Look at how it works. “John the Baptizer appeared in the wilderness…” (Mk. 1.4). And the appropriate response is, “Who cares?” Who cares if some wing-nut with camel’s hair starts shouting in the desert? Who cares, until we realize it’s the story of creation happening all over again. This Gospel reading paints the same picture as the beginning of all creation. John was shouting in the Judean wilderness, and creation began in a cosmic wilderness – “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep… Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was,” (Gen. 1.1-3) What difference is the voice of one crying in the wilderness? All the difference in the world (no pun intended) if that voice is announcing the Word of Creator God. And so even if it’s some crazy guy wearing camel hair, “people from the whole countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him” (Mk. 1.5). When this God speaks, he doesn’t just describe new information; he creates a new situation (Lectionary Commentary, Vol. 1, p. 5). And that’s just what happens for God’s messenger, some crazy guy out in the desert. Look what happens when Jesus shows up.
At the baptism of Jesus the heavens are ripped open. The voice of God thunders from heaven, and God’s Spirit - like a dove - hovers over the waters. And Mark’s Gospel is trying to tell us that this thundering voice at the baptism of Jesus is the same voice as Creator God. Immediately after Jesus’ baptism, there’s a rush of new creation. People are amazed at his new teaching with authority (1.27). Jesus heals a paralytic and people glorify God saying, “We have never seen anything like it!” (2.12). Jesus describes his mission as new cloth and new wine (2.21-22).
By the end of the second chapter we get the point, or at least we should: the voice of the LORD isn’t just thundering over the baptism of Jesus, it’s thundering within Jesus himself, just like we hear in the Psalms. The voice of Jesus is a voice that thunders upon the waters, breaks the cedars, makes the mountains skip, and shakes the wilderness (Psa. 29). It’s is a voice that brings life to all creation. And by the time we reach the middle of Mark’s Gospel the voice of Creator God thunders from heaven again. On the Mount of Transfiguration we hear: “This is my Beloved” – same as before but now there’s a new command - “listen to his voice!” (9.7).
God’s voice thunders over the waters of creation. It thunders over the waters of Jesus’ baptism, and it thunders within Jesus himself. But that’s not all. The really stunning claim of Christian faith is that this same voice also thunders within those who follow Jesus. That’s the point of our reading from Acts (19.1-7). The point is that those who are baptized into the name of Jesus also receive the Spirit of Jesus and the same powerful voice: “the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied” (Acts 19.7). This is the powerful voice of God’s own Spirit.
And let’s be careful. This is no easygoing, feel-good message. It’s no prosperity Gospel that promises we’ll never suffer. Our God specializes at making light in the midst darkness. And there are two parts to that message: light, and darkness. In this world we always hold both parts of that message together. We cannot escape darkness in this life, but we’re promised God’s life-giving Word and God’s Spirit.
So the question we’re left with is this: where is the desolation and the darkness in your world? Where’s the darkness in your home; at your job? Because wherever it is, our invitation is to hear the Gospel as the voice of one shouting into that wilderness: Prepare the way of the LORD. At Christian Baptism we’re invited to hear the voice of Creator God that still thunders in creation. And, in the midst of this world’s darkness – wherever you happen to be – this voice speaks within each one baptized in the name of Jesus. It brings new life for each of us, and through us, it can bring God’s life and peace to this world. Amen.