12/4/2011 2nd Sunday in Advent Mark 1:1-8

So, today we read from Mark 1:1 – 8, he begins with Mark 1:1 “This is the beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mark does not go through the birth narrative, nor does he go through the story of Egypt or Jesus in the Temple at 12 years of age. Mark begins with Jesus the man and John the Baptist. He mentions the Isaiah prophecy where Isaiah says “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”

This marries Jesus and the gospel to old testament prophecy, and of course the true beginning came in Genesis, but that is another story for another day. We are dealing with the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I believe that we need to look at this from the standpoint of where we are in the Christian year and what that beginning means in the overall story of Jesus and his teaching.

We have read the stories over the years of the birth of Jesus, how Matthew and Luke both put together genealogies and we enjoy those stories, the shepherds and the wise men and all of that wonderful background for the birth narrative. I want to project for you this story that Mark gives us today as being a continuation of that narrative. Mark was supposedly the first gospel written, Matthew and Luke used some of what Mark wrote when they wrote their stories. Good for us they put in the birth stories because they give us the picture that gives us a complete story of the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Now one other thing that I think we really need to be aware of, the beginning, really doesn’t amount to a hill of beans without the truth of the end. You see the birth of Jesus Christ, the baptism of Jesus Christ, means nothing without the death of Jesus Christ and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So let us remember that the birth and the stories around that birth, really are not complete, without us realizing that Jesus was born to die for our sins. He came that we might have life and that everlasting and abundant. He was born to suffer horribly and die a criminals death on the cross at cavalry, and to rise from the dead on the third day, as a promise to all that we are forgiven for our sins and have eternity with Him in paradise. Something that we get to deal with later in the Christian year, but it is a part of the story of the beginning.

Now let us look at what Mark is doing here. He is writing to people who are distressed, they are living under persecution. They have a problem dealing with Mark writing that this is good news, where is the good news when people are dying? Mark therefore immediately points to Isaiah in verses 2 and 3. Isaiah says that a Messenger will be sent ahead of God’s Savior to prepare the way. A voice crying out in the wilderness. Fits John the Baptist really well.

Pastor Eloy Gonzalez, Our Redeemer Lutheran Church, Irving TX, on 12/7/2002 told this story: “A young American engineer was sent to Ireland by his company. It was a two-year assignment. He had accepted it because it would enable him to earn enough to marry his long time girlfriend. She had a job near her home in Tennessee, and their plan was to put their money together and put a down payment on a house when he returned. They wrote often, but as the lonely weeks went by, the girlfriend began expressing doubts that he was being true, exposed as he was to the beautiful Irish women. The young engineer wrote back. He declared with some passion that he was paying absolutely no attention to the local girls. ‘I admit,’ he wrote, ‘that sometimes I’m tempted. But I fight it. I’m keeping myself for you.’ In the next mail, the engineer received a package.

It contained a note from his girlfriend and a harmonica. ‘I’m sending thjis to you,’ she wrote, ‘so you canb learn to play it and have something to take you mind off those girls.’

The engineer replied, ‘Thanks for the harmonica. I’m practicing on it every night and thinking of you.’ At the end of the two years, the engineer was transferred back to company headquarters. He took the first plane to Tennessee to be reunited with his girl. Her whole family was with her, but as he rushed forward to embrace her, she held up a restraining hand and said sternly, ‘Just hold on there a minute, Billy Bob. Before any serious kissin’ and huggin’ gets started here, let me hear you play that harmonica.”

By tying Jesus and John the Baptist together with Isaiah, you might say that Mark pulled the harmonica out and began to play. You see John the Baptist was a crucial part of the ministry of Jesus Christ. It was the sign that Isaiah had talked about, John was that voice crying in the wilderness. He is giving proof that the good news that he is writing about, is faithful to the entire narrative of scripture. “Now John the Baptist, was in the desert telling people about a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. All Judea and all the people of Jerusalem went to him. As they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. John was dressed in clothes made from camels hair. He wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.” Verses 4 -6. Doesn’t seem to be much of a Christmas symbol does he? Yet I think that we need to be aware that John was born just a short time before Jesus, about 6 months before and that would be sometime around Pentecost. So John dressed like one of the old testament prophets, and is the bridge between old and new, is really a good symbol for us, for he leads us to Jesus.

John lived in the wilderness, he dressed funny, he ate bugs and honey, some combination hey? He was not a high steeple preacher, he was a guy who preached in the wilderness, people had to go to him. It was not exactly the most comfortable place to be for those folks yet he was a man preaching repentance for sins, baptizing in the river. Mark starts with John the Baptist. Why?

We read in our scriptures that man is fleeting, his life is short, and then he moves into eternity. This world is not our home but it is a way stop on the way to eternity. James says to us in James 14:4b “What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” Our life is a journey sometimes in the wilderness, sometimes hurried, and sometimes stressed out. This time of year especially brings stress to our lives. We find our relationships strained, our finances strained, many people are wondering how they will bring Christmas to their children. They are worried about jobs, about caring for their families and find themselves like so many wondering about God. They too need to hear that the story is true, that this is the beginning of the story of Jesus Son of God, bringer of Good News. They need to know that Jesus is with them, that Jesus will bring comfort and healing in the midst of the stresses of life.

John the Baptist came with a definite message, that message was that there was one coming who was more powerful than himself, for John baptized with water but Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit. He called people to repent, That message is of course still the same today, Even we who are already people of the Christ, still need to repent of our own sins. We do tend to allow the stresses of everyday life to get in the way of living for Christ, and accepting His grace in ourselves, not to mention extending that grace to others as the body of Christ.

John preached that the kingdom of heaven was at hand, and that is also true today, for those who claim the name of Christ, are citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven. We bring that Kingdom to fruition every time we reach out to others with the grace and love of God.

Is that not what the Kingdom is? The extension of God’s grace to all and the offer of eternal life to all? We have the greatest gift of all time, the birth of Jesus Christ, not just in Bethlehem but also in our hearts. He has granted us the Holy Spirit to help us to understand the truth of the gospel message, and to apply it to our daily lives. We are the children of God and we are the Kingdom of God and that is the Kingdom that is close now. We are to reach out and offer the gift of the RISEN Lord to all, no matter who they are or where they are in their journey through life.

We do need to look at beginnings, we also need to look at where they lead and how we get there. Jesus came to live as we do, to actually work at a trade, carpentry, and to then preach, teach, heal and finally to die and then rise from the dead. This was God’s plan and we now celebrate that birth, remembering also the promise that He will come again. That too is an end, but it is the end of God’s plan for life I have read the last part of the book, God’s plan comes to fruition, and God wins. There will be a new beginning, where we will live in paradise, where the Kingdom will finally become a true reality on the New Earth and New Heaven. Of course that is a story for another day too. Let us today, know that we are moving closer to the celebration of the birth, and that the birth has meaning because it moved us closer to the death and rebirth of Christ in the resurrection. We live in the end times and soon will live in eternity. Amen.