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Mark 1

Advent Gospel Lection II, 2008: Good News

Mark 1:1-8.  The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, "See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'"

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.  Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist,. and he ate locusts and wild honey.  He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.  I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."

    Good news.  That's the promise of Isaiah... and John the Baptist... and Jesus.  We sure need some.  I was planning to buy a Chevy Volt.  You know, to be green and up-to-date and buy American.  But now that our 401K's are, as they say, 201K's, and now that GM appears to be going down the tubes, I just plan to have the 105,000 mile Taurus repaired eternally. 

    Good news.  We sure could use some.  The Iraq war is winding down, but the terrorism is grinding up.  Afghanistan also wants us out while the Taliban seems to be moving in.  And one of those prognosticators who periodically turns up to put us down claims that in the next five years there will be a dirty bomb attack somewhere in the modern world.

    Good news.  It's always in short supply.  Bad news is plentiful.  At the tender age of eight, in the kitchen of my fourteen year old sweetheart, her father marched into the kitchen and abruptly turned off the radio.  It was tuned in to "Mary Noble, Backstage Wife."  She, Mary, was busily engaged in yet another soap opera desperation.  My sweetheart's dad shouted his reason for silencing Mary's woes: "We have enough troubles of our own; we don't have to listen to somebody else's."  And he was a bank vice president who had a job in the middle of the Great Depression... which is the ancient history in which this episode took place.    

    Good news.  When I go to church I expect to hear some.  I confess, however, that on more occasions that I care to list, when it was my turn in the pulpit, I was deficient in this responsibility.  Usually someone in the congregation at the door after the benediction smilingly chided me for the absence of a little grace to hang on to.  One Sunday afternoon in Brooklyn in another century, following a service in which I sounded like a common scold, Leif Wiger, a very wise and sensible Norwegian Christian not known for offering his opinion unless asked, rang our doorbell.  He wanted to know if there was anyway he could help... calm my angry spirit, though he didn't call it that, nor did he blame me.   God bless Leif!  Out of that experience I determined never again to use the pulpit for pet and petty peeves; but to remember up there in the pulpit, "three feet above contradiction" as Dr. Scherer described it, that, like an ambassador, I'm under orders to speak for another, whose message if judgmental never fails to be gracious.

    Good news.  When I go to church and don't get any, Barbara suffers my complaints on the way back home.  Usually, if the sermon fails me (and it doesn't most of the time recently), I can extract from a hymn or a lection that otherwise missing element. 

    Good news.  Not happy news.  Not sweet nothings.  Not everything's beautiful.  Like when I went to the orthopedist in the fall of 2003: he told me it was time to have bilateral (that means "both") knee replacement surgery.  He explained that there would be at least five weeks of painful recovery, plus another half year of swelling.   But the good news - and very good news it was - is that I would be able to walk again without feeling like I had to sit down every ten steps.  I could endure cocktail parties.  I could watch parades standing up.  I could do ballroom dancing.  Otherwise the future held in store for me a wheelchair.

    Good news.  Which is, to say it another way, the Gospel, "God's spell," is like my knees (on which, by the way, I now can kneel for holy communion at the rail).  At least, the way Isaiah, John, and Jesus tell it. Before the good news comes rehabilitation... oh, I mean repentance.  The good news also assumes a full embrace of the diagnosis and prescription... oh, I mean the judgment and the forgiveness.  The Sunday school epigram has it right: no cross, no crown.  The exercise prescription also works: no pain, no gain. 

    Good news.  It's not so much what we have to do as it is what God has done.  That's the summary of a sermon, a good news one, I heard last Sunday.  Thank you, Bryan.  God's part in the redemption of the human race is 99% divine and 1% human.  Radical Lutherans and Calvinists would put the percentages at 100% and 0%.  But I'm a Methodist.  Who would insist with the Lutherans and all of the other mainstream animals in the denominational zoo that the really important work for the salvation of humanity has long since been accomplished by God.  Meaning, of course, what transpired in Bethlehem, Galilee, and Jerusalem in the life and work of a Jewish peripatetic preacher named Jesus.  That is God's doing entirely.  His remedy for our sickness unto death.  His prescription, grace, amazing grace, for our stupidity, violence, selfishness, individual and corporate, that has plagued planet earth since the dawn of time. 

    Good news.  God does not leave us to our own devices.  Having once upon a time long long ago spun the celestial bodies into their orbits; having summoned us all into being the better to share the love and joy of creation; having witnessed us abuse our freedom, eating the forbidden fruit, passing the buck, murdering our brother, and striking out on a forlorn journey east of Eden; having abided generation after generation of our just not getting it; God in mercy and wisdom decided to do something truly incredible, come to us as one of us.  Scandal and folly, sneer the wise of every age at such good news.  Undeterred, heaven descends at Bethlehem. A mother's child.  A world's savior. Or as Mark has it, God's own Son.

    Now that is good news, replete with the consequent claim that God loves this world with every ounce of his/her eternal being.

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