2nd Sunday in Advent
December 7, 2014
Mark 1: 1-8
Meet Mark the Evangelist, our guide to the story of Jesus for the coming Church year. There is no baby story here in Mark’s Gospel, and you will find that the style is rather short and abrupt compared to the smooth storytelling of Matthew and Luke. It is likely that “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” was meant to be the title of this work. Modern Biblical translators and scholars have called it the Gospel of Mark, since now there are four of these compositions that narrate the story of Jesus for believers. The Gospel we have before us is the first, and whoever the writer is, he pretty much invented the genre. It is similar in style to the biographies of Greek and Roman heroes, and seems written to be recited to a live audience, rather than read alone.
Because it was an oral work, it is hard to lay out the narrative end-to-end, with one story linked to the next. Rather, the stories overlap and thread through each other. So as Jesus sets out for one event, suddenly there are several other events jammed into the story, events that often emphasize the arc of the storyline and bring us back to the end that Mark wanted us to arrive at.
We meet the Hebrew Bible right away in this morning’s reading, as Mark quotes from the prophet Isaiah immediately. He will quote this prophet more than any other NT writer, illustrating the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesies in the life of Jesus he is about to narrate for us. And in the description of John the Baptist, Mark gives us a picture of the ancient prophet Elijah, the one who walked so closely with God that he was whisked away to heaven in a fiery chariot. The man of the desert, hairy and belted was a distinctive figure of the Hebrew’s Scripture, and in the last book of the Old Testament, Malachi tells us “Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes.”
“The beginning of the good news…”
Even though Mark starts with the story of John the Baptist, Mark is telling us something important about Jesus from the very beginning. Mark envisions this story he is about to tell as the beginning of a whole new world. This is not just the story of another prophet, or an angel to bear good news. This is the in-breaking of God in our world. “Prepare the way of the LORD!” This One who is about to appear will be the answer to the prayers of people who are burdened, frightened, desperate for God to act.
The prophet Isaiah proclaims God’s comfort to a people who are in exile. They are lost, afraid, cut off. The preacher cries out that God is coming to save and comfort them. Ready or not! God is here! says the prophet! Tear down the mountain, build up the path, God is on the way. Though their love is as flimsy as grass, the promises of God will stand forever. He will come with power to lead you home.
John’s message is the same to a people oppressed by foreign governments and evil times. John proclaims that proper preparation for the entry of God into history is to repent. Change course, open your eyes and your heart, the world is about to change forever. This is the beginning of the good news.
I don’t know about you, but I am just about to take a break from the news. Sometimes I just don’t think I can bear to hear about any more death, anymore unbridled disease, anymore friends needing surgery or oxygen or chemo, anymore factory closings, violent abuses, family failures. Sometimes it’s just too much. What is the good news of Jesus that John has to proclaim to me today in the midst of all the pain and brokenness of the world?
Just think about this: Jesus didn’t just come to forgive you for your failures to love God enough or being the best person that you could be, although he did do that. Jesus came to challenge all the powers of evil that make our world broken and painful. He came to challenge governments that tyrannize and torture, greedy systems that create great wealth and great poverty side by side, structures that rob people of their humanity and justify the demonization of cultures and religions and races that are different than our own. That is the freedom Jesus brings in for us in the New Kingdom of God. We live in that Kingdom won for us by Jesus and at the same time the kingdom that glamorizes privilege and greed. We have a new heart, new language, new hope in the midst of all that rages around us, because we know that the Word of our God stands forever.
And that Word is Jesus with us, bringing us hope in despair, bringing us each other when our faith fails, bringing us tears for the world and for each other, holding us close when we are lost, leading us home to the place where we can rest on the promises of God that never fail. Teaching us to care and work beyond ourselves to bring that Kingdom home for all.
What is the good news we want to open our ears to today, as we listen to the urgency of John the Baptizer according to Mark? What is the good news you are longing to hear? What is the baptism you want to receive, the new world you want to live in? What would you pray for, for yourself and the world?
God comes, says the prophet, with power and with gentleness. God comes, says the Baptizer, bringing in the Holy Spirit. Never fear, God comes for you, whether you are ready or not. Amen.