God’s Advent Angel


Have you noticed how the world has scrambled on board the concept of counting down to Christmas? Of Amazon’s top 100 Advent Countdown calendars you have to get to number 72 before you find one that is distinctively Christian. You can countdown to Christmas using anything from Disney characters, to unicorns, to Mario, to teas, beer, wine, or cheese. Lest we get lost in a generic sort of counting, God in our text sends us an angel to set things straight this Advent, and it's not the angel who will announce Christ’s birth. Not one clothed in light but camel’s hair. Not one with a gold sash but a leather belt. Not one who partook of the food of angels (Ps. 78:25) but of locusts and wild honey.

He is sent by God. God predicted 400 -700 years before our text that He would send an angel before His Christ. Mal. 3:1, “’Behold, I send My angel, And he will prepare the way before Me.” Is. 40:3, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the Lord; Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Advent means ‘coming’. A name for Jesus in the OT is “The Coming One.” Before He comes, His angel must prepare the way. Before politicians, performers, or the military come into an area they send an advance team. Jesus advance team consists of one: John.

Our insert tells us this Advent Angel, John, is sent. This is not the word for a simple act of sending pempo but apostello where the word apostle comes from. This is to be commissioned, to be appointed for a specific task. This angel is an official messenger of no less than God Himself. Uncalled, unofficial messengers are dangerous. They have no official capacity. Luther said that even though you could with one sermon convert the whole world, if you weren’t called to do so, you must not preach it. Today’s internet nurtured Christians don’t seem to consider this when seeking teaching. True, pastors are ordained into the office of the public ministry, but their Call limits the area of their preaching, teaching, and shepherding. Who on earth, that would be no one, could issue a Call to teach the world? Back to John. He was called to go before Yahweh. 

The text translates the Greek word for angel, angelos – ‘messenger’ that is what it means. But when we leave it transliterated we get the sacred, holy, divine import of this Advent messenger, John. We do this in every day speech. We say to a child who has done something thoughtful: “Aren’t you a little angel.” Also this title ‘angel’ is going to contrast well with how John’s life, dress, and message is described, not so angelic.

God’s Advent Angel calls you to repent. Like the OT prophet John was he preached not just by what he said but how he dressed and what he did. OT prophets did enacted prophesies. Ezekiel is most famous for this. He lies bound by ropes (4:1-8); he shaved his head, threw some into the air, struck at it with a sword (5:1-2); he covered his face and dug through a wall (12:3-7); he ate bread trembling and drank water quivering with anxiety (12:18); when God took his wife he was ordered not to do the grieving rituals (24:16-24). Jeremiah fashions a wooden yoke to wear (Jer. 28:10). He takes a sash and hides it in a hole by the Euphrates river (Jer. 13:4). For a prophesy against Ethiopia and Egypt the Lord had his prophet Isaiah walk around naked for 3 years. “Then the Lord said, ‘Just as My servant Isaiah has gone stripped and barefoot for 3 years, as a sign and portent against Egypt and Ethiopia, so the king of Assyria will lead away stripped and barefoot the Egyptian captives and Ethiopian exiles…” (Is. 20:3-4). And we think some chancel dramas are over the top!

John’s place, dress, and diet preached austerity, repentance, and sorrow over sins. He prophesied in the desert as predicted, not in the Temple or in synagogues. He didn’t go looking for people but people were drawn to him. He dressed like the mightiest prophet of them all, Elijah, in camel hair clothing and a leather belt. And he ate a Spartan diet of what could be found in the wild. Jesus in Lk. 7:24-27 uses these signs to validate John’s angelic message: “’What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind?  If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: "'I will send My angel ahead of You, who will prepare Your way before You.'”

He’s going ahead of Yahweh, of 10 plague fame, of Mt. Sinai shaking, of Red Sea crossing. He’s going before Almighty God. If you escort kings, rulers, generals, presidents, you don’t do that with dirty clothes. If you’ve been to a funeral with a military presentation of the flag, those soldiers were spotless. Advanced parties are not slouches. So, we Pig-pens, radiating a dust cloud of sinful deeds, words, thoughts, how can we prepare the Christ’s way? We’re like the kid who thinks he can clean up a spill with a dirty cloth. And as for making straight paths: how can crooked people make anything straight? And these are commands not suggestions. And they’re not indicatives. The commission to John is different. He will prepare the way for the Lord. That’s a future indicative. This indicates he is going to be successful. But John’s desert cry is imperative to us: You must prepare; you must make straight paths. Imperatives convey what the speaker requires but give no power to do it or promises it will be done by the hearers.

