December 10, 2023 at Saint Elizabeth Catholic Chur
Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11 + Psalm 85 + 1 Peter 3: 8-14 + Mark 1: 1-8
There is that word again, beginning. We just heard it two days ago on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. As we settle into Mark’s Gospel for the coming year, we might as well get used to a few things or we are going to miss out on a lot. There is no end or conclusion with Mark’s Gospel. It simply stops with two women running away from an empty tomb in fear. So, how can there be a “beginning” when there is no “ending?” In his skillful way, Mark is suggesting what many of us have discovered in life, that every ending is a start of something new, a beginning.
With that first verse, Mark announces some Good News about the Christ who is the Son of God. It will not be many chapters into his writing before we come to realize that the good news is not exactly going to be about a triumphant victory, and this Christ he reveals as Son of God does not imply privilege and prestige. In fact, the news is not very good the way the world looks at things, and this Son of God, this anointed one does not fare very well. By the last verse, for those who stay with and live the story Mark tells, there will be a complete transformation, a stripping those words of our conventional understanding because of one word: Jesus.
The “Good News of Jesus Christ” begins before it begins as John the Baptist emerges out of the prophetic tradition of the past. Every detail about John matches the prophets before him: the diet, the garment, the wilderness. His message is the same as those before him echoing God’s eternal plea: “Come back to me.” But Baptism for John is not just about ending one’s old ways. There is in his message a beginning because there is more than just his baptism. His work is incomplete. There is more to come. The baptism of John is simply preparation. It is a call to be ready. He uses the image of a path, and with little effort, we can easily begin to think of getting things out of our way so that we can get where we are going. But the path goes both ways, and it’s not just about us. John’s real thought is that this path is God’s path toward us, urging us to clear that path so that God can get through. The point of making a straight path is for someone to arrive.
This Gospel urges us to be proactive. There will be no sitting around and waiting for the Kingdom to dawn on us. The Jesus who comes in Mark’s Gospel turns upside down all the old thinking about Christ, the Anointed One and about the “Son of God.” There is no privilege and no power coming. There is the hard and difficult experience of being mis-understood and abandoned, of being mocked and scorned of being identified with a loser, a criminal in the sight of some who dies for no other reason other than obedience and love. It’s enough to make anyone run away in fear. But, that’s not really the way it ends. The truth reveals that it is really the beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ and the Good News about who we are and who it is that has come for us. What it takes to make the end become the beginning is for us to get whatever is cluttering the path out of the way, to put an end to sin’s power over us, and challenge the injustice in this world that keeps us all from living right now in the Kingdom of God, because it is at hand.