The beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is written in the book of the prophet Isaiah:
Look, I am going to send my messenger before you; he will prepare your way.
A voice cries in the wilderness: Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight.
and so it was that John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. All Judaea and all the people of Jerusalem made their way to him, and as they were baptised by him in the river Jordan they confessed their sins. John wore a garment of camel-skin, and he lived on locusts and wild honey. In the course of his preaching he said, ‘Someone is following me, someone who is more powerful than I am, and I am not fit to kneel down and undo the strap of his sandals. I have baptised you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’
This year the Confirmation group was blessed with several, very bright, scientific agnostics/atheists who had come along with a different sense of conversion in mind. Studying for their Religious Studies examinations meant that they had to address non-Christian beliefs about creation and I had to agree with them that the standard Christian response of 'because we say so' and 'that's what faith is about' was an inadequate argument - even if that's what it said in the textbook. So we talked about all the wonderful scientific discoveries that had been made over the last few hundred years. It was about the time Rosetta had reached the comet way out in space and there accident-prone but determined Philae had been sniffing and tasting her way around the surface. Who could doubt where the real power truly lay? Who could argue with science?
The next week I brought along a sheaf of six closely typed sheets of paper. A quick Google search had resulted in hundreds of names of Christian scientists and mathematicians involved in everything from the Big Bang to genetics to quantum physics to theories of evolution. Priests, religious orders, ministers and laypeople who faith had been strengthened by reaching out in wonder. People who knew that real power lay out beyond their own ego.
How could we ever imagine that we are not part of an eternal re-discovering? Never mind sci-fi movies and string theories, we live a faith where time is an ocean of connecting currents.
Only last month we spent our time in communion with those who have died and gone before us into another dimension that we call Heaven. And we believe. Each Mass we celebrate the eternal sharing of Jesus. Time folding and layering with each sharing of the Real Presence. Witnessing a change that cannot be seen but can be experienced. And we believe. Everyday people lay claim to miracles of healing and rescue beyond our understanding. And whilst we seek to understand, we still believe.
Mark's gospel has no time for an infant narrative. That Jesus is a man is not to be tested - there are living witnesses who can give this assurance. This is the 'what we know'. What Mark wants us to know is that Jesus is the Son of God - there in the first verse his statement of intent that is qualified many chapters later by a 'non-believer', the centurion at the foot of the cross.
In Advent, Mark draws those who are unwillingly to accept the status quo. He draws those who unable to continue following the rules that seem set in stone.
Mark takes the scripture that is already hundreds of years old and moves it on. Scripture has evolved into a man - the adult John, an anomaly in his own priestly family. And a man discounted by birth - Jesus, the Nazarene. These two, sent into orbit only months apart are about to collide. A new creation is on the horizon.
Whilst, somewhere in the east, astronomer friends are watching the skies and plotting a course to Bethlehem.