Did you know the traditional Christmas story is only found in two of the four Gospels in the New Testament? The elements that make up the common nativity scene come from Matthew and Luke; Mark and John cut to the chase and begin with Jesus’ ministry. However, Mark’s introduction, its closest thing to an Advent story, provides important context for the world into which Jesus was born. In Mark 1:1-3, Mark calls the story of Jesus Christ “good news” to people “in the wilderness.” The prophecy is not actually a direct quotation from Isaiah but rather is a mash-up from Exodus, Malachi, and Isaiah. With this, Mark evokes a number of stories in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) in which leaders proclaimed hope and expectancy to God’s people in different “wildernesses.” These included stories of the Israelites wandering in the desert after escaping slavery in Egypt and of the exile Israel suffered under both the Babylonian and Assyrian Empires.
These words paint the world of the first Advent as wilderness. Again, the people of Israel were suffering under an oppressive Empire: the Roman empire, who controlled and divided much of their contemporary world. Israel again longed for liberation, and murmurs and movements hoped to see God set God’s people free again. As we celebrate Advent this year, we remember the 300th anniversary of “Joy to the World.” What did it mean for Jesus’ birth to represent joy in the world of people in the wilderness, longing for liberation? What does it mean to proclaim joy in today’s world this Advent to people in a wilderness of their own?
As we celebrate, may we remember that we have a message of joy and a dream that all will one day be free. From people across the country and the world who suffer from oppressive political and economic systems to the many personal wildernesses that fill our lives, may we remember that the voice of Advent is a joyful, daring voice that proclaims hope in a God who will one day bring freedom to all.
God who sings joy into the wilderness, may we, your people, prepare your way.
Let our Advent celebrations be more than comfortable glee
as we proclaim joy into the world, even in its dark and broken places.
Comfort us too with your presence as we wait in wildernesses of our own.
In our celebrations and in our daily lives, may we prepare you room,
so that your joy may lead to the liberation of all.