In hockey they call it “redirection.” It is what happens when an offensive player positions himself right in front of the opposing team’s goalie. Another offensive player, who skates much farther away from the net, takes a slapshot directly at the goalie. As the puck zooms toward the goal, the redirecting player lifts his stick and tries to deflect it past the goaltender. He does not want to get in the way. He does not want to block the puck. He simply tries to give it a slight touch, just enough to change the course of the shot past the goalie and (hopefully) into the back of the net. When done well, it is almost impossible to stop.
“Redirection” came to mind when I considered the appointed Gospel reading. This Sunday’s Gospel is from the beginning of Mark, which is, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (verse 1). The reader knows right away that we are going to focus on Jesus. But after this opening non-sentence, Mark turns away from the primary subject of the book in order to provide some context. He points back to Isaiah, who points forward to the Baptizer.
John plays the role of middleman in God’s plan of salvation. He is the preparer, the precursor, the pointer. He is the last of the prophets in the old covenant. Yet, he lived to see the One to whom all of them were pointing. John shows up every year during Advent. As a friend of mine likes to say, you have to get through John to get to Jesus.
John’s part in the story is important, but not because of anything particularly special about him. This becomes clear as the text unfolds. After identifying John as the voice of one crying, Mark tells us about John’s ministry in the wilderness. Unlike Luke, who gives us John’s backstory, Mark simply says he “appeared” (more literally, he “was”) in the wilderness baptizing and preaching. But John’s baptizing and preaching was not the end. It was a means. It was the means by which people were being prepared to encounter Jesus, which suggests that too much attention to John’s person (or appearance, or diet) might not be the best way to go for this sermon.
Instead, you might think of (and describe) John as a “redirector.” He redirects our attention toward Jesus. This begs the question: What does he redirect away from? You could take this in a number of different directions in a sermon.
One option would be to follow John’s redirection away from himself. Notice this was the very first thing John preached. “After me comes He who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.” John was gathering a lot of attention. “All the country of Judea” and “all Jerusalem” were going out to see him. But he would not let them focus on him. He redirected their attention away from himself to Jesus. It is possible your hearers need to be redirected away from themselves, too. We all tend to focus on ourselves too much. Perhaps this is even more prominent during the month of December as we have much to accomplish.
But he would not let them focus on him. He redirected their attention away from himself to Jesus.
Another option would be to follow John’s redirection away from sin. The people came to see him “confessing their sin.” It is possible your hearers need to be redirected away from their sin, too. Perhaps it is guilt from their sin (real or perceived) that is consuming their attention. Some feel guilty for being unable to provide the storybook Christmas for their children. Others feel guilty for contributing to the family dysfunction which comes to the surface every year around this time. Still others feel a general sense of guilt for failures old or new. If this seems to be a problem for your congregation, the promise of forgiveness is a direction away from guilt toward a clean conscience.
A third option would be to draw on your surrounding culture and redirect away from anything that may cloud this season of expectation. Perhaps your people are (overly) focused on national politics, or local neighborhood issues, or a congregational controversy.
Once you decide what to redirect your hearers away from, it should be easy to identify what to direct them towards. Jesus is always the right answer here. Proclaiming His promises of forgiveness, life, and salvation is always your primary job. With this text, you might proclaim the promises of Jesus with a Holy Spirit accent. He baptizes us with the Holy Spirit, which reminds us how Jesus and the Spirit work hand in hand. The work of one of my colleagues at Concordia Seminary might be helpful here. Leo Sanchez has explored the nature and the implications of Jesus’ cooperative work with the Spirit in substantive and accessible ways. Here is a short introduction to his area of study. Here is a video that explores it more fully.
With Jesus’ baptizing with the Spirit in mind, you could emphasize the Spirit’s work of creating faith in Jesus. Or, you could highlight the Spirit uniting your people to other believers and members of the Body of Christ. Or, you could explore how the Spirit sculpts the Christian life using one of the prominent biblical metaphors for the work of the Spirit (for this, you might check out Sanchez’s recent book, “Sculptor Spirit”).
Mark reminds us in this text that John was a redirection specialist. Come to think of it, so are you.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Mark 1:1-8.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Mark 1:1-8.
Lectionary Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Peter Scaer of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through Mark 1:1-8.