Isaiah 40.1-11, Psalm 85.1-2, 8-18; 2 Peter 3.8-15a; Mark 1.1-8
Writing on Mark: This passage from the Gospel of Mark quotes from the prophets of the Old Testament, both Isaiah (40.3) and Malachi (3.1), affirming the proclamation of a messenger who will announce the coming Messiah to God’s people. In Mark, the earliest Gospel, this is the opening declaration of the messianic expectation that guides and informs the Christian understanding of our relationship with God and provides the credentials for John the Baptizer who is this messenger. John affirms his role is as one who prepares the way. Essential to this preparation is repentance for sins. For John, repentance (metanoia) is “turning your heart” from brokenness (sin—amartano, “missing the mark”) back toward God and God’s intent of human righteousness. In order to begin this process, John affirms the need for human confession; I must acknowledge “missing the mark” in order to repent and turn/return to God’s path for me. For John, this is symbolized in the act of baptism with water, long a symbol of transformation and cleansing. However, John suggests this is just a beginning. God’s Messiah will bring an even more powerful act of metanoia to bear on our human brokenness. This, John says, will manifest itself in a baptism by the Holy Spirit of God. Thus, we have a foreshadowing of the coming Messiah contained in these opening verses. What is left to discover in Mark from this opening is what this Messiah’s role will be and how our lives will be changed.