Sunday, 7 December 2008

Second Sunday In Advent

Mark 1:1-8 (The Message)

The good news of Jesus Christ—the Message!—begins here, following to the letter the scroll of the prophet Isaiah.
Watch closely: I'm sending my preacher ahead of you;
He'll make the road smooth for you.
Thunder in the desert!
Prepare for God's arrival!
Make the road smooth and straight!

John the Baptizer appeared in the wild, preaching a baptism of life-change that leads to forgiveness of sins. People thronged to him from Judea and Jerusalem and, as they confessed their sins, were baptized by him in the Jordan River into a changed life. John wore a camel-hair habit, tied at the waist with a leather belt. He ate locusts and wild field honey.
As he preached he said, "The real action comes next: The star in this drama, to whom I'm a mere stagehand, will change your life. I'm baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. His baptism—a holy baptism by the Holy Spirit—will change you from the inside out."
A friend asked me 'What was the strangest thing about this opening paragraph of Mark's Gospel? Jesus isn't there.' And as we never got to carry on that conversation I used this to follow my own train of thought.
Jesus isn't there. But would we expect him to be? This is Advent - we are preparing the way, that was John's task - to get our attention, to change our hearts. And there's lots of strange things about John, not least what he looked like. But he did make people change, brought them out of the desert to the vision of living water - the Jordan, a real symbol of life for real desert people. He brought them out of the Temple to listen to the Word of God. There were itinerant preachers about at the time - but baptism as well, and coming from a good Temple family?
Jesus isn't there. Well, he isn't here is he? We are waiting for him, surely that's the point. He hasn't come but that's not what the Gospel says - its says the Good News starts here.
Jesus isn't there and by now we must fall back onto the theatrical storytelling techniques of the Gospel writers; always setting the scene; setting us on tenterhooks. Well. yes, except for Mark. That wasn't his style. Mark races headlong through his Gospel. Like an excited child it's all - and then....and then.... and THEN. A Gospel meant to be carried lightly, spoken quickly, memorised easily.
Yet even Mark knows that this is not the time. This is the time to take time. To know what it feels like to have heard the words of Isaiah year after year after year and yet have heard nothing. No prophet, no thunder, no Messiah. And yet, through faith, having to wait and wait and wait.
We have the 'Ordinary' times in the Church's year when we read and learn about scripture until it becomes a comfortable tale of morality and justice, a part of how we think and who we are.
But like Easter, Christmas is not an ordinary time. It is a time well worth visiting as if we didn't know, had never heard, had no idea. So that we can become part of a history, of a longing, of a world crying with impatience for the Good News.

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