We have been exploring how the themes of Advent are opportunities for improving and enhancing your leadership. This fourth week let’s look at the theme of the birth of Jesus as another way of helping you become the leader needed at this time in history. 

How does rethinking the birth of Jesus help you be a Christ-centered leader? 

In a way, it is strange to “rethink the birth of Jesus” but slogans like “Let’s put Christ back into Christmas” and “Jesus is the reason for the season” invite us and challenge us to look closely at the meaning and purpose of the birth of Jesus.    

The Birth of Jesus

When we read the biblical stories, we find that the birth of Jesus, in a stable to humble parents, is God’s dramatic way of coming into the world in a way that we can understand. It is the story of God taking on the life of a human being and coming into this world to live with us. It is a story of incarnation. 

When you read Matthew’s story you find that the name Jesus means savior and that the name Emmanuel means God is with us. Matthew is telling us that in Jesus, God’s saving presence is with us.  

John points out that Jesus was present at the beginning with God because Jesus is God. Then God becomes flesh and lives among us. The words “became flesh and dwelt with us” literally mean “to pitch his tent.” Eugene Peterson in the Message says, “moved into our neighborhood.” John is telling us that God in Jesus has come to live with us.  

And Paul teaches us that God is in Christ “reconciling the world to himself.” It might be helpful to think of the word reconciled as being embraced or hugged. God is in Christ “embracing” the world and “hugging” us, each of us, holding us close in love. Paul tells us that God came to be with us to bring us back to him and to his purpose. 

Read Luke 2:1-20

So, let’s look at Luke’s story to discover how rethinking the birth of Jesus can help you lead through Advent. 

2 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 All went to their own towns to be registered. 4 Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5 He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no place in the guest room. 

8 Now in that same region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”  

16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them, 19 and Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told them. 

Reflect 

The birth of Jesus is a story of an encounter with the divine in the midst of the ordinary. Luke uses ordinary people to introduce his good news. Within the historical context of political struggle, taxation, and the governmental and religious claims of Rome, Luke tells of God coming to be with us in the person of Jesus. In the midst of the ordinary, we have an encounter with God. 

Sometimes it seems that we have heard the story of the birth of Jesus so often that we miss Luke’s purpose in telling the story. As much as I like to think of Christmas as family gatherings, special decorations, lights, trees, candles, singing carols, and a winter wonderland, Luke’s first-century Christmas was different. 

God with Us

The birth of Jesus is about God coming to be with us. It is about light coming into our darkness.  Luke tells the story of Mary, a young woman from Nazareth, whose life is turned upside down by God’s call upon her life. In his first chapter, Luke tells of the angel Gabriel arriving with a greeting that is unsettling: “Favored woman! The Lord is with you.” As much as you and I might want to be favored by God, to be in God’s favor means God has some extraordinary work to be done. 

When you read Mary’s call to the ministry, she is “confused and disturbed.” There is always a mix of surprise, fear, and faith when you encounter God’s call. But like other stories in the scripture, we tend to focus only upon a portion of the story, like “the virgin birth,” and miss the purpose of the story.   

Luke’s good news is that Jesus not only possessed the Holy Spirit but promised the Holy Spirit to his followers. For Luke, the purpose of the Holy Spirit is to communicate the good news of God beyond the barriers that separate people from God and one another. 

God’s Promise Fulfilled

In chapter one, the Holy Spirit comes upon Mary (1:35) in the same way Luke understood the Holy Spirit to come upon the disciples at Pentecost (Acts 1:8). The fulfillment of God’s promise, to be with us, is part of the intention of this story. Mary becomes God’s agent, God’s instrument, fulfilling God’s promise. This is Luke’s way of emphasizing the true humanity of the One who shared our life by being born, growing up and dying 

God comes to be with us, through the faithful response of Mary, to give us what we need to navigate the barriers that separate us from one another. When you read the good news according to Luke and the stories recorded in The Acts of the Apostles, you will discover that the Holy Spirit that came to Mary and the disciples is the same Holy Spirit that has been given to you. 

