7 Dec 2008
“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1) In the name …
Fr. Randy Calvo
I have to throw-in a little bit of Bible minutia to start things off this morning. Our Lesson is taken from the first chapter of Second Isaiah, but if you went to look that book up in the Bible’s table of contents you wouldn’t find it. First, Second and Third Isaiah are all combined together in the one book called Isaiah. Second-Isaiah is composed by an unnamed prophet who is writing as the people of Israel complete their exile of 50 years in a foreign land and begin to migrate back to their homes in Israel. And this prophet confidently proclaims: “A voice cries out in the desert, “Prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight his paths.” (Isa 40:3) He’s calling on the people of Israel to move because God is already moving. The people of Israel are the ones you could actually track walking from modern day Iraq back to the Promised Land, but the prophet reveals that God is moving too.
This idea would not have surprised the ancient people of our Bible. We first hear of God in the Bible as “ruah,” which means both wind and spirit in Hebrew. This wind, this Spirit of God, sweeps over all of creation, constantly moving. Moses, as another example, saw God in a burning bush that was not consumed. Fire was not a symbol of destruction, but of movement and energy. The bonds between Israel and her God were forged during the Exodus where God moved with the people in a pillar of cloud for 40 years, and who was worshipped in a nomad’s tent that could be erected and taken down quickly. When Israel finally settled-down and built God a permanent temple in Jerusalem, the holiest part of that building was reserved for the Ark of the Covenant, the box that held the Ten Commandments and that was constantly carried from one place to another as God commanded Israel to move. And then when the Jews were defeated and sent into exile, the prophet Ezekiel tells of his vision of seeing God’s presence leave the Temple and journey with His people to a foreign land, and God’s presence was envisioned above a chariot with wheels facing in the four cardinal directions symbolizing the belief that God could move wherever and whenever He chose. With all of this as Israel’s religious history, these people would not have been at all surprised to hear Second Isaiah say that God was moving again.
The prophet speaks his words to a people who are migrating back to their homes after a forced exile of five decades. That’s two full generations. Both sets of my grandparents, as sort of an analogy, had immigrated to America from Europe in the 1920’s. Two generations later I was a teenager growing up in Westfield. My roots were here in New England, no longer in Poland or Spain. If I was told that I would have to move back to Warsaw or Faramonsea, I would not have been an enthusiastic teenager. To those who were reluctant to move back to the land of Israel, the prophet revealed God’s command to him: Go up to Zion and at the top of your voice proclaim: “Here is your God!” (Isa. 40:9) The presence of God that the prophet Ezekiel saw leaving Jerusalem is now the presence of God that Second Isaiah proclaims as moving back to Jerusalem. Stay behind where God once was and hope that He won’t move, isn’t going to slow God down or stop Him, it’s only going to separate us from Him. Ours is a God of movement, and whether we like it or not, as individual followers and especially as church we must also be willing to move with Him.
The prophet who stands as a bridge between the Old and New Testaments of the Bible is John the Baptist. And in the first three books of the New Testament this John is described by using the words from Second Isaiah: “A voice cries out in the desert, “Prepare the way of the Lord! Make straight his paths.” (Mk. 1:3) This is because God is again on the move, and John is the prophet who is letting the people know. The citizens of Jerusalem and its villages are streaming out from the city and going out to see John in the wilderness. There’s a beautiful temple in Jerusalem that King Herod is building at that very time. John could have been a priest within those hallowed and ornate walls if he so chose because he was the first born son of a priest named Zechariah. Instead, John is out by the Jordan River preaching of repentance, which means change, which means movement. He’s calling Israel to follow where God has already moved. At this point in sacred history, we’re standing on the brink of Jesus’ public ministry. God is about to break forth with a new revelation of His presence. God has moved from temple building to the person of Jesus, and John’s mission is to “prepare the way of the Lord.”
This is the opening act of what the Evangelist Mark calls the “beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” The first Gospel written is Mark’s Gospel, and the very first word of that Gospel in Greek is ____, beginning. I don’t think Mark means to limit this word to the trite meaning that the rest of the story follows. I think and I hope that Mark places this word as the first expression ever of the Gospel-story to let us know that even in its entirety this is only the beginning of the journey, that as followers of Jesus there is always something more to come, which further implies that we are still following a God who is on the move. This is why both Isaiah and John the Baptist fit in so well during the time of Advent. They are prophets calling us to follow God wherever He moves, wherever He leads. Advent is a time of Christ’s coming. Advent doesn’t say, however, that Christ is coming to us. It says that He is coming into the world, and it then becomes our challenge to move forth and meet Him where He is.
The prophets Isaiah and John are still calling us to go out to where God is, to where Christ is. And where He is today does not necessarily mean He will be there tomorrow. We are followers of a God who is on the move. That’s the anticipation and excitement that gives Advent its energy, and gives church her purpose. That’s the symbolism of the increasing light of the Advent wreath. Advent’s preparation calls us to see that Christ is in the world. The journey Advents calls us to is to find Christ there, to follow Him to the outcast, the sick, the lonely, the poor, because there we will also find Jesus. As church, as followers of Jesus, let us find our strength here in worship so that we can follow Jesus out into the world. For this we pray in His name. Amen. (+)