mark 9:11-13 (ESV)
That was his job to restore all things, to set the stage. And thus he did. He preached the law, so that the gospel might come. He preached it hard, and he lived it, and he died by it. The word of God is a sword, and those who live by it die by it: “For they did to him what ever they pleased.” It is that way when you really preach the law, and aren’t just turning the Bible into a political message.
People seldom want to hear it. Not directed at them, or their families. It’s o.k. to speak out against cohabitation, but never chastise one in your congregation for it. It’s o.k to speak out against homosexual behavior, but don’t chastise the young ones for premarital sex. Preaching the law, confronting people with the law, it gets you in trouble. People don’t want to hear it. It is seldom politically correct. How dare one tell a woman she ought to submit and show love for her husband. No, today we tell them to split and run. We chastise the husband for not being submissive to his wife, and let her henpeck him to death. According to the world that is what he signed up for when he got married. He was the one stupid enough to do it. And I know family life can be hard. Believe me divorce aint any easier. Or how dare we tell husbands that they ought to love their wives and sacrifice for them. Being a man isn’t about being a drunk womanizer, an adulterer, having all the latest and greatest toys, and reading playboy. It’s about self sacrifice, self-discipline, duty and being honorable, especially toward your spouse. Too often we fail at these things. We have plenty to repent for. But repentance hurts. It is easier to shut up the mouth that speaks the law. So John the Baptist found out.
He prepared the way. He preached repentance. He hammered the law, and crumbled hearts of stone. But not all hearts broke. The self righteous Pharisees refused to hear. They actually believed that they had managed the law. They actually thought they had lived by it and in it. Nothing one could say would budge them from their conviction that they were righteous. They would not hear the accusing voice of the law, they would not repent, at most they would pledge to do better. Perhaps if it was possible they would have re-circumcised themselves, but unlike baptism that can only be done once. They dismissed John the Baptist as a quack, they remained unprepared to hear the gospel, unprepared for Christ.
And then there were the secure sinners open and blatant with their sin, and what of it? Then there was the king, Herod, who married his brother’s wife, and had her daughter dance for the pleasure of his guests. So seduced by her nubile nudity dancing before him, he offered her whatever she wanted up to half his kingdom. She asked for the head of John the Baptist on a silver platter, and received it with Herod’s soul. In his death some hearts remained in stone, unprepared unrepentant, secure in sin. So it is when we refuse to hear, refuse to repent. So we are when we are secure in our sin. Not willing to hear the voice of the one calling in the wilderness, the voice of John the Baptist, the voice of the law, then we will never hear the voice of the shepherd, but will freely give our soul to the sin that seduces us, washed yet not clean. So it is when we are defensive of our sin, make excuses for it, and stay in it. “God created me this way.” Or all the more sophisticated sounding arguments that boil down to, “but all the cool kids are doing it.” Adults make that argument too!
It was all John the Baptist could do. Proclaim a baptism of repentance pleading for the forgiveness of sins. It was all he could do. Prophet he was, but all he had was the law and water. He baptized with water, he had not gospel, no forgiveness of sins. But in the darkest moments of despair he could point to the one who came after. “I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.
He prepared the way of the Lord, but the Lord came after. When the people repented then came the gospel, then came the good news. For come he did, and baptized too. And come he does even to this day, baptizing in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit as He instructed his disciples to do. His baptism is no mere washing with water, no mere act of repentance. No his baptism is the baptism in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. His baptism gives you the Holy Spirit seals and sustains salvation. It washes clean, because it doesn’t merely ask for the forgiveness of sins, but gives it out, and sanctifies. He, the Lord, He baptizes with the Holy Spirit. He baptizes you with the forgiveness of sins, the word of the Lord that forever blooms, the gospel that doesn’t fade, but remains forever, and to all eternity. For his promise of forgiveness never fades like the flowers, or wither with the grass, but gives eternal life, even as it has eternal life in the infinite love of God who loves us, loves you, despite all our sin, all your sin.
Now the peace that surpasses all understanding keep your heart and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord Amen.