Holy Spirit Power

So, here is a clue for your leadership. When the Holy Spirit comes upon you, O favored one, you will be given the power to witness beyond the barriers of theology, race, nationality, gender, economics, politics, social standing, etc. God’s purpose is being worked out in and through you. 

When Luke writes that there is “no place” for the newborn Messiah, he is saying that Jesus is a displaced person for whom the world will not make a place. “No room” is not simply a matter of space but a matter of choice. Jesus born in a stable will find “no vacancy” signs throughout his ministry and will finally be buried in a borrowed tomb. 

Empowered for Love

Jesus being born in a stable and placed in a manger represents solidarity with people of poverty. Luke brings this into dramatic contrast with Caesar who has a place in the empire. As a Christ-centered leader, you are empowered by the Holy Spirit to make a place for God’s love in the lives of the people who have been pushed aside and forgotten. 

The story of the shepherds and angels emphasizes God’s affirmation of the poor and despised. Although the image of shepherds is more positive in the Old Testament, in the first century, shepherds belonged to the lower class, irresponsible thieves who grazed their sheep on the land of other people. They were nomadic people taking advantage of others while using the care of their sheep as excuses for their behavior. 

Yet, it is to the shepherds that the angels bring the good news. Using the words and images meant for the emperor, Luke has the angels announce the birth of Jesus as the One who fulfills the aspirations and yearnings of all people. The message begins among the outsiders of Galilee and Judea and extends to Samaritans, Romans, and then to all people. 

Reimagine

The word “savior” was a word of honor often applied to the emperor and the word “lord” was a designation for the emperor and for pagan gods, as well as for the God of the Old Testament. The word “Christ” is the one anointed by God to fulfill God’s promises. The announcement was meant to reimage the empire. He was bringing good news to all people, Jews and Gentiles. As a Christ-centered leader, you are now a part of “the hopes and fears of all the years” are met in Jesus, God with us. 

The announcement of “peace” or “shalom” refers to the birth of Jesus as an act of the grace of God. Jesus is bringing wholeness and completeness to all people and every aspect of life. It carries with it the image of becoming who God created you to be. 

A Message of Peace

So, here is what is so awesome about the birth of Jesus. God gave the message of peace to amateurs. It is like the message was too important to be left to the diplomats and those in positions of power.  

Think about it. The great diplomats and ambassadors of the past 2000 years, the councils that have met, and the peace treaties that have been signed have mostly been forgotten. But we still remember and are shaped by the peacemaking messages of a host of angels, a group of unimportant shepherds, and Christ-centered leaders like you.   

After the shepherds had seen such wondrous things, they went back to their ordinary lives. And that is the rethinking of the birth of Jesus. How has the birth of Jesus changed your life and the way you relate to people? What difference has the birth of Jesus made in your leadership? 

Respond 

What does it mean to “rethink the birth of Jesus”? Slogans like “Let’s put Christ back into Christmas” and “Jesus is the reason for the season” are good slogans, but what do they mean? 

To rethink the birth of Jesus, you will have to ask yourself, “What will I do with the baby?” God has chosen to come to us in a way that we can understand. Now, how will you live and lead so others will know and understand God with us?    

After a busy morning of activity, a family decided to stop for lunch at a restaurant. The mother places her 12-month-old son, Erik, in his highchair. As soon as he was placed, he squealed with glee. He was giggling as he looked across the restaurant. 

His mother followed the direction of his eyes to see who or what had amused her son. Her eyes met a homeless-looking, unkempt old man just across from their table. With his hands waving at Erik, the man said “Hello baby. You are such a big boy.” 

Erik’s parents were startled. They were unsure how to respond to the situation. The baby didn’t seem to care that others in the restaurant were now staring at him and the old man. But his parents were uneasy. As soon as their meal arrived, they hurried and ate, not enjoying their food or one another. 

