On Thanksgiving morning I found myself tuning into the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade just like I always have. I wasn’t sure what to expect for 2020 but if the parade is on, I’ll be watching. The broadcast shifted to a Broadway performance and familiar notes started playing. Notes that I’d listened to a lot in March and April during the height of the Coronavirus Pandemic here in New York. It was a song that I’d shared with you all the Sunday before Holy Week. A song from Broadway’s Dear Evan Hansen entitled “You Will Be Found” They chorus goes:
Even when the dark comes crashing through
When you need a friend to carry you
And when you’re broken on the ground
You will be found.
As I listened to the words and reflected on the past several months it occurred to me just how much comfort those words and that song brought me throughout this year. After the song was over and the parade continued I realized that I wasn’t watching it on NBC like I normally did. I heard that song again, purely by coincidence when a reminder was so dearly needed.
This Advent we begin our journey through the Gospel according to Mark. Mark’s gospel doesn’t start with a genealogy like Matthew’s does in order to prove Jesus’ identity or with a detailed history of events leading up to Jesus birth so that the truth can be fully known like in Luke. Nor is it like the Gospel of John with its more ethereal account that starts at the beginning of all that exists so that you might believe. Mark’s Gospel is known for its immediacy. It opens with a quote from Isaiah, then immediately turns to John the Baptizer’s ministry in the wilderness and declares that this Gospel’s purpose is to declare the Good News of Jesus Christ.
On this second Sunday of Advent that Good News starts not at the manger, with an infant child surrounded by angels, shepherds, magi, and animals, but with a cry… “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.” But how are we to find comfort and peace in such an unforgiving environment?
The wilderness of Jesus’ day was harsh. It wasn’t a place where people went to get away from the bustle of city life, seeking rest and renewal. The wilderness was the place people went to who had exhausted all other options, people who were broken, exiled, marginalized, and oppressed, often by systems of power that put them there rather than through situations of their own making.
Yet in Mark’s Gospel we hear the Good News of Christ starting with a cry from the wilderness, reverberating through the ages from Isaiah where these wilderness wanderers were under Babylonian occupation all the way to the recipients of Mark’s Gospel who were under rule from the Roman Empire. Far removed from power voices called out in the wilderness and in Mark, that voice was John the Baptizer. Who “proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.”
Sin is a word that makes us very uncomfortable and honestly it should, but maybe not for the reasons that we might think. When I was studying at Wake Divinity Dean Gail O’Day shared in a class that sin wasn’t so much an infraction of God’s Laws alone, something that has been taken and weaponized against many people in God’s beloved community, but that sin is the purposeful fracturing of relationship with God and with one another. It means resisting or causing a disconnection. We know this year, probably better than any other, that disconnection doesn’t feel good. Our Gospel reminds us that before we are able to receive the comfort and peace that the Advent of Christ’s birth brings, we must first wait and come to grips with our own wilderness wanderings and acknowledge the burden of sin that we carry with us.
To quote one theologian, “maybe confessing our need for deliverance will lead us to the place of profound comfort.” But it’s not about just us as individuals, but about the beloved community. When the recipients of Mark’s Gospel found themselves driven into the wilderness, there was nothing left. The terrain wasn’t forgiving and God’s people became starkly aware of their own powerlessness. There was no choice but to watch and wait…and God showed up…not in the city limits or in the temples, but in the wilderness, where there was nothing left.
2020 has been a year of wilderness wandering hasn’t it? One we didn’t choose. Advent and Christmas look very different. We’ve watched and we’ve waited through a 6 ½ month quarantine and building closure. We anxiously await the distribution of a safe and effective vaccine to allow us the freedom to reconnect in the ways we long for. But just as we find in our readings from Isaiah and Mark, a voice cried out in the wilderness and God was present. The wait isn’t over, but we can take hope that comfort and peace await us in the wilderness where Mark reminds us “you will be found.”