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Mark 1: 1-8

“He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

That’s the promise John the Baptist makes in the opening chapter of Mark’s gospel. Mark doesn’t begin with the story of Jesus’ birth. Rather, he jumps right into the middle of the story, with Jesus already as an adult, ready to begin his ministry. This is the urgency in Mark: The Messiah has come; Everything is about to change. Get ready. So the first words in Mark are not an angel announcing a mysterious birth, but a fiery prophet named John calling people to repentance. It’s time to make a change. God is about to show up in an unprecedented way, so get ready. Repent.

We hear a lot about repentance in Lent. That is good, but there is a danger we will confuse repentance with a simple act of human will, as in “I am going to try harder to do better.” But the fact is, we can’t. Sin is too much of a reality in our lives. Our efforts at self-improvement will meet with limited success at best. Tell yourself, for example, that you are not going to think any negative or critical thoughts about other people, and then check back with yourself in a few hours to see how you did.

That’s why this promise from John the Baptist is so important. True repentance requires the work of the Holy Spirit. Apart from the living God coming to live inside of us we will never make the changes we need to make. Lent, then, is more than a time of behavior modification – as important as that may be. It is a time for inviting the Holy Spirit to enter into our lives. We can’t just get rid of the bad stuff, because other bad stuff will only take its place. We must also become a dwelling place for the Holy Spirit.

Prepare the way for the Lord.

Holy Spirit, we acknowledge our frustrations and failures at becoming the people we want to be. The temptation to sin is too great, too pervasive. Our love is disordered and diseased. Come into our lives today. Shine your holy light on the darkness that resides inside of us, and create a space for your dwelling. Make us into a people who are prepared for the arrival of God.
Through Christ and by his power we pray. Amen.