The old man was still making faces and playing with Erik. “Peek-a-boo . . . I see you.” The man was anything but cute and obviously intoxicated, but Erik didn’t care. 

As soon as they finished their meal, Erik’s dad told his wife to meet him in the parking lot and he hurried to pay the check. While Erik’s mother was gathering their belongings, she noticed that the old man sat between her and the door. “Lord, just let me out of here before he speaks to me or Erik,” she prayed. 

As she drew closer to the man, she turned her back trying to sidestep the man and avoid any air he might be breathing. As she did, Erik leaned over her arm, reaching with both arms in a baby’s “pick-me-up” motion. Before his mom could stop him, Erik propelled himself from her arms to the old man’s arms. Suddenly the ragged, unkempt old man and the baby were face to face in a full embrace. Erik was giggling and squealing the whole time. 

The baby, in an act of total trust and love, laid his tiny head upon the man’s ragged shoulder. The man’s eyes closed, and tears filled his eyes. His old hands, full of grime and pain, cradled the baby and stroked his back. Erik’s mother stood stunned. She felt helpless and scared of the unknown. As the old man rocked and cradled Erik, he looked at the mother and said, “You take care of this baby.” 

Somehow, she managed to say, “I will.” 

He handed Erik back to her and said, “God bless you, ma’am; you’ve given me my Christmas gift.” 

She could say nothing more than mutter, “Thanks. With Erik in her arms, she walked to the car weeping, “Oh God, forgive me.” 

Rethink the Birth of Jesus

As you rethink the birth of Jesus, what are you doing with the baby? Maybe you can think of it this way, how is the birth of Jesus helping you love others as God in Jesus has loved you? 

Ann Douglas Vaughan tells the story of when she was ten, she found a wallet. There wasn’t any money in it, but even at ten years of age she knew how those things worked. She couldn’t wait to return the wallet and get her reward. All day long she called the phone number which she found in the brown leather wallet, but no one answered. 

She finally convinced her dad to drive her to the owner’s address. Once there, they found a modest military housing unit with a torn screen door. It was at that moment she noticed her dad doing something unexpected. As he rang the bell, he took three $20 bills and tucked them into the empty wallet. 

Ann Douglas Vaughan wrote, “Turns out my reward, for returning the wallet, was getting to see true love in action.” She witnessed, through the actions of her father, grace through generosity to a stranger. 

Rethink the Birth of Jesus

As you rethink the birth of Jesus, how do others experience love in action through you? How will you extend grace through generosity?   

To rethink the birth of Jesus, you will have to ask yourself, “Will I follow Jesus where he leads me?” Mary replied to the angel, “May it be to me as you have said.” You might not entirely understand what is going on. You might not anticipate what will happen. You only know that to put Christ back into Christmas, you have to allow yourself to be loved and to love others as you are loved. It means becoming vulnerable and available.    

When the Bible Grasps You

There once was a seminary student who approached the theologian Paul Tillich after a lecture on the authority of Scripture. The student was clutching a large, black, leather-bound Bible in his hand. As he approached Tillich, waving his Bible above his head, he shouted, “Do you believe this is the Word of God?” 

Tillich looked at the student’s fingers tightly gripping the Bible and responded, “Not if you think you can grasp it.” There was a moment of silence, then Tillich continued, “When the Bible grasps you, I believe it is the Word of God” 

God is Calling You to Participate in the Good News

The heartfelt music, good feelings, beautiful liturgies, nice presents, big dinners, and sweet words are all good, but they have numbed us to the intrusion of God’s love. Christmas is saying, “Yes” to something beyond all your emotions and feelings. Christmas is saying, “Yes” to a hope based on God’s initiative which has nothing to do with what you think and feel. It is believing that the salvation of the world is God’s work, and that God is calling you to not only announce the good news but to participate in it.  

