Advent 2B (12/7/2008)

The Beginning

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

Prayer of the Day:     Stir up our hearts, Lord God, to prepare the way of your only Son. By his coming strengthen us to serve you with purified lives; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

8.1 The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, "See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,' " 4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, "The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."


St. Mark 1:1-8, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Those of us who follow a liturgical calendar have just completed a year of focus on St. Matthew's Gospel, and are now beginning a twelve-month look at St. Mark's Gospel. We'll make a few forays into St. John this year (St. Mark is quite a bit shorter than Matthew or Luke - the gospels that we study during the other two years of this three-year lectionary - so we fill in the gaps with John), but for the most part, from now until next Advent, most of our Gospel readings will be from St. Mark.

St. Mark is becoming my favorite Gospel. It is the oldest of the three existing Gospels, written somewhere around ad 70 (St. Matthew and St. Luke were probably written in the 90s; St. John may be as late as the first part of the second century). There is a raw and honest character to St. Mark that isn't always as evident in the other Gospels. It is the briefest of the Gospels, and so the stories are packed in a bit more tightly - it is an account filled with action and movement. And it is a Gospel that takes the powers of this broken world very seriously. As you read St. Mark, you quickly develop the impression that there is a battle being waged for our souls between the forces of God and the forces of evil.

Matthew begins with Joseph and his dreams. Luke begins with Mary and Elizabeth, and their angelic visitors. John travels all the way back to the beginning of time, and the creating Word of God. But Mark starts out abruptly, and with a bang. He doesn't take time to set the scene. His first words are these:

The 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..."

And then it's off to the races. Within eight verses John the Baptizer is on the scene, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and calling his listeners to take stock of their lives, confess their sins, and open their hearts up to the One who will come, baptizing with the Holy Spirit.

The Beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

There has been no end of speculation about what St. Mark means with this sentence. What, exactly, is the beginning of the good news of Jesus? Is it this opening sentence of the Gospel? Is it the story of John and his fiery preaching? It is the entire Gospel account (which begins a story that is continued in the lives of those who read it and come to faith)?

It may be helpful to remember that not only is the beginning of this Gospel ambiguous, but the ending is missing. Where the other evangelists tell us of mountain-top appearances, breakfasts by the sea, and our Lord's ascension to heaven, the oldest existing copies of St. Mark end in this way:

As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, "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." So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.


 St. Mark 16:5-8, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Mark's account ends with terrified women, too frightened to even mention to anyone what they had witnessed. It is a story without an ending.

Yet we know better. We know that the women eventually did tell. We know that the Spirit eventually did move. We know that members of the early church did eventually risk their lives to share the good news that Mark begins with this Gospel. We know that had the resurrection news never been proclaimed, Mark would never have written this Gospel, and we would never have been blessed by reading it.

Yet he did write, with power and conviction; and with great hope that those who read his words will be stirred to faith in the One whose coming was announced by John the Baptizer; the One who is our source of forgiveness and renewal; the One who defeated death and promises us resurrection; the One whose life and ministry and death and resurrection gives us meaning.

May the power of Mark's Gospel make a new beginning in each of our lives, as our hearts are captured by the Good News of Jesus Christ. And may Mark's un-ended Gospel find its continuation in us, as we carry on the mission entrusted to the first generation of Christians - the mission of sharing this good news with all the world.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week's Text:

  • What does the first verse of St. Mark mean?
  • What differences are there in how each Gospel begins?
  • Of what significance it is that St. Mark has no clear ending?

Connecting with This Week's Text:

  • What new beginning does God want to make in my life today?
  • How can I enter into the Advent disciplines in a way that makes that possible?
  • How can the story of Jesus continue on in my life?