Scripture: Mark 1:1-8
“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” ~ Mark 1:1
What is the most important part of the Advent and Christmas seasons?
For some people it is probably all the opportunities to celebrate with family and friends, the exchange of gifts and the delicious food – holidays, after all, is the perfect time to spend with family after all.
Others may find it is the familiar music which wafts through the air: the carols and holiday classics that remind us of years past and fond memories of being to belt out dulcet tones together, even if this year we can’t.
For others, it is the decorations or other Christmas paraphernalia that make the season – Christmas lights, little houses, trees decked to the nines all the trappings which make for a delightful Christmas.
As a Christian perhaps our answer would revolve around the Nativity story – Mary and Joseph, Angels, Shepherds and the birth of the saviour of the world, Jesus in a manger.
Obviously, for the church, the last one represents our focus during the seasons of Advent and Christmas – but that makes our Gospel seemingly out of place. Because while we might look to Bethlehem and Jesus’ birth as the beginning of the story of Jesus, the Gospel of Mark has none of that – there is no journey to Bethlehem, no Angels filling the skies, no birth in a manger.
Instead, Mark begins his telling of the gospel in the wilderness with the words of the prophet Isaiah and the fiery preaching of John the Baptist, calling all the people of Israel to repentance and his proclamation of the coming of the Messiah.
Mark gets right to the point, there is no time for genealogies, or stories of Jesus’ birth, or anything else – Mark gets right down to the core of the Gospel message, the good news, the reason that Jesus needed to come. It is as if Mark needs to tell the story and nothing will stop him, only the most essential elements will be included.
And so Mark knows that we must begin in the wilderness. And as we come to the close of a difficult and horrible year, perhaps we are more ready and willing to face the brokenness and sin of the world head-on. Throughout the pandemic, the protests against racial injustice, anti-maskers, a contentious US election and so much more have pulled back the thin veneer of nicety which covered the fallenness of the world and our mutual enslavement to sin. We must start in the wilderness, we must start with John and his proclamation of repentance.
For Mark, Baptism and repentance are the keystones of the whole Jesus story. Because if we can’t approach Jesus with repentance in hand, then we might not be convinced we need Jesus at all, we might not be motivated to cling to Jesus through the peaks and valleys of life. Jesus came for one reason, and one reason alone: to liberate the whole cosmos, all of creation, all of humanity from bondage to the power of sin, to liberate us from the decay of death which stalks the land (never more evident than in the global pandemic that is ravaging every country in the world).
Advent in the history of the church has been a time or repentance, a time marked by confronting our sin and complicity in the brokenness of the world – not out sadistic punishment but so that we can recognize our need for Jesus, and so that we can prepare our lives to welcome Him into the world every day, and herald his Kingdom on earth at it is in heaven.
The beginning of Mark’s gospel points to the fact that at the end of the day, all of the Christmas trappings, the carols, the decorations, even the manger and the angels that we typically constitute as the beginning of the Jesus story, ultimately are not the core of the story. If Mark were the only Gospel, we would lose all the angels, all the shepherds, even the virgin birth – but we wouldn’t lose the gospel, we wouldn’t lose the good news, we wouldn’t lose the core of Jesus and his mission to restore the cosmos to a right relationship with God.
In a year when our traditional Christmas is in jeopardy of being disrupted by COVID-19 and the lockdowns proscribed to deal with it, we need to hear this good news: Jesus is still the Saviour of the World, He still came into the world in our flesh as a human being. The truth of Advent and Christmas will still be true if we don’t get to worship together, it will still be true if we don’t hear our favourite carols, or experience the traditional Christmas gatherings.
This year more than ever perhaps we need to spend the time we have been given repenting of our sin and the sin and brokenness of the world. Perhaps instead of Spring cleaning we need to do some Advent cleaning, removing the cobwebs and the dust from our lives of discipleship, taking the time to refocus on the core of the Gospel message – on the good news and truth about Jesus and his saving grace, on the truth about repentance, about faith, about the peace, hope, joy and love of God.
How does our common life together reflect the truth of the Gospel? This past year we intentionally entered into a Sabbath from the busyness of our social and fundraising initiatives to slow down and focus on God, to find rest. Although the pandemic derailed most of our plans, we still have the opportunity to reflect on the activities and attitudes we hold at Grace Church and determine whether they reflect the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Does how we treat one another, reflect the love, grace and mercy that we have received at God’s hands?
Do our ministries, social activities and fundraising events further the reign of God in our community?
Are our priorities and plans revealing the love of Jesus to our neighbours, do they bring people closer to know God or not? Do they proclaim the good news to our community?
While we ask these questions of our church community, we also need to ask them of our personal attitudes and actions, because as followers of Jesus we are called and challenged to have our lives reflect the very same Gospel truth as the life of the church community.
While we undertake this sort of Advent ‘spring cleaning’ of our lives and church community we also should not lose sight of the greatest truth of the season. Even more than self-reflection, we should take this time to celebrate and revel in the fact that Jesus is Lord, that his salvation is effective and eternal. Our lives as disciples, our life as a church should reflect this truth.
There will be ups and downs, failures and successes but the Holy Spirit will be with us through it all, refreshing us when we are weary; giving us strength when we are weak; offering hope when we are in despair; bringing us joy even amidst the suffering of our lives.
Jesus is coming, may your lives be ready and waiting for him to appear.
Thanks be to God.
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