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Mark 1:1

 Good old Mark – he never misses a chance to beat us over the head with the obvious, does he?

I once sat in a theology class with one of the most respected theologians of the Church, Bishop Mark Dyer, shortly after he came to Virginia Seminary.

“The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” he intoned.

We all looked at him blankly.

“The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” he repeated, giving us one of his sterner looks.

More blank looks.

“Who said that?” he asked.

Even more blank stares.

“Which Gospel begins this way?” he asked, rather urgently.

(Now, this was before the advent of the Internet, so none of us could surreptitiously Google the quote … and none of us felt comfortable ostentatiously taking out our Bibles to check the Gospels riki-tik.)

“Mark!” he said. “Mark opens his Gospel this way! Why? So you don’t miss the point of the whole story! Jesus is the Good News! Jesus is the Son of God!

We can all giggle about this now, because we just heard the beginning of Mark’s Gospel read right here in this place.

But the fact is, when we think about the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, we think of John the Baptist, because Mark jumps right there.

The fact is, we tend to miss the beginning of each Gospel, which is a shame, because every beginning is important.

Look at those other Gospels. Matthew gives you a big boring genealogy (how many of you have ever read that? You should, you know, because there’s pretty important news buried in there, like the fact that a harlot is one of Jesus’ ancestors). Because Matthew wants you to know that Jesus is descended from the right people.

Luke? Bet you think it starts with the Annunciation, don’t you? But it doesn’t. It starts with a note to “most excellent Theophilus,” with Luke’s explanation that he’s going to write “an orderly account … so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.” (I’m guessing you skip over that part, too, don’t you?) Luke wants you to know his version is true.

And then there’s John, my beloved John, who speaks poetry: En archē ēn ho Lógos, kai ho Lógos ēn pros ton Theón, kai Theós ēn ho Lógos. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? But it needs a lot of unpacking to understand that John is going beyond even in the beginning …

And Mark?

You don’t need to unpack Mark, because he just slams you upside the head with his baseball-bat Gospel:

The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

You know what this means, don’t you?

It means that we know, right from the beginning, that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah, the one for whom God’s chosen people had been waiting.

Mark’s message: No more waiting! It’s done! Suck it up! Deal with it!

Mark makes sure that you are never in doubt as to what’s going on, never wondering what something means.

Because Mark doesn’t have time to mess around! He doesn’t bother with little things like birth stories or angel’s visits or pretty words.

He gets right to the point, so much so that he can say: “Look, Ma, no Verb!”[1]

Mark is immediate (he uses the word 42 times in his short Gospel). He’s urgent. He wants to give us the Good News – the Gospel – of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God because there is no time to waste … so listen up!

And isn’t that what we need right now, on this Second Sunday of Advent?

Isn’t it nice to have some urgency not for buying and wrapping and partying, but for God? And for God’s marvelous news that God is with us? That God loves us so much that God is willing to be one of us, so that we can see God, and touch God, and hear God (not through the prophets but directly), and smell God, and yes, even taste God?

Isn’t it good for our souls to have someone knock us upside the head and say, Pay attention!!!

Because really … we don’t pay enough attention to God, do we? Especially right now, when society is pushing us relentlessly toward a vision of Christmas that really isn’t about God, but about ourselves, and our wants and our needs.

Mark doesn’t stand for that kind of faith. Over and over again in his telling of the Good News, Mark urgently says: It’s not about us. It’s about God.

Suck it up! Deal with it!

Just look at what happens in Mark’s story as soon as he’s delivered that Good News to us:

He starts talking about John the Baptist, whose whole message is that he must decrease so that Jesus (“the one who is more powerful than I is coming after me”) may increase.

“I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thongs of his sandals,” he announces to all those – and I do mean all those who have come out to see him – “the people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem” – thinking that perhaps he was the Messiah for whom they waited.

And if John can decrease, if John can be so humble, if John can say (and this would be a paraphrase, mind you): “It’s not about me, it’s about God![2] can’t we do the same?

That’s what Advent is about, my friends. Putting God first.

So, really. Mark’s urgency is a gift to us in this season of waiting. Because we’ve more or less forgotten how to wait. We’ve forgotten how to be attentive. We’ve forgotten how to put God first in everything we do.

