The Beginning of the Good News

2nd Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 40: 1-11
2 Peter 3:8-15a
Mark 1:1-8

The Beginning of the Good News

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  This is how Mark’s gospel begins.  The gospel writer tells us what we are about to hear; the beginning of the “Good News” of Jesus.

Listen to the good news Mark says—and boy could his first century audience stand some good news.  They were struggling to survive the first Jewish Roman war, the Great Revolt.  The Messiah should have returned already.  They were starting to be concerned with the delay.

So Mark begins—The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

After such an introduction we expect that Mark’s gospel will start somewhat like the other gospels do.

Quietly, with a hushed whisper of an angel into the virgin’s ear,

Unexpectedly with the arrival of gift bearing mystical astronomers from the east,

Majestically with wide-eyed shepherds startled by a multitude of Heavenly hosts . . . trumpeting “Glory to God in the highest” . . .

but no—in  Mark’s gospel the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begins with a breathless messenger.  A breathless messenger urging us to turn back and listen to prophets from time long since past.

Quoting from both Isaiah (40:3) and Micah (3:1), and hinting to a promise made by God during the Exodus (23:20), Mark writes,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.”

Mark sets the stage for the next character in the story.  And what a character he is, he enters the story—waist deep in the mucky water of the Jordan river—clothed with camels hair and a tight leather belt around his waist.  Evidence of his last meal of locusts and honey still sticky in his beard.

The gospel writer’s description of John’s clothing and diet, quickly brings to the minds of his first century readers images of Elijah. As we and those first century Christian read this account, we are transported back in time.  What comes to mind is an earlier deliverance by God.  We are recalling the saving activity of God in the past.  God’s people were liberated from Babylonian exile, Yahweh—God prepared a pathway home through the wilderness—just like God led Israel out of Egypt through the dessert to the Promised Land.

The good news of Jesus Christ begins with a harkening back.  Did you ever notice there is a lot of harking in Advent?  “Hark the herald angels sing” . . . “Hark I bring you glad tidings of great joy” . . .”Hark the glad sound” . . . To Hark means both, “to listen intently” and “to return to a previous point in the story”.  The beginning of the good news—begins with a looking back . . . a sweeping look of the salvation history of God, while listening carefully.  Look back and listen careful to what God and the prophets have been saying to us.

A messenger is coming to prepare the way . . .

It will be a voice crying out of the wilderness . . .

Prepare the way of the Lord, by making paths straighten, lowering hills and raising valleys.

This look to the past—begins in the now—with a most unusual messenger, not someone we would expect to be preparing the way of the Lord.  John stands knee-deep in the Jordan River.  Soaking wet people stand nearby, shivering, cold and wet.  John doesn’t look like he is from any of our neatly manicured neighbourhoods, disheveled hair and beard make him look like a wild caveman or an eccentric hillbilly from the back forty, someone we would just as soon run from, or at least cross the street to avoid—yet here we are—flocking to him, to harken his message.

John not only looks different, he operates different.  He doesn’t operate in the businesslike manner we expect.  He doesn’t have a business degree or a well padded resume.  He is just a servant of God—with no leadership technique—just a call to tell the truth.  A messy truth, as messy as the wild honey that drips from his beard.  He cannot fling it aside.  He cannot buy into the world’s truth, refuses to be sucked into the world’s truth and trusts instead in God’s message.

And it doesn’t seem to even be a message anyone would really want to hear.

Repent!  Your going the wrong direction!  Turn Around!  Come to the water and be free, leave behind the world of sin.  Stop drowning and wake up to God’s reality.  Wake up the kingdom of God is at hand.

John is a transitional figure.  He places himself within the larger story of God’s on-going relationship of God’s people.  John takes his place, in a long line of prophets and God-messengers, a long line of God preparers.  He faces forward by looking back.  He points the way forward as a preparer of the way in anticipation of God’s intervention in the world.

By looking back to John and beyond we are also reminded to look forward.  To look forward with excited anticipation of Christ’s return.  To the in breaking of God into our world.  At any time of the year, but especially during Advent we wait for God’s proclamation to be fulfilled.  We are waiting and preparing.

In our waiting are we alert to our preparers of the way?  Advent is a season of waiting because it hasn’t all been accomplished.  We still need to get ready to receive the Lord into our midst.  The paths still need to be leveled.  Who is doing that?

There is a movement afoot throughout the world—groups of people attempting to level the path.  Most of them are not people we would expect to be preparers of the way.  They don’t look like most of us, many of them are younger, pierced and tattooed—they definitely don’t fit the status quo, these aren’t Harvard business school types—actually they are quite opposite.  They are challenging the economic state of affairs that exists in the world. The Occupy movement is an international protest movement that is primarily directed against economic and social inequality.

Their slogan is “We are the 99%” and they point to the income disparity of the top 1% of wage earners compared to the rest.

For some people it is hard to get on board with this movement.  The way of the world would say those people worked hard for what they have and so they deserve it.

A group of us have been learning about Islam.  Two weeks ago we visited a mosque in Kitchener and met with Imam Shafiq Hudda.  He could be considered an unlikely prophet, at least for a group of Christians—However one of you pointed out to me that something he said, not even really a part of his presentation, something he uttered more as an afterthought—but something prophetic.  He said, “God has blessed the world with enough for everyone, if someone goes without that means that another has stolen from him”.

Think about that for a minute . . . God has blessed the world with enough for everyone, if someone goes without it means that another has stolen from him.  There is so much truth to this statement and it certainly is a slap to our sense of entitlement.  It is a wake-up call to all of us, a call to repent, to turn away from the ways of this world.  To turn and look toward the in breaking kingdom of light.  A reminder that we are all called to prepare the way, to straighten the path, to level the road.

John’s final comment for us today is “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.  I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.

Together we each take our place as preparers of the way, followers of Christ—servants of God.  We do not do this alone . . . we are empowered by the Holy Spirit.  It is hard to prepare for Christ.  We are influenced by the world around us. . . a world that cries, ME instead of WE.  But the light of Christ is about to burst into that world yet again.

Advent is a wonderful season to be reminded once again that Christ is coming and Christ is present with us.  God is at work in our lives, here and throughout the world, quite often in unexpected and amazing ways.

We stand in anticipation, with our deepest yearnings and hopes, with our deepest longings and pain.  We stand shoulder to shoulder with our prayers for peace and justice and equality for all on our lips.

But we don’t stand alone

God is coming. . .

God is with us . . .

with joyful excitement . . . anticipate . . . repent . . . prepare . . .

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