Mark 1:1-8The 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,'"
In our bible study this Tuesday the first question was “What is this good news and how have you experienced it in your life. I believe I was the one who read the question and I think Frank was the one who turned to me and said Father Fred would you answer that one for us. I hate it when people do that to me. So I deflected his question by saying “what do all of you think?
Lets look at this question of good news from a couple of perspectives. First, Mark's main audience was the Jewish community. They were a people who were under Roman rule. They had been promised a messiah and Mark proclaims in his gospel that Jesus is that messiah.
Let me give you a little of the back-story here. In Jewish theology the afterlife was a time of dreary waiting. When you died you went to kind of a gray zone and there was clearly no joy. In fact the Torah says very little about the afterlife. Some speculate that it is silent because the Egyptians were so focused on the afterlife and the pyramids were built on the backs of Jews so they really did not want to think about it. The Jews wanted their people to focus on the here and now.
Jesus turned it around. He told his followers that when they died they would go to heaven and it was a place of eternal joy. Jesus told them to prepare and nurture their souls by practicing selfless love and the eternal joy of heaven would be theirs. You can see why this new way of thinking had such an appeal.
Still I haven't answered the question have I. How has the good news affected me in my life. For me, the good news of Jesus is that when I mess up in life as I often do I can bow my head in humble prayer and ask God's forgiveness. By the grace of God, I am forgiven. I am told through this good news that Christ is with me as I walk this sometimes difficult path called life. He shows me the way. I am a follower of the Way.
I want to spend some time looking at John the Baptist but before we do that lets examine our reading from Isaiah. Isaiah says, “a voice cries out in the wilderness. Prepare the way of the Lord.
- "Here is your God!"
- See, the Lord GOD comes with might,
- and his arm rules for him;
- his reward is with him,
- and his recompense before him.
- He will feed his flock like a shepherd
- John the Baptist was that voice crying out in the wilderness. He came to prepare the way of the lord. John was announcing the coming of the lord and at the same time he was telling the people to repent. He really must have been quite a figure. I am guessing he would have been seen as a modern day hippy dressed in camel hair and a leather belt. My picture of John is that had long hair and a beard and neither had been cut or combed in months. He lived on wild honey and locusts. There is a lot of discussion about whether John ate bugs or beans or possibly pancakes. The more I read the more confusing it all becomes.
- What we do know is that John was an ascetic and as an ascetic he would have eaten very simply. If I could go back in time, I would love to have a conversation with John the Baptist.
- John proclaimed that the lord was coming and that he was not worthy even to untie the thong of his sandals. Here we are today in the second week of advent waiting for the coming of the lord. Advent/Christmas is a time to prepare. Of course during this time of year we do lots of preparing. We make connections with old friends and relatives through Christmas cards. We buy presents. We get a tree. We decorate. We worry if we have done enough. This kind of preparing is the easy part but the busyness of it all can be stressful.
- When John the baptist talks about preparing the way of the lord, he is not talking about dragging a tree into the living room or having lots of presents. After all it isn't even our birthday. He is talking about something much deeper and more fundamental. He is talking about our souls. He is talking about opening up ourselves and allowing the holy spirit in.
- The Christmas/Advent season can be full of distractions. Let us not forget whose birthday we are celebrating and that message of good news He gave us all those many years ago.