Two Views of Advent

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Synopsis of: – Two Views of Advent

Good and joyful morning this morning to all Christian brothers and sisters on this the day the Lord has made. Pull up a chair, pour yourself a cup of coffee, or tea, or milk, or whatever is your favorite; we’re about to slice a piece of the bread of life, the Word of God. And today’s slice is from:

MARK 1:1-8     The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; 2 As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. 3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. 4 John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. 5 And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey; 7 And preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. 8 I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.

The four gospels each have very different ways of introducing the story about Jesus.

Matthew begins his gospel with a long genealogy, tracing Jesus’ lineage — “son of David, son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1-16) from the time of Abraham through fourteen generations, through the line of Mary’s husband, Joseph, all the way to Jesus.

Luke’s gospel begins differently, first with stories of the foretelling of the birth of John the Baptist and of Jesus, the more familiar portions of what we think of as the Christmas story, but Luke also gets around to including an even longer genealogy of Jesus than Matthew, traced back in an opposite fashion to Matthew, starting instead of ending with Jesus, and moving back through the generations even further than Matthew, all the way back to Adam, the first human.

But John trumps Matthew and Luke in writing about Jesus’ beginnings, foregoing a genealogy altogether, he moves back to the time before time in his gospel introduction:
“In the beginning was the Word … All things came into being through him … And the Word became flesh and lived among us …” (John 1:1-14).

When it comes to making choices about gospels to read in the weeks leading to Christmas, I suspect Mark would come in last in most people’s books. How can we resist Matthew and Luke, who I suspect would tie for first? And John would likely place third, with so much more about John the Baptist than we have here in Mark. In contrast to the desire of the other three gospel writers to place Jesus solidly in the history of Israel’s most important figures,
Mark begins his economical little gospel — a presentation of the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, Son of God — with a quotation from Isaiah and the arrival on the scene of John the Baptist. Here comes John with his camel suit and strange diet, saying his only job is to point toward the one they have all been waiting for, like the announcer on a late-night talk show warming up the audience.

Compare that to Mark’s incredible economy of phrase: John the Baptist appeared; and people from all over went out to him to be baptized; and he said, “One who is more powerful than I is coming after me” (v. 7). And that was about it. Eight verses sum up all the preparation, then in verse 9 Jesus will show up for his baptism. The church sets aside four weeks each year during Advent to get ready for the arrival of Jesus, Mark sets aside eight sentences.

There is so much packed into this handful of words, we could almost miss it in its understated presentation.
* Isaiah is quoted, reminding us that the Jews of Jesus’ own time emerged from a people   who 500 years before had lived in exile in another whole country, forcibly moved there by a powerful emperor, and they had never forgotten it.
* John preached repentance and return, not to a land this time, as was the case with Isaiah, but to their God from whom they had become increasingly estranged.
* John foresaw a Messiah on the way whose shoes he had no right to stoop down and tie. So the title of today’s message is: Two Views of Advent

So when did the Jesus thing really start? It started with a calling: “In the beginning” God called the world into existence; God called the kings of Israel to rule justly over the people; God called the prophets to preach justice and piety to the people; God called John the Baptist to remind the people who they were and who was their God. It really starts, this work of God in the world, with the call of God. A call to people, to individuals, to leaders, but mainly to those who will listen, those who will listen and respond.

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