So, when Jesus comes knocking on the door of your church building, be ready for his invitation. Because when you open the door to invite him in, he is going to invite you to follow him into your neighborhood. Get ready because he will introduce you to his friends. His poor, forgotten, disabled, overlooked friends. And if, by faith, you have the courage to follow him, you will take your first step in becoming the incarnational leader needed to meet the needs of people today.  

Join Mary in responding,  “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” It will be at that moment that you will join the heavenly host singing, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” 

Put Christ back into Christmas by loving others as God in Christ has loved you. Who you are is how you lead. 

Return  

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. What did you decide to do with the baby Jesus? How did you experience God’s love for you? How did you express God’s love for others? To whom is Jesus leading you? How will your experience of the birth of Jesus help you love as you have been loved? With whom do you need to celebrate the hope you have experienced in and through them? 

Merry Christmas! May the joy of Jesus be yours as you rethink the meaning and purpose of his birth in your life and in the lives of the people entrusted to your care.

As you continue to lead through Advent, how are you practicing and improving your leadership skills? This season we have looked at how rethinking waiting and preparing are growth opportunities. With waiting and preparation in mind, have you considered how Advent provides you with the opportunity to rethink your focus on life and leadership?   

Life is not found by focusing on yourself but is found in giving yourself for the sake of others. It is not self-protection but self-giving that opens you to your best self. Effective leadership is not found by focusing on likes and dislikes, but by listening and responding to the hopes, dreams, and desires of those entrusted to you.   

Rethinking with John the Baptist

It is easy to get caught up in our own stories. When you think about the highs and the lows of daily life and add the chaos of disease and distress in the world, it is easy to lose focus on who is life-giving and what is important.   

In an age where the focus on self is promoted as the path to happiness, Advent provides the opportunity to rethink your focus. Today, John the Baptist teaches us to refocus by shifting our attention from ourselves to God and God’s mission. In a culture of weariness, John calls us to discover a different path to life. He invites us to focus on the light in the darkness.    

To help refocus, take a few minutes to read this scripture, John 1:6-8, 19-28. 

Read John 1:6-8, 19-28. 

6 There was a man sent from God whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 

19 This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed and did not deny it, but he confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” 21 And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 

23 He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’” as the prophet Isaiah said. 

24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, “Why, then, are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, 27 the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the strap of his sandal.” 28 This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing. 

Reflect 

John the Baptist points us toward a greater vision than ourselves. He, himself, embodies a self-giving life. Despite the attention given to him, he keeps his focus on the One who is to come after him. In other words, he refused to claim an identity that would overshadow his mission or that would take the focus off of the light, off of the Messiah, off of Jesus, the One who is coming. 

So, John, the gospel writer tells us, John the Baptist was a witness to the light. He was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. Why? So, all might believe. His focus was on his mission and not himself. 

A Voice in the Wilderness

Even when the Jews sent priests to question him, John responded, “I am not the Messiah.” “I am not Elijah.” “I am not a prophet.” He could have elevated himself to a level of importance, but he kept his focus. They asked, “Who are you?  What do you say about yourself?” 

And he answered, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.” He knew who he was and his place in God’s mission. Even though some wanted to make him the center of attention, John kept his focus on his mission and not on himself. 

The Power of Self-Giving

The scripture is clear, John the Baptist’s life is a witness to the power of self-giving. His witness was a light for others, but his light was only a reflection of the One to come, the one true light. John’s life is a model of humility. 

His insistence that he is the voice in the wilderness highlights a profound humility. He is not even worthy to untie the strap of the sandal of the One who is coming. John is directing everyone to the Messiah, the Christ, the One to come, Jesus. Why? So, all might believe. 

The scripture is clear. John’s humility models for us what it means to follow Jesus. 

Respond 

This Advent season, John challenges us to rethink our focus. John invites us to turn our eyes upon Jesus and to place our attention on the mission. He came to point people to Jesus. John is calling us to do the same. 

