“A voice coxing,
The “beginning of the good news” takes us from praying to working while we wait. We move from the silence of longing to shouts of preparation and the steady rhythm of a work song. At first glance, these opening verses of the Gospel of Mark are about an odd man named John the Baptist who came preaching. We often say that it was his job to prepare the way for the arrival of Jesus. (After all, Mark 1:2 says “he will prepare your way,” CEB.) But John was just a “wait trainer,” a coxswain, a teacher-leader-guide. And John was just the latest in a long line of preparers, whose main role was to help others with the real preparation. “Preparing the way” literally means building a road. Nothing is naturally straight (right, just, level, fair, etc.) in our world–so waiting cannot mean merely resting.
Waiting is back breaking work. Waiting means excavating and filling, leveling and straightening. Road work requires a road crew. It isn’t the work of a single individual. And the strange good news of Advent is that we have been conscripted to be part of that preparatory crew.Another way of imagining Advent is to imagine that we have been put in charge of preparing a state dinner at the White House.
John the Baptist is our Advent Sous-Chef de Cuisine for the week. But the Sous-Chef de Cuisine cannot prepare an adequate banquet alone, especially the sort to which God has invited all humankind! So don your apron and hat and join the song while we wait (or “get ready”) for the party. There is work enough for everyone to do, from aboyeur to chef de partieto the lowest of “kitchen assistants.” But John is a chef of a different stripe, something of an extreme locavore, living from the land and fully aware of life’s limits. He eats locusts and wild honey, “occupies” land far from the White House, and his chef’s uniform is not the usual Dodin Bouffant hat and tie, double-breasted white jacket and hounds-tooth trousers. He comes dressed in the spiritual work clothes of camel’s hair and crude belt to help us with the hardest work of all, that of preparing hearts and lives for to attend a state dinner banquet as guests of a holy God. Building roads is hard; straightening perverse hearts and lives is even harder. Our nature says go left when the coxwain shouts right; our desire leads up when the prophet says down; we prefer forward even after God has said to turn around (repent). We prefer triumph, riches, fame and the rest…when the Christ for whom we wait and work is surely bound for a cross.