Of the synoptic Gospels Mark is unique in that there is no infancy narrative. Perhaps part of the reason is that, first of all, Mark has a sense of urgency in making know the Gospel message. While the story of Jesus' birth is wonderful to consider, the more important matter is the theme of conversion and discipleship. Secondly perhaps because the ideal of discipleship is so strong for Mark, he wants to set the stage from the very beginning with the message of John the Baptist.
John the Baptist is quite a character to be sure. He presumably looks like a 'wild man' with camel hair clothes, and munching on insects. But it is his message that is most disturbing for those who come out into the desert to hear him. Like Isaiah and Elijah before him John will accuse the very people who listen to him of being responsible for the Sin and Evil that is around them. If they observe poverty, brokenness, religious apathy, division within communities, then they need to look at their very selves to see who is responsible.
John is speaking to his hearers and us as he offers a litany of social and religious responsibility. The water bath is an external sign of an internal pledge to right wrongs, and to seek a moral and ethical pathway. There was a song from back in the 80s by Mister Mister, entitled something like, 'The Living Years.' The premise of the song is of a man who would like to reconcile with his now deceased father, realizing that, that work needs to be done while we are still here on earth. John's preaching is about a discipleship which unfolds the Kingdom of God here and now.
In several verses from now we see John lambasting the scribes and pharisees for coming to be baptized. John challenges them to show some sort of sign of their sincerity of conversion. While Advent is not as strong in the reconciliation sense, it does ask us to prepare ourselves to receive Christ into our lives. Again we should return to the last weeks of Ordinary time in which we hear the stories of un-motivated stewards and foolish virgins. And it was Monday this past week we recall Jesus' challenge, "Not everyone who cries out Lord Lord, will enter the Kingdom of heaven."
The candles of the Advent wreath are sort of a countdown until Christmas, but even more so a reminder to be light in our winter-like world. Our discipleship might be modeled on the wild-man prophet John the Baptist. But in any form we take on the responsibility of stewardship and proclaiming good news in our homes and communities.