So, as you listen to John, how are you leading through Advent? Are you focused on the baby in the manger or on the commercial aspects of Christmas? Let me be clear, it is very difficult if not impossible to give your full attention to both and hold Jesus, God with us, clearly in focus. 

Leading Through Advent

So, how are you leading through Advent? Are helping people prepare for the birth of Jesus, and the coming of Christ, or are you lost in the timing of activities and the proper trimmings of the season? Advent candles are good and necessary. They provide a way of telling the story. 

But when you get upset because someone lights the pink candle on the wrong Sunday, where is your focus? When you are more concerned about the poinsettias being delivered and properly placed than you are about the people who only attend worship once a year, with family, at Christmas, where is your focus?   

The Why of Christmas

Advent provides a wonderful opportunity to rethink your focus on why you participate in some activities. How is baking cookies, wrapping gifts, decorating, going to parties, and assisting you in keeping your focus upon “God with us” the savior of the world? They are good activities that bring joy and pleasure, the question is, how do they keep you focused on the “why” of Christmas? 

In today’s culture, we often celebrate ourselves more than we celebrate the One whom God sends to set us free. Because of God’s love for us, God sent John the Baptist to challenge us to rethink our focus. His mission was not about gaining recognition. Instead, he was committed to pointing to the One greater than himself. John the Baptist didn’t seek personal glory. His life was a message, urging people to look beyond their desires to the Messiah. 

Rethink Your Focus

So, as a Christ-centered leader, Advent provides the opportunity to rethink your focus. It is easy to lose focus of the One who calls us and equips us for leading and loving. When we are out of focus, we misunderstand the connection between serving others and the life we are called to live. It is in focusing on others and loving others, that we become more who God created us to be. 

As followers of Jesus, as good as it is, you are not invited to a life of serving others as a way to be and do good. You are invited to love and serve as a way of expressing God’s goodness you have experienced in and through Jesus. You love your neighbors as you love yourself and you love others as God has loved you. As good as it is, it is not about your service, it is about God’s love.   

Undefeated

Maybe this story will help. It is from the Academy Award-winning documentary film, “Undefeated.” 

In 2004, Bill Cortney left his position as a schoolteacher to open his own lumber business. While participating in a small group from his church, he was challenged to volunteer to go into the North Memphis neighborhoods and be a friend to some kids. Through that experience, Bill Cortney learned that the Manassas High School football team needed a coach. Through the encouragement of his friends, he volunteered to be the coach for one year.  

The Manassas High School football team had never won a playoff game. In fact, in 2004, they had only won four games in ten years. Bill Courtney offered to help the Manassas Tigers turn the football team around. 

Are you a Turkey Person?

That first year, there were 17 players on the team. About midway through the season, the coach was concerned about his relationship with his players. He felt he had a good relationship with half of them, but he wanted something more than being the coach, something of greater depth than football. So, he had a conversation with one of the seniors, Jamie, about his relationship with the team. 

The coach asked Jamie, “What is the deal? I am here every day. I’m giving all I have to give. What do I have to do?” 

Jamie responded almost dismissively, “Just keep doing what you are doing, Coach. We appreciate it.” 

Coach Courtney: “Tell me what is going on.” 

Jamie: “Real talk? I don’t want to hurt your feelings. 

Coach: “Straight talk, Jamie.” 

Jamie: “Straight up. They are trying to figure out if you are a turkey person. 

Coach: “I have no idea what you are talking about. What is a turkey person?” 

Jamie: “You know coach, every Thanksgiving and Christmas some white folks roll up into our neighborhoods in their vans and SUVs. They have turkeys, hams, and gifts. They unload them. We take the gifts and the food because we need them. But then, they all get back into their cars, vans, and SUVs and they go back out to the suburbs, and we don’t see them ever again.   

“Now, Coach, are they delivering those turkeys and gifts because they really care about us or are they going back out to the suburbs to tell people how they helped some poor black folks. Are they doing what they are doing because they care about us or just so they can feel good about themselves? 

