In the name of God, who is always new. Amen.
I have, from time to time, talked about one of my favorite theologians, Marjorie Suchocki. She did theology in a field known as “process theology” – which explores the relationship and movements between God and creation as a way of finding deeper understandings of both God and creation. Just before I moved to New Jersey for grad school, I had the gift of studying with Dr. Suchocki over a short retreat.
I was mesmerized by her teaching. And I’ve often reflected on it through the years. I can’t even really imagine the number of times I’ve quoted her in both sermons and casual conversations, but one thing that really stood out for me in that weekend of study was the way she structured her communications. I’m sure I’ve talked about it here before.
I could visualize her lecture like a flower – and her books follow the same sort of structure. She starts as the center – at her main point – but then goes off on something that feels like an unrelated tangent before bringing it back to the center, then another “tangent” and back again, and on and on around the circle until she brings the discussion back to its original point – which, of course, had been the point all along.
With Advent, we bring ourselves into a new church year, and with that, toward a different focus in our readings for the year. Of course we read from many parts of the Bible throughout the year, but each year in our three-year cycle of readings has a particular focus on one of the Gospels. This year, we’ll be reading a lot from Mark.
Mark sometimes gets a bit of a bad rap. This version of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is probably the oldest version we have. Matthew and Luke borrow a lot from Mark and fill out the stories and add some of their own. But Mark is sort of like the Sgt. Joe Friday of the Gospels – “just the facts, ma’am”. Mark’s Gospel gets right to the point. There is rarely any embellishment or flowery language or theological ramblings. It’s just the story. It’s just the teaching. It’s just the event. Then it’s on to whatever is next.
We hear it here in the beginning: the Gospel just jumps right in. It quickly announces the writer’s intentions and goes about fulfilling them.
“The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
There’s a quick recitation of some history about how we got here, but then it just jumps right into telling us about John the Baptist, and the way he was going about at the time announcing that the prophecy had come – that the time was now.
Most of what we think of as the “Christmas Story” comes from Luke: the stable, the manger, the angels… all that stuff. The story of Jesus begins with the story – the personal history of the one who is about to be revealed. We get some of that in Matthew, but the real focus in Matthew at the beginning is the history: finding legitimacy through all that was foretold and all who got us here. The one who is about to be revealed can be trusted, because he came from good stock – he got here honestly – exactly as we expected.
But Mark takes a different approach altogether. Mark begins with the people. Mark begins by introducing us to a community of believers who were yearning for something more. Their leader, John the Baptist, promised that it was coming, and was working to help them prepare.
The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was us. The people. The community looking for Christ. That was the perspective of that first Gospel writer. That the story begins with us.
In that way, this Gospel from Mark reminds me of Marjorie Suchocki. It starts with the point – the people. And no matter where it goes from there, it always keeps making it’s way back to the point – to the people that Christ came to serve and to save.
The Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was (and is), from Mark’s perspective, a story of yearning – a longing so deep that it comes from the soles of your feet; a longing that makes you move and ache until it’s satisfied. The first thing we hear is about the people yearning for a nearer walk with God; yearning to know God; yearning to love God; yearning to be saved by God – a yearning that had been growing through the ages.
It is in much the same way that the Bible, as a whole, can be seen as an account of God’s yearning for creation: first yearning us into existence, but then, through each step of history, yearning to draw us closer; yearning to love us deeper; yearning to know us more intimately.
In the Gospel – the Good News of Jesus Christ – we hear the people’s yearning reverberating against God’s, and God’s yearning reverberating against our own – yearning that grows with such power and love that the world itself gets broken open. Broken open so wide that everything that stood between us and God before came crashing down.
This annual retelling of Advent and Christmas is the story of that breaking. It is the story of that yearning and reverberating. When we learn to embrace Advent – the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God – when we understand that, we can still feel that reverberation rumbling through the world.
Just as the story of Jesus Christ began with God’s people
and kept coming back to God’s people, it’s still
coming back to God’s people today. How
are we the beginning of the Good News
of Jesus Christ today? We are.
The Good News is still beginning – with each new breath. The Good News is still beginning with every
waft of the Holy Spirit through creation.
The Good News begins where it always has: right here; with us. Our Advent vocation is to keep yearning to
make it known. Amen.