Imperative commands don’t impart power or imply ability. So, these commands press from us the cry, “O Lord how shall I meet Thee?” This is John’s preaching of repentance. He’s fulfilling his role as the Elijah who was promised to return 400 years earlier. “’See, I will send you the prophet Elijah before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers’” (Mal. 4:5-6). These verses indicate Elijah will be successful. By his preaching he will turn hearts to the Lord. He preaches “repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins.” And confessing their sins they were baptized. Listen to Randy Travis’ 20-year-old song Pray for the Fish about the Baptism of Eddy Lee Vaughn. "They set the odds at a hundred to one his soul would never come clean." The preacher says there is something they must do before the Baptism. “Pray for the fish/ They won't know what's comin'/ When the sin starts rolling off the likes of him”. Yes that’s how thorough, how powerful the innocent blood Jesus shed on Calvary is when applied by means of water. When we say God’s Advent angel is calling us to repentance, we’re saying he’s calling us to Baptism.

God’s Advent Angel heralds the Gospel. Most translate ‘preach.’ “Preach” is such a negative word in our society. “Don’t preach at me!” “There you go preaching again.” I don’t know of a positive use of that word in everyday use except for the occasional agreeing with what someone is saying by adding, “Preach it brother.” John didn’t come “preaching” but literally ‘heralding’. ??????? [kay-roos'-so] is used 61 times in the Greek NT. KJV translates 51 of those times ‘preach’. Mark has the most uses of ???????, 14x’s. 10/14x’s KJV translates ‘preach’. The remaining times ‘publish.’ Here’s the first entry in Thayer’s Greek Lexicon: “to be a herald; to officiate as herald; to proclaim after the manner of a herald;” A herald’s message is not his own. It’s the king’s message. Hearld’s repeat usually word for word. They don’t ad-lib, extemporize, make up, take away or add to the message of the king.

The events described in our text Mark titles, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” That’s the Greek. Your insert, and 19 more English translations, have “the Gospel about Jesus Christ.” You experience the difference between ‘of’ and ‘about’ in a pastor’s preaching, mine too. If I’ve preached about the Gospel I’ve imparted information; maybe very important information, and you go away knowing more. When I preach of the Gospel you go away redeemed, restored, forgiven. Mark is not writing about Jesus, as a history would. He’s conveying the Person and Work of Jesus, who He is and what He did for the salvation of your body and soul. The Gospels are not unhistorical, but they are infinitely more than history. 

They are the Gospel, the euangelion. In secular Greek euangelion was ‘good news’ not just any good news but ‘good news of a victory.’ It was rarely used in the Classical Greek that came before the NT Greek. In NT Greek, it could also mean the announcing of an amnesty when a new king came to the throne (Mann, Mark, 194). The Gospel of Jesus Christ begins with our Advent Angel John heralding. He prepares the way by heralding an impossible Law and an even more impossible Gospel. Before any change of behavior, before doing anything for God, before professing how much you love Him, or promising how much you’ll do, there comes a baptism of repentance, a washing that’s a repenting. The actions of washing and repenting are both God’s activities grammatically (Voelz, Mark, 113). They happen to us rather than are done by us.

Even in the world’s Christmas preparation is a theme. Those Advent calendars play on that idea. A Christmas special turns on how will someone get prepared in time, and all is lost if not. This is true to the Faith: You will see no need to get prepared to celebrate Jesus’ first coming, if you have no sense of needing washing or repenting. But without a sense of that, you’re also unprepared to meet Him in His continual coming in Communion, and so you’ll meet Him there as Judge, not Savior. And then you’re definitely unprepared for His 2nd Coming for all at the end or for you at your end. It’s too late then. Our Advent Angel heralds you need washing and repenting now, but don’t look inside you for either. Run to the One John points to for both. 

The world that marks Christmas in some manner knows that Advent indicates something’s coming. Judging by Amazon’s popular Advent calendars it can be anything from soup to nuts. God’s Advent Angel indicates you and I are waiting for a Savior from Sin, Death, and Devil. The only requirement for meeting Him then is to have sins, be facing death, or be seeing devils. That’s me; how about you?  Amen

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Second Sunday in Advent (20231210); Mark 1:1-8