“Coach, what are you doing? Everyone is trying to figure it out. What are you doing?” 

Loving and Nurturing

For Bill Courtney that was the beginning of six years as the Coach of the Manasses High School Tigers. Through his loving and nurturing of the players and helping them develop their physical and emotional strengths, Courtney coached the team to a winning season in 2009 and their first playoff win in the history of the football program. 

What made the difference? I think it was focus. Bill Courtney kept his focus on why he was doing what he was doing and on the people he was serving. His focus was not on himself but on the character and integrity of the players on his team. 

What is Your Focus as a Leader?

This Advent season provides you the opportunity to rethink your focus as a leader. 

Too often we are absorbed in our own worlds. We do what we do because it makes us feel good about ourselves. Even when it has implications of helping others, we too often are more concerned about how it affects us than we are about how we truly reflect the light of love and care for others.  Our actions are more self-serving than they are of humility and love. 

When you’re focused on yourself, your preferences, and your conveniences, your vision narrows, and your focus becomes blurry. When you keep your focus on Jesus, it is clear who God sends your way to love and serve. 

John the Baptist is challenging you to focus upon the light of the One who is to come. That is who you are as a Christ-centered leader. This Advent season, rethink your focus and become the leader needed for this time and season. And remember, who you are is how you lead. 

Return  

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. With whom did you rethink your focus? What brought you to the moment of refocusing? How do you clear a path for others to rethink their focus? In the future, how will you respond differently? How did you express God’s love today? With whom do you need to celebrate the hope you have experienced in and through them?   

Have you ever felt that there is more to life than meets the eye? That there is more in your past than history can tell? That there is more going on in the present moment than you really know? And that there is more to your relationships with others than you are aware? 

It seems that the more we explore the mystery of our lives, the more we learn about ourselves, and the more mysterious we become. We are seldom content with what appears to be on the surface. We are not at ease because we sense that no matter how full our lives, there is more. 

Preparing to Receive Jesus

Advent is about preparing to receive what is missing. It is about preparing to receive Jesus as the Son of God who delivers us from all the threats that rob people of authentic life. It is about preparing to receive the One who stands with us against the enemies of meaninglessness; of the storms and evils of nature; of loneliness, alienation from ourselves, others, and God; of sin and guilt; hunger; sickness; and the ultimate enemy, death. It is about preparing to receive Jesus who can do only what God can do. 

Advent is about preparing to receive Jesus, who in his weakness and vulnerability, stands with us in the midst of our misunderstandings, misconceptions, and broken relationships. 

Leading through Advent

The question is, how do you lead through Advent? How do you rethink preparing in such a way that people find themselves face to face with the God who has come to be with them in the places they are hurting, suffering, broken, and need healing and hope? 

Maybe it will be helpful to start with an Advent prayer, written and put to music by Charles Wesley. 

Come, thou long expected Jesus.

Born to set thy people free.

From our fears and sins release us.

Let us find our rest in thee. 

How will you rethink preparing this Advent season?   

Read Mark 1:1-8 

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ. 2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way, 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight,’”

4 so John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And the whole Judean region and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him and were baptized by him in the River Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the strap of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 

Reflect 

Mark’s story does not begin with Jesus, and not even with John. This story is part of a larger story of God’s unfolding plan that began at creation, continued through the Old Testament prophets, comes to its climax in Jesus, and continues after the resurrection in the followers of Jesus, including you and me. 

The good news according to Mark is “God sent Jesus to oppose the evil, pain, and suffering in the world.” To announce the good news, Mark starts with John the Baptist, who is seen as connecting the message of the prophets with Jesus and the preaching of the church.    

John ushers in the new age, a new order. For Mark, what is important is not John’s bizarre appearance, nor his ethics, nor his message, but the fact that the story of Jesus begins with him. John is a figure of hope. His appearance marks “the beginning of the gospel” as a continuation of the message of the prophets. He continues the story of the in-breaking of God’s new order. 

