I want you to take a moment right now and do a memory exercise with me. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and clear your mind.
Take another deep breath, and let it out slowly, and I want you to bring to mind a moment when you knew – were absolutely sure– that you were loved.
Let it sit there for a moment.
Maybe it’s a memory involving a parent.
Maybe it’s a memory of the first flowering of love with that special person, when the emotion of love and acceptance washed over you, or the heart skipped a beat, and you were overwhelmed, bringing the flood of tears, the catch of breath, or the lump in the throat.
Live in that moment… for a moment… and hold on to it.
Now I want you to take another deep breath, slowly let it out, and I want you to bring to mind a very different moment. This was a moment when you were loved but it didn’t feel like love at first.
Maybe it was a truth about yourself, spoken by someone whom you love and respect, — a word that stung in the moment but that needed to be said, and you knew that it was said in love, though it made your cheeks burn and your eyes sting.
Maybe it was the moment of a quarrel with the beloved, when harsh words were exchanged that made eventually for a breakthrough in your love and understanding of each other, but in the moment of heated exchange truly hurt.
Perhaps your moment of being loved when it didn’t feel like it was love was when the parent lifted you as a misbehaving child and escorted you out of a room to correct your behavior or attitude.
Maybe it was a person berating you for your performance because that person knew that you were capable of so much more, and wanted you to see yourself in that way.
Maybe it was the tender hands of a nurse or loved one changing a bandage after an injury, or work you through therapy after a surgery. You did not want them to touch the wound, work the joint for the pain it would bring.
They did not want to unbind it, pull the tape, press or stretch or open the wound for the pain they knew they would inflict.
But you both recognized that the actions taken were born of what needed to be done to heal, and was done as caringly as it could be for the sake of healing and future.
Live in that moment, for a moment… hold on to it.
Now hear the beginning of Mark’s Gospel again, and hear it like that second moment. “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying in the wilderness:”
I think the Gospel of Mark is all about the love of God that does not always feel like love at first.
There is a lot of truth telling in Mark’s Gospel. John appears proclaiming a baptism for repentance, which of course implies that you’re going to be doing some soul searching. You don’t do repentance without first considering all the things you’ve done wrong, all the screw-ups you’ve made, all the things that are amiss in this world of which you have been a part.
Those things will get drowned out in the waters of repentance, but they don’t die easy.
It takes a truth-teller, a lonely voice crying in the wilderness to bring you to the waters. You don’t just make your own way to the river, you come at the cry of the one who is like Elijah, who does not come to stroke your ego and tell you what a wonderful person you are, but is much more like that parent who scoops your misbehaving butt up in his arms to whisk you away for consideration of what you’ve done.
And the way that John prepares?
Well John is preparing the way for Jesus, not for you.
No one is clearing any pathways to make your life easier.
John is clearing the path for God to get to you!
“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his path straight. John’s work is clearing the way for God to get to you. There will be no pew to duck under, no hill to hide behind, no obstructions to slow God down as he comes to grab you.
That can be perceived as comforting. At last to be safe in the arms of God!
Or, if can be disconcerting if you’ve spent your life trying to stay just one step ahead and a little out of reach of God’s grasp.
Take your pick, it’s love that is coming for you, but what kind of love?
Is it the love that makes for the lump in the throat and the heart welling in the chest, or is it the kind of love that stings in the eye and reddens the cheek, for both are possible here!
Both are,(in fact) needed.
You cannot have love without the telling of truth.
You cannot experience love without unbridled acceptance of where you are right now.
Mark’s gospel ends up full of stories about how when love comes near and does what love does, the reactions are varied.
Love as it comes near brings joy, but it also drives out demons.
Love in Mark’s gospel will lead some to be saddened, some to be disappointed, others to be ecstatic and still others left to wonder what it was that just happened to them.
That’s the way love works.
On our best days, we see love clearly.
But most days, well it’s only the beginning of love that we behold. The start of something that continues to unfold, and love (like a highway for our God) both leads us somewhere, and brings something to us that we had not anticipated or expected.
This week in Advent we look for love.
We hear the beginning of the Good news that comes from preparing for the Son of God.
We live in moments.
Moments of repentance.
Moments of realizing that this is all about God, and not so much about us.
Moments where we find ourselves simply passive bystanders to the activity of God in our midst.
And other moments, where we are all too keenly aware that God has come near. One more powerful that John with his promises has spoken to us, and to our hearts.
One who wields the Holy Spirit, and who drenches us with it has come near.
Sometimes that love, and the drenching of the Holy Spirit upon us comes as a warm affirming presence.
And at other times, it is like a shock of cold water to us. A chastening urge that expects more of us, wakes us up, and demands of us because of who we are and whose we are.
So, how are you feeling the love this Advent?
God is coming for you, and the way has been cleared. Are you ready for a new beginning, for that is what love always brings?