Grace to you, and peace from God our Creator and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
We’ve nearly made it to the end of another year. Where 2017 went I’m not quite sure, and 2018 will be upon us in no time at all. I admit, I’ve already done most of my Christmas shopping. But there’s plenty more for me to do in the next two weeks – as I’m sure y’all have plenty to do as well. There’s papers to write food to make, presents to wrap, papers to write, travel to be arranged, papers to write, figuring out who’s going to babysit the cat while we’re away…
But then in the blink of an eye, it’ll be over. Before long we’ll be saying things like “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” and “He is risen indeed, alleluia.” All this makes me wonder just how much of the hustle and bustle is worth it. It seems we go further each year: we spend more, we cook more, we write more papers – we tend to go further each year only for it to be gone in an even faster blink than last year. It’s true what they say – that the older you get, the faster time goes by.
Now there is one good thing about 2017 going by so quickly, and that’s this: we now get to spend nearly an entire year reading from the gospel of Mark. Mark’s gospel is by far my favorite – it’s the shortest, the oldest, and most action-packed gospel – but all joking aside, the gospel according to St Mark is perhaps the best gospel to read in a world where pure evil is never further away than the next channel on TV. It speaks volumes to finding God in a place where God seems silent.
See, the writer of Mark’s gospel was concerned with two things. First, he knew the challenge of living in a world rife with pure evil. And he believed that the reign of God was not something to come in the future, not some far-off place or idea that would come around eventually, but a true kingdom of justice and peace – and he knew that this alternative kingdom was breaking into the world right here and right now.
Second, the gospel’s writer believed that this reign of God was never more fully visible, never more fully realized, than when Jesus Christ was hanging on the cross, arms open to all the world. For Mark, the place where we see God’s love most clearly is the precisely the place where God seems most absent.
And I wonder if we need to hear a bit of this today. In the midst of a season where we run around like chickens with our heads cut off; in the midst of a world where people are threatened and killed because of their faith or the language they speak or the color of their skin; in the midst of a country where it’s easier to get a gun than a high school diploma; in the midst of an administration that would deport Jesus and his family; in the midst of a tax bill which will cripple the poor, the hungry, the sick, the homeless, the middle-class, the graduate students – you get the point – in the midst of all that, Mark gives us words of hope: “Here begins the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
That’s it – you just heard Mark’s version of the Christmas story – “Here begins the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” In the midst of everything, in the moments where God seems most absent, Mark speaks a word of promise: God is at work. Here and now. And this is just the beginning.
Now there are a bunch of other themes in Mark’s that will come up as we read through this gospel, and we’ll touch on them as they come up throughout the year. But for now, as we’ve seen, there’s a question God’s people have been asking for millennia: if God is for us, why are there so many people against us? Or put differently, if God is with us, why do we feel so alone.
One great example of this search for God’s justice and peace is in our first reading. For God’s people, it seemed like it was all over. Sure, it was their own sinfulness that got them where they were. They didn’t take care of the poor in their midst, they didn’t listen to God’s righteous law, and they didn’t heed the warning of the prophets and sages. So, they were exiled – deported from their lands, with their property and livelihoods taken away.
But just when it seemed as though God’s people had reached the end of the line, just when all hope seemed lost and giving up seemed like the only option, God spoke through the prophet Isaiah: “Comfort, oh comfort, now my people. You have served your term, and your penalty is paid. Do not fear, for your God is with you.” What wonderful words of hope.
I think that’s a little bit of what John the Baptist is getting at today, too. Once again, God’s people seem to have reached the end of the line. The world doesn’t look the way God intends, and God’s people have lost their way. So John invites them to repent, to be baptized, and to start over. John essentially tells the crowd, “Do not be afraid, for your God is with you.”
Mark is a man of few words – the gospel writer, that is, not me. His entire gospel can be read from beginning to end in about 90 minutes. It is action-packed, and Jesus’ character seems like a superhero – we’ll talk about why on another day – but notice that when he starts, Mark doesn’t just say “The good news of Jesus Christ.” He goes out of his way to remind us that this is only the beginning. That two thousand years ago and right now – in the wilderness of Judea and the wilderness of Trenton – God is beginning to turn the world around. Right here and now.
As we get closer to the Christmas season, and as it seems to end in the blink of an eye, I hope you will remember that the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are only the beginning. God is breaking into our world and making all things new. And let’s face it – the fact is, Christmas has way too much joy and wonder and love to be over in the blink of an eye. Maybe we can think of this as just the beginning.
So, get you up to a high mountain, lift up your voice in strength and do not fear. Proclaim to the world: “Here is your God.” Amen.
This sermon was preached December 10, 2017 at St Michael’s Episcopal Church in Trenton, NJ.