The Good News in Mark

The people who received Mark’s good news were in the midst of persecution. The followers of Jesus were tortured, crucified, and killed as insurrectionists. They were seen as people in opposition to the Roman government. So, for Mark John came announcing the coming of Jesus, God’s way of opposing the evil, pain, and suffering in the world. 

In verses 2 and 3, Mark sets the context for the new order by calling upon the memory of his readers. He has them remember the exile and homecoming of the Hebrew people. Then, he focuses upon the work, the person, and the words of John. 

Baptism is an Act of Grace

The work of John is to baptize (verses 4-5). Baptism is an act of grace giving access to the new order, God’s new day. It is an invitation to and an act of transformation. It leads into public ministry, which is seen in the work of the followers of Jesus opposing evil, pain, and suffering in our communities and neighborhoods. Baptized followers of Jesus are related to their communities and working the good of all the people living there. 

For John, baptism is identified in two ways. The first is through repentance, the turning away from the old age and all its loyalties and values and turning toward God’s new order. The second is through forgiveness, which brings with it the release of indebtedness that keeps people from freely participating in God’s new order. 

Rethinking Preparation

With this in mind, Advent is a time of rethinking preparation. One example of rethinking preparation might be John’s message of repentance which brings with it the challenge to give up our participation in the cultural consumerism that enslaves us. Another example of rethinking preparation might be John’s message of forgiveness of sins which brings with it the release from systems that dehumanize people and effect the way we relate to one another, especially the people we identify as different from us. 

The person of John is characterized as an outsider, as one who comes from the wilderness. Not only is he geographically an outsider but he has kept his distance from the seductive good things of his culture. He comes speaking of a new order which calls for an end to conventional loyalties and attitudes. He comes speaking of a new freedom that brings a different perspective regarding relationships. 

Embracing Uncertainty

With this in mind, Advent is a time of rethinking preparation. It is an occasion for embracing uncertainty, understanding ourselves and others differently, and making decisions that facilitate hope and the future. Keep in mind, as you rethink preparation, that the culture will resist any changes you make. It will want you to be well-fed, well-dressed, and well-housed so that you do not depart from old loyalties. John is reminding us that there is a greater way of living in this world.   

The words of John point beyond himself and beyond the dangerous moment in which people are living. He is like Moses pointing across to the new land. He anticipates the One who is to come, but he does not name him. Christmas is the time for naming Jesus. Advent is a time for waiting and hoping. John might not know the name of the One to come, but he knows that the work of the Spirit will bring a newness that transforms. 

Make a Difference

With this in mind, Advent is a time of rethinking preparation. It is not only a time of spiritual reconstruction but a time to make a difference in the community and the neighborhood in which you live. It is a time to stand with people as they face adversity, pain, and suffering. 

Leading through Advent means you will offer hope amid people being dehumanized and misplaced, amid cynicism about trusting God’s way in Jesus, and amid people sensing there is more but not knowing what it is. The time is right for rethinking preparation. It is right for you to announce, “God with us. There is hope for all who are changing the way they have been thinking and living and are ready to receive and to follow. Prepare the way of the Lord.”  

Respond 

John’s message is clear regarding preparation. There can be no pretense or deception. You come as you are, vulnerable and unencumbered 

The novel, The High and the Mighty, was made into a movie several years ago. It was about the passengers on an airplane that are flying over the Pacific Ocean into California. The plane began to have engine trouble which caused it to run low on fuel. As the flight continued, the news got worse and worse for all the passengers. 

One passenger, a woman, was well-dressed. Her makeup was impeccable. Her jewelry included a diamond necklace, bracelet, ring, and earrings. She sat and listened to the captain as he gave updates regarding the plane’s location and situation. Then she heard the captain say, “It looks less and less likely that we will arrive at our destination. It looks like we are going to be meeting our Maker before this is over.” 

