By The Rev. Sherry Deets
2 Advent – December 4, 2011
We should not miss the first word of this Gospel, “Beginning.” We are reminded of the book of Genesis, which begins, “In the beginning.” Just as that book describes the beginning of all creation, this Gospel, Mark’s gospel, describes the salvation work of Jesus Christ — the culmination of God’s creative relationship with the world.
The beginning, for this Gospel, does not start with a baby in a manger, but with a prophetic word. Beginnings also make us consider endings and one cannot consider the beginning of Mark without thinking of its ending. “They said nothing to anyone for they were afraid…” This unsatisfying ending had the scribes and scholars scrambling for alternate closings and theoretical explanations. Yet, the real ending of Mark is not really an ending at all. “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” “He is not here,” is perhaps the best “good news” of all. Not even a tomb can hold God, not even death. “He is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you”. The ending taking us back to the beginning and Jesus is going there ahead of us, leading the way, where we will see him, just as he told us. He is here.
The opening of Mark’s Gospel reminds us of the decentering of God’s good news which is found on the edge…of everything. Goes beyond the boundaries of where we thought God was supposed to be. We find ourselves not in the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem but outside of her city walls, in the margins, on the sidelines. In the wilderness.
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness” (v. 3a), we here today. Another important point to note. The wilderness is key to Israelite history. The wilderness “is more than a geographical place; it is the place where God meets, reveals himself to, tests, and saves his people” “Salvation traditionally comes from the wilderness. Moses, Elijah, and David all fled to the wilderness (Exod 2:15; I Sam 23:14; I Kgs 19:3-4). Likewise, Jesus will emerge from the wilderness to begin preaching the good news and will return there several times (Mark 1:35, 45; 6:31-32, 35; 8:4)” It was in the wilderness that God tested the people and it was in the wilderness that they rebelled. It was in the wilderness that God saved them again and again, and the wilderness was the crucible where they became a nation. The wilderness was both a route to the Promised Land and a place of exile. It was a place where people sinned and where they also repented to restore their relationship with God.
The good news of God brings hope to those who find themselves in the peripheries of our world, but it also belongs there. God’s good news of grace announces God’s presence on the fringe, God’s love that goes beyond the boundaries of where we thought God was supposed to be, and God’s promise that there is no place on earth God will not go or be for us.
John Bradshaw tells a parable about a prisoner in a dark cave. The man was sentenced to die. He was blindfolded and put in a pitch-dark cave 100 yards by 100 yards. He was told there was a way out of the cave. He was a free man if he could find it.
The cave was sealed and the prisoner took his blindfold off. He was to be fed for the first thirty days and then he would receive nothing. His food was lowered from a small hole in the roof of the eighteen-foot high ceiling. The prisoner could see the faint light above but no light came into the cave.
The cave contained some large rocks. The prisoner figured he could build a mound toward the light and crawl through the opening.
He spent his waking hours picking up rocks and digging up dirt. At the end of two weeks the mound was six feet in height. He figured he could duplicate that in the next two weeks and make it out before his food ran out. But he had used up most of the big rocks and had to dig harder and harder. After a month he could almost reach the opening if he jumped. But he was very weak. One day he thought he could reach the opening. But he fell off the high mound and was too weak to get up. Two days later he died.
His captors rolled away the rock that covered the entrance. The light illuminated an opening in the wall of the cave. It was the opening to a tunnel that led to the other side of the mountain. This was the passage to freedom. All the prisoner had to do was touch the walls around him and he would have found freedom. He was so completely focused on climbing up to the opening of light that it never occurred to him to look for freedom in the darkness. “The freedom was there all the time next to the mound he was building but it was in the darkness.”…
The voice of one crying out in the wilderness we hear. John’s is a baptism of repentance. We tend to think of repentance as feeling guilty about our sins, but it is more — much more. The Greek word, metanoia, means a change of mind or direction. When we learn a new and better way of thinking, we naturally respond by changing our behavior to accord with our new understanding. If our earlier actions harmed others or ourselves, we will feel sorry that we acted in those ways and for the harm that we caused. In that sense, guilt is part of repentance, but guilt becomes true repentance only when it causes us to change our mind and direction.
The Greek word, metanoia, is related to the Hebrew word tesubah, used by prophets to call Israel to abandon its sinful ways and to return to God. Both words (metanoia and tesubah) imply “a total change of spiritual direction” ).
“A baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (v. 4b). These three elements, repentance, baptism and forgiveness, go together (Williamson, 32). Repentance motivates us to seek baptism, and repentance and baptism together open the door for us to receive forgiveness of sins.
And we find the door to freedom right there beside us, in the darkness. The good news of God brings hope to those who find themselves in the peripheries of our world. God’s good news of grace announces God’s presence on the fringe, God’s love that goes beyond the boundaries of where we thought God was supposed to be, and God’s promise that there is no place on earth God will not go or be for us. “And the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it”. Amen.
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