Mark 1:1-8

Psalm 85

This is trite to say, but change is not easy. Not only are we naturally afraid of what is unfamiliar, but the prospect of change carries with it a sense of loss when we think about what used to be. Even getting rid of something we don’t like is hard – whether we like it or not, what we lose is a part of ourselves. Our first step is always to admit that we’re not perfect and to claim the fact that we miss God’s goals for us. It’s much harder actually to let go of the self who misses that mark, because that self is us! We hear John the Baptist call for change – but if we change, who are we?

Saying that we’re not yet fully God’s people is the first step, but it’s really pretty easy (at least in retrospect). Sure, we deny even this basic truth. We make excuses for ourselves or justify some particular sinful behavior. Still, we know somewhere that we’re not alright. Our conscience is not the same thing as God, but it’s right when it tells us where we aren’t yet right with God. It’s nothing really surprising when John the Baptist tells us to turn from sin, because we know that our world – the world of our hearts – is not ready for Christ’s birth.

We might wonder why we don’t change faster than we do. We know what’s right, so it seems like we should just do it already. We know the future is bright, but we find ourselves standing in the way of what we want most. Even our inspired Psalmist, after she begins with rejoicing at what God has done, turns to a lament that God hasn’t done what she just said God did! We long to celebrate God’s grace, but we just can’t let go of God’s anger at us.

We worry about what we would be if we weren’t bound by sin, by our distance from God. What would we be without our anxiety, our addiction, our jealousy, or our fear? We would miss our sense of failure, our guilt, our pettiness, our insecurity. In so many ways, these negative feelings define us. These are what we know. Anything else seems vague and downright iffy.

We know this. This world that is made of sin becomes a desert – empty, but real. Reality is safer than the unknown, because at least it exists. It’s recognizable. The shortage is what we know. Dissatisfaction is familiar to us. The desert, at least, is ours.

And the voice of God calls into the desert: “Make way for Christ’s coming!” In the middle of a perfectly real reality, possibility breaks out: something new could come into being. There is room for God to be with us. There is room for freedom from sin, where we aren’t defined by what keeps us from God. Room for hope beyond the current good or bad news. There is news of God’s reality that is far beyond the reality we can know now.

There is room here at the table for a people still working our way out of an old reality. There is peace here in God’s presence, because God comes to be with us always. God has made much out of nothing, so come to this feast in joy.

Amen.

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