As she listened, she began to remove her jewelry. She took off her rings, her necklace, and her earrings. She removed her eyelashes and mascara. When she removed most of the cosmetics that covered her skin, she revealed a scar on her cheek. She had decided to be who she was. She was coming clean. She was going to meet her end real and true, without deception, without pretense.  

Well, eventually, the plane landed safely. And through the ordeal, she had learned something about herself. 

Come Clean

The plot of the movie reflects the story of John and the response of the people who heard his message. John offered people the opportunity to come clean. He used some wonderful images that caused people to see clearly what he was talking about.  He said, “This moment in history is like an ax being laid at the root of a tree. If the tree has not borne good fruit, it comes down.” 

He said, “This moment in history and in your life is like the moment when a person has harvested the grain, but it is still full of chaff. And he takes a large fan and while the grain is being poured from one container to another, the fan is used to blow away the chaff. This is repeated several times until all the chaff is blown away. The grain is saved but the chaff is burned.” 

“In other words, there is one coming after me, I’m not even worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandal. He is so much stranger than I; he is so much greater than I. He is coming. And one thing that he will do is cause the truth to come clean and clear. No more deception, no more pretending.” 

Preparing for the One Coming

After hearing John, people began to prepare for the One coming. They confessed to their life deceptions, distorted values, loss of priorities, and irresponsibility. They came clean and were baptized for the forgiveness of their pretentiousness and they began a new way of living. 

John the Baptist is presenting the message of the scripture. It comes in several figures of speech. Sometimes it is called a New Creation where everything is new. Sometimes it is spoken of as a New Birth. John the gospel writer refers to it as being born from above or born again. 

Sometimes it is presented as a New Life or a New Page of a notebook. And at other times the Bible uses the image of a new beginning. That is what John preached.  

New Life as a Christ-Centered Leader

What does this new life, this new beginning, look like for you as a Christ-centered leader? What does rethinking preparation mean as you lead through Advent? 

Come Clean

First, it means to come clean. It means to scrape off all the pretense and fear of what others might think and come as you are, a beloved child of God. It means that you lead with courage anchored in God’s love and grace. 

Hold the Past and Future Together

Second, look at John. He understood his present role as keeping continuity with the prophets, with Jesus, and with the church. Even though he has all the qualifications for being first, he did not give into the temptation of assuming that his contribution was better than anyone before him or greater than anyone who came behind him. 

So, as a leader, take your place as one who holds the past and future together. As you prepare for the future, do so within the context of who and what has brought you to this moment. Then ask the question, “Who will help lead us in taking the next step on our journey?” Walk with them. Be who God has created you to be for them. 

Submit to Jesus

Third, John submits himself to the greatness of Jesus. Imagine being born and prepared for a singular moment when you stand on the banks of the River Jordan and shout, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” One sentence summed up his life and ministry. 

John found his joy in Jesus and by giving up his self-serving right to happiness. Sooner or later, you learn that happiness is neither a right nor an end in itself. For the followers of Jesus, the word is not happiness but is joy. It is used in the context of submitting to the greatness and the glory of God. 

God’s Love and Joy

So, as a leader, give yourself to God’s love and receive the joy given to those who serve in love. Receive God’s love for yourself and then share God’s love with others. It means putting others first as you work for their best and well-being. It means being generous with others, allowing them to be who they are, and space to grow into who God created them to be. 

It means that you lead with grace, modeling the new order. John baptized people showing the new order was not based on ancestry, religious affiliation, or national citizenship. It was a conscious choice to turn away from the old and turn toward the new. It is coming clean so you can enter into the new life, the new order. 

So, Advent is preparing to receive what is missing in your life. So, rethinking preparation will help you become more who God created you to be by receiving the One who can and will make your life complete. Remember, who you are is how you lead. 

Return  

Give God thanks for the people you encountered today. Where did you come clean today? What brought you to the moment of coming clean? How did you respond? How did you express God’s love today? With whom do you need to celebrate the hope or the love or the new life you have experienced in and through them?    

Prayer

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart. 

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.