Homily: December 7, 2014
FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT, YEAR B; Rev. Theo Park The passage Vant just read is as much as we get in the gospel of Mark
by way of introduction to Jesus.
The writer jumps in right at the beginning and tells us immediately,
“The beginning of the good news of Jesus the Anointed One, the Son of God.”
It is less a proper sentence, more a statement of fact
written for the evangelist’s predominantly non-Jewish audience,
for whom the phrase “son of God” would have instant recognition
because it was one of the titles regularly used in worship of the Roman emperor.
In the next verse the author goes on to do something rare for this gospel:
he makes a citation from Hebrew Scripture in support of his claim.
This is in stark contrast to gospel of Matthew, from which we read from last year;
that author lards his whole biography of Jesus with references from the Hebrew Bible.
Such are the differences the intended audience make on the style of the preaching.
In Matthew Jesus is portrayed as the new Moses, the awaited Messiah of Jewish lore;
thus it is important to repeatedly spell out how Jesus fulfills this promise.
Mark emphasizes instead that God is the principal mover behind the story of Jesus
and, oh, by the way, all this was predetermined long ago.
In citing his authority for this the author fudges his references,
no doubt trusting that his readers won’t know the difference.
He attributes the whole quote to Isaiah, but in fact he’s combining three passages:
one from the book of Exodus, one from the writings of the prophet Malachi,
and one from the Isaiah reading we heard this morning.
To understand the impact we have to go back and look at the context.
The sole purpose of the Gospel of Mark is the power of God acting in Jesus,
and everyone else in the story appears only to point to this.
The author wastes no time in niceties or going off on tangents about other characters. There’s no extended birth narrative as in Luke,
no introductory dream sequence as in Matthew,
no pre-creation cosmic reference as in John.
So the appearance of John the Baptizer is starkly limited;
we get no insights the character and history of the man himself,
unlike the version we will get next week in John.
And he is introduced solely to lay groundwork for the work of Jesus.
When the appointed Son of God does arrive, says the evangelist,
by contrast to this preparatory water baptism for repentance,
he will pour out God’s Holy Spirit,
fulfilling another hallmark of God’s Anointed, this time one found in Joel.
To really lock in John’s secondary role, the author has him profess his unworthiness
even to perform the kind of service normally done by a slave,
untying the sandals of his master.
And with that, exit stage left, at least in this version of the story.
To fill the void, Jesus immediately and suddenly bursts upon the scene.
The niceties are dispensed with, the story is upon us
almost before we have time to draw breath
and from this point on the pace never lets up.
As most students of Mark know, his favorite phrase is “Immediately.”
There are several themes within this first act, however, brief as it is,
that make it worthy of our focus in Advent.
One is integrity, another is living within a vision, and a third is expectancy.
Integrity first. Many a so-called leader comes with a message they themselves deny. Many with comfortable bank accounts preach about not laying up treasures on earth. Many extol the blessings of poverty from comfortable homes.
In the case of John, the man was the message, and because of that people listened.
There is a moral here not only for those of us who lead or preach
but for communities as well.
Advent marks the beginning of a new Church year,
a time to experience new beginnings in our spiritual lives, individually and corporately.
It is a good time to take stock of our integrity.
Am I, as a Christian, are we, as the household of God gathered in this place,
really living out who we say we are in such a way
as to make the path straight for God and for others?
Does everything we do point to God as the ultimate author of creation?
To Jesus, as our professed example of human transformation?
Do we walk the talk of our baptismal covenant, of our mission?
Which leads me to living within a vision.
God’s people have always lived within the context of a long-term promise:
a covenant made a long time ago, as the opening of Mark reminds us.
It is part of the on-going, unfinished love affair between God and creation.
This is the vision into which we were born: we are part of the story of the prophets,
of John, of Jesus and the disciples and of God’s continuous work of creation.
So the question is, how do we tie ourselves into that vision and live within it?
How do we remind ourselves of it, relate it to our world today,
recreate our community within it?
Remember that there are no birth legends about Jesus in Mark.
His greatness is not defined through miraculous otherworldly happenings
but through his relationship to God and his role as a mediator of God’s love to the world.
And here is a lesson for Advent: as Pope Francis reminded the world not long ago,
it isn’t through charity or good works that Christ is known in this season—
it is through building relationships with people,
real love that extends hands, hearts, and minds toward the real-life situations of others. John is proclaiming not a miracle worker but a son, the beloved child of God.
And we are all sons and daughters of God, created in the same divine image
and called to the same task of self-giving love.
Now expectancy, and here I have two thoughts.
Advent tells us that expectancy is not about just sitting around
waiting for the predictable to happen.
Expectancy is believing that something, someone, is coming,
and keeping the senses sharp, keen to discern the unexpected,
the new heaven, the new earth.
We wait, as I said last week, in hope.
So there’s a belief, a mind-set, an attitude to our Advent waiting.
It is also, as I have said before, about acting on that belief, acting out of that belief.
And so Advent expectancy is about preparation, about making ready.
In the spirit of expectation and belief, we are invited to be quieter,
to reflect, even to change, so that when the someone/something we await arrives
we will be found living the vision in a way that reflects our deepest truest selves.
But chances are, if we can’t give ourselves over to the expectancy,
if we don’t enjoy the process of getting ready,
we won’t enjoy the event we’re getting ready for!
If we become so consumed by getting Christmas right—
the right present, the right cards mailed to the right people at the right time,
the right dishes for the Christmas dinner—
we risk missing the surprising ways that God moves to prepare us in this season.
Advent invites us to tune out the pace of the world around us and tune in to God.
To contemplate God’s message of comfort,
of peace and joy and love as we read it in Scripture and in Jesus;
to participate in creating that same world of equity and justice
by reaching out to others in need.
As we open to God’s guiding in these days,
we may discover that the space being prepared for the coming birth
lies within our own selves.
A voice cries out, prepare the way of the Lord…
May we respond from a depth of integrity, with clarity of vision,
and in hopeful expectancy that the promise so long-awaited will be fulfilled.
May this be our prayer in Advent and in every season.