Notice that Mark does not begin his Gospel with angels, Mary or Joseph. There are no shepherds or heavenly choirs. We cannot find anywhere references to the baddie Herod or to the Wise Men. There is no wonderful language attempting to explain how the Word was in the beginning and became flesh.
Mark simply says "The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God". Simple start but one which encompasses all that needs to be said. This isn't just an explanation about the beginning but it places Jesus into His rightful context. This IS the Son of God himself. Mark leaves his readers in no doubt at all. And then, suddenly, we find ourselves learning about a wild-eyed, scary prophet right out of the Old Testament style; John the Baptist isn't a politically correct, liberal theologian, but a "tell it to `em straight" sort of guy.
John is literally the voice in the wilderness. Speaking after a prolonged period of silence during which the voice of God has not been heard by the people of Israel, John isn't just speaking out of a physical wilderness of the desert, but out of a spiritual wilderness of the barren years. The context is that the Israelites have forgotten what God sounds like and have moved a long way from him and his teachings. John comes with his message of repentance, forgiveness and his promise for the future.
This is a much needed message for today, and not just amongst those outside the Church. Too often, we inside the Church assume that everyone else is a sinner, and yet the truth of the Gospel is that we all are sinners and we all get things wrong. Consequently there is a need for us all to repent of those things in our lives that are wrong, but what, truly, is repentance?
Wabush is a small town in a remote part of Labrador, Canada. It was completely isolated for many years but recently a road was cut through the wilderness to reach it. Wabush now has one road leading into it, and thus, only on one road leading out. The only way to leave Wabush is by turning around. It's the same with the town called SIN. Only one road out and it involves a complete about turn. Repentance is about turning around completely and heading in a different direction away from the former life. For Christians it's about turning away from those sins that still hold us despite our faith and desiring to change. It may take a lifetime (and probably will in some cases) but there must be a desire to repent.
Forgiveness of sins
John is often thought of as being something of a pulpit basher style preacher. Hell fire and damnation, but in reality is the giver of hope. The hope that sins can be forgiven. I find that we live in a world where the media and people are waiting to pounce on wrong doing; where it is much easier to point out someone else's failings, as if to hide ones own. In such a world this is a much needed message about the possibility of forgiveness. John offers a God who truly forgives and there are many (you, reader, may be one of them) who need to know that forgiveness. Of all the things in my study one of my favourites is my bottle of Tippex, that seemingly magical liquid that covers over my mistakes. You know the stuff I mean.......you brush on the liquid and literally whiten over the mistake. Then you're free to start again. In many ways Tippex is a symbol of forgiveness: an obliteration of a mistake with no tell tale traces that it ever happened at all.
God offers such forgiveness if we would only truly desire to repent, ask for the forgiveness and be prepared to receive it.
Promise of future
I get ever so excited by the word, Parousia. It literally means that the chosen one is coming; Jesus is returning again. John the Baptist points to God doing something new; he is fulfilling the promise made thousands of years before. And the scriptural promise is that part of what began all those years ago with the birth of Jesus is to be completed by his return to earth again. Of course John doesn't point to the second coming (after all at this point Jesus hasn't begun his first time around!) but the whole advent message is one of Jesus returning to complete that which he began on earth. What a wonderful promise that is, that the future remains in Gods hands and he will sort out this mess that we have made with his creation.
Jesus will return in glory and in a world where there is so much despair the glorious news of the Gospel is that the one who can do something about it is coming; indeed is here and is working amongst us. His next return will be the completion. Have you ever stopped to realise that the second coming is, logically, closer than it has ever been before?
What should be our response to all of this? Scripture often speaks of the Church being like a bride getting ready to meet her groom on their wedding day. It's the same for each one of us. Advent is a time when we should be getting ready, not just for Christmas, but to meet with the Glorious Christ on his triumphal return. Its not about worrying ourselves over sin, for believing Christians can be assured that their sins are forgiven, and nonbelievers only have to turn to Jesus, declare him as Lord and Saviour, and ask for that forgiveness. Instead it's about walking in that wonderful forgiveness and desiring to let His Holy Spirit work on our hearts and lives to bring about change.
So my question to each one of us, and to myself also, is "What are we doing about it?" and my prayer is that each one of us will allow God to prepare us through His Holy Spirit, to be ready to meet Jesus Christ.
© 2020 Reverend Michael Redshaw