I know, I know: According to society, it’s Christmastime. (I’m pretty certain that the business world has no idea that Advent even exists, much less what it means.)

Let’s be honest: At this time of year, we all have a bit of the child in us, with dreams of getting the coolest gifts and giving the bestest gifts, of family gatherings that are filled with nothing but laughter and joy, of roaring fires on cold nights, and of cookies … lots and lots of cookies. It’s what we want for Christmas.

So it’s easy to get sucked into the Christmas urgency that society foists upon us.

But Mark?

Mark’s urgency doesn’t focus on Jesus’ birth story.

Mark’s urgency focuses on Jesus’ story.

Mark wants us to know, in no uncertain terms, whether we want to know it or not, whether we like it or not, that our lives were – and are – and ever will be – irrevocably changed by Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

In short, Mark is telling us repeatedly: Deal with it!

Deal with the fact that God is here among us. That God loves us. That God calls us to love one another.

Deal with the fact that God wants our attention … this day and every day.

Deal with the fact that the Jesus is the Son of God and that this is all the good news we are ever going to need.

My friends, we have 21 more days of Advent.

And in this Advent season, Mark has a message for us:

Get urgent about God.

Now.

Amen.

 A sermon preached on the Second Sunday of Advent, Year B, at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Blue Grass, Va., 4 December 2011.



[1] Nadia Bolz-Weber, [TheHardestQuestion], “Go Ahead, Judge a Book by Its Title,” http://thehardestquestion.org/yearb/advent2gospel-2/#more-2123.

[2] Barbara Cawthorne Crafton, The Geranium Farm, The Almost Daily eMo, “The Courage to Yield,” http://www.geraniumfarm.org/dailyemo.cfm?Emo=1371.

 

 

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Who said anything about ‘gentle’?

I woke up this morning with Advent on my mind.

I was replaying in my head messages from friends and various Advent resources calling this moment in our lives a time of “gentle waiting.”

“Gentle waiting!” I thought. “Why are we engaged in gentle waiting?!?”

I’m fear that we are trying to tame Advent when we make this call. And I don’t think Jesus wants us to do that.

We need to give them clean water.

I mean, what’s gentle about the Gospel lessons we hear in this season? Jesus tells us to keep awake, therefore, for we do not know on what day our Lord is coming. (Do we really imagine that the owner of the house was waiting gently for the thief to come in the night?)

Paul says now is the time for us to awake from sleep, for salvation is nearer to us than before, and commends us to put on the armor of light. (Who puts on armor and then sits gently?)

John the Baptist bellows, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (How can we prepare the way of the Lord and make his paths straight if we aren’t doing something?)

Nowhere in those statements do I hear anything about gentleness.

Advent’s  a wakeup call, all right. But it’s an urgent one. It’s a rough shaking of the shoulder to get us out of bed to do something. This is not your mother leaning over you and gently saying, “Wake up, my love ….” This is Jesus calling, and he’s grabbing you and shaking you and throwing back the sheets and yelling, “GET UP!!!! We have things to do!”

And looking at the world around us, we know that is true. We DO have things to do.

There’s the DREAM Act to be passed. And Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to be repealed. Unemployment benefits need to be extended.

The people in Sudan need our prayers and our advocacy, to prevent yet another war.

The people in Haiti need our help to fight cholera and build a nation devastated by the earthquake.

Those who are sick need our help.

There are hungry people everywhere whom we need to feed, thirsty people who need clean water from us, ailing people who need our medicine and our care. There are children who need our love. The blind desire to see, the deaf want to hear, the mute yearn to sing with joy.

None of these things will be accomplished by gently waiting for someone else to step up. We are the ones who are to make the paths straight.

Advent for me is a time for action. It’s a time for us to look at the world around us and ask, “Is this really what we want to give to Jesus as a birthday gift? A world where so many have so little and we allow that?”

I woke up this morning with Advent on my mind, all right.

The call I heard was crystal clear: “Get cracking! Do the work you’ve been given to do – now! There’s no time to wait for someone else to do the work. Hurry! It’s Advent! Do something!”

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