Sermon–December 10, 2017


Advent 2—Year B

December 10, 2017

William Bradbury

Isaiah 40:1-11, Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13, 2 Peter 3:8-15a, Mark 1:1-8

I am told that George Buttrick, the famous Harvard Divinity school professor of preaching in the mid-20th century, used to say that every preacher, just before entering the pulpit, should think, “I have wonderful news to tell these people.” See Mark: Belief a Theological Commentary by William Placher

The Gospel of Mark begins his story this way: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God….” The Greek word for good news or gospel is a technical term: it was used to announce either a great military victory or the birthday of the king. A calendar from 9 BC found in Asia Minor says of the birthday of Caesar Augustus: the birthday of the god was for the world the beginning of joyful tidings—good news—which have been proclaimed on his account.” Mark, by William Lane, page 43

Good news announces a victory that changes the world and the future. Remember Isaiah who says, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings “good news”, who announces salvation.” Isaiah 52:7

If there is good news, it means our king and his army won and the oppression by our enemies is over. Even though times may be hard now, this good news of victory tells us that one day soon our lives will be transformed.

When Jesus is baptized by John the Baptizer, the Roman army is occupying the land of Palestine. There is no freedom or peace, just oppression and abuse. Though the people are under the domination of the Roman Empire they still believe God has not forgotten them and will one day soon send a Messiah, a King, to set them free.

But even 40 years after Jesus when Mark writes his account of the good news, not only is Rome still in charge, Rome will soon destroy Jerusalem and the Temple.

So it is a fair question for those who are hearing Mark’s gospel for the first time in that context, how in the world can this situation be called Good News? How can you call it good news when the Roman army is still in charge? How can you call it good news when a billion people are still hungry and the rich and the powerful don’t care? How can I call it good news when there is till brokenness in my own life?

There were and are many folks who say, well, the world is still a mess, so obviously Jesus isn’t the Messiah. The best the church can do is to be chaplain to empire and share a little spirituality so empire may occasionally show some scraps of compassion to the poor.

But Mark announces another way to live in the world of empire—even now 2000 later. He announces the way of believing and living inside the good news of the victory of Jesus Christ, son of God.

I think of a friend living with her parents in Germany when the war ended on V-E Day, 1945. She is 7 years old when the good news is announced: the war is over—the Evil Empire has been defeated! But when she looks out into her world she sees very little evidence that this good news is true. Yes, there are no more bombs falling, but there are foreign soldiers on every corner; there are massive food shortages; and there is rubble everywhere.

The war is over, but it takes a leap of faith, a firing of the imagination, to believe this good news is going to make a difference in one’s life.

Who could blame those who are too depressed to believe it and imagine it?

But there are some who do believe the good news and are capable of wrapping their minds and ordering their lives around it, until everyone can see it and know it as the truth.

These were the ones who begin the long struggle to build a new, democratic, and non-racist Germany. The war is over, now the work begins.

Saint Paul says in Romans, “Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewal of your minds.” 12:2 The Mind is where the battle is fought—your mind and mine.

Some will look around and decide this Jesus stuff is all nonsense and will fill their minds with the propaganda of the Powers: To trust the Powers that it is okay for men to abuse women. To trust them that whiteness is the best color. To trust them that the Empire is always right and never wrong. With these thoughts in their minds they become one more cog in the machine—and they let the Matrix have not only their minds but also their souls. They become partners with evil.

But most are of a more cautious temperament, who ignore all this propaganda and just ask Empire to protect them. These are the people Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of when he said in the 1960s:

“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”
Read more at: 

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God–

The word “beginning” can mean the first words of the story, but it can also indicate that Jesus is the beginning of the story and we, his disciples are now living in the middle of the story.

But we need all our pleasures right now or we become ill tempered.

So 2 Peter says: “Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.”

According to Peter’s math we are living in day three of the Resurrection.

And Please Notice that Peter says  that Triune God does not want any to perish, but wishes everyone to come to new life.

What is new life? John 17:3 says, “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

Being a disciple of Jesus is hard work. Hard work but also real work—done in the real world, building relationships of hope that make visible the new creation where, the psalmist says,  “Mercy and truth meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other.”

As our minds are filled with the wonderful news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our imaginations catch fire and we know the truth: The war is over. Now the work continues.