I’m sure you’ve all heard the question, ‘if a tree falls in the woods but there is no one there to hear it, does it make sound?” It’s an interesting question since noise requires sound waves to be deciphered. There are sound signals all around us that we are not picking up with our ears, but that radio antennas can pick up and decipher.
As I read today’s Mark text, I couldn’t help but notice the description of John the Baptist in verses 2-3. “As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”
The messenger of Jesus is sent to prepare the way, as a voice of one crying out in the wilderness. A voice of one crying out in the wilderness. My thoughts immediately went to the desert, remembering Saudi Arabia during my time in Desert Storm as well as some areas in Arizona. Most people live in communities around water sources and few take the risk to walk deep into the barren landscape.
The phrase “a voice of one crying out in the wilderness” ran through my mind as I closed my eyes and visualized John the Baptist dressed in camel skin, crying out, and walking through the barren desert. His cries are lost in the wind. There is nothing to bounce the sound waves for an echo. He may even struggle to hear his own voice. And yet he is the messenger sent to prepare the way for Jesus.
I couldn’t help but ask myself, what is the wilderness that we find ourselves in today? What is preventing us from hearing the cry of the messenger? There is a difference between hearing and listening. Are the messages of Christ going in one ear and out the other or are we receiving the message and being transformed by them?
Are our ears tuned in to the message of Jesus like a radio being tuned to a particular station or is his message being filtered out while we tune into other frequencies? The living Word, the Holy Spirit moves us as we tune into God through worship, Bible reading, prayer, and engaging others. It helps us to recognize that we are nothing without Him…that all of our good works in life are worthless as a way to heaven, but rather are ways to witness to Jesus alone.
Tuning into God convicts us of our selfishness and forces us to confess and repent. As mentioned in the Children’s sermon, there is a difference between confession and repentance. To confess is to acknowledge our sin. The Greek definition of repent is ‘to turn around’. In repentance, we are not only acknowledging that we have sinned, but we also intentionally try to change those ways. If we confess without attempting to turn around, then there is little meaning to our confession.
John came proclaiming baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. If we are living as faithful servants of Christ, where he said love is the fulfillment of the commandments, then repentance is connected to love. We would not intentionally sin against another person while attempting to live Christ-like love.
It is so hard to remove ourselves from the center of our universes. Impossible really. We don’t particularly like the message of Christ. We’d prefer to tune it out. It disables us from control, power, and judgment while forcing us into humility. It promises freedom of forgiveness for all who believe, and that doesn’t seem fair. We should be able to earn it and judge others who we believe are less worthy than ourselves.
But the message of Christ says that we are all condemned, no matter how good of a life we live. No matter how long we’ve been a member of a church, no matter how much we’ve given to the church, no matter how much we have helped others…we are condemned sinners. But we try to tune that out while we spend our life trying to prove how acceptable we are.
And then John says, repent and be forgiven. It is not our efforts that lead to forgiveness. It is our confession and desire to turn around, trusting in Christ’s promise to forgive. All who have sinned are forgiven simply by repenting and believing that they are forgiven.
Today we listen for that voice crying in the wilderness. That voice of Christ that is so hard to hear in the midst of other noises. But the voice that once heard, causes us to turn around and take notice. Amen.