Sermon, Second Sunday in Advent Year B, December 7, 2008 Mark 1:1-8

Mark 1:1-8boy-reads-storybook1

This past week, the big 3 auto-maker executives went to Capital Hill with their stories of woe, and their pleas for

 help. Did you notice how they told their stories?

They all set their stories of hardship in the context of the current Headline News story of our present economic crisis.

Their stories are part of a larger story.

They also set their stories in the context of an even larger story: the story of the American economy over the past decade.

We, the American people, the buyers of cars, trucks, and SUV’s are the reason they produced big, gas-guzzling vehicles: we kept buying them.

Our American story is wider than that – as we are reminded again today, the 67th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Our American story includes episodes of tragedy and conflict, of loss and sacrifice.

But our story also includes episodes of recovery and rebuilding.

In fact, our story includes long periods of growth and prosperity, and even the expectation of increasing growth and greater prosperity.

That too, may be part of the nexus of factors that led us into the crisis we are in now.

The wider the context, the more the individual stories make sense.

How would you tell your story on Capital Hill? You might do the same. You might start with:

  • how much you have lost in your retirement accounts,

  • how much less your property is worth,

  • and how this is all a part of the larger story of the global economic collapse.

But your story is bigger than that, and if you had time, you would widen the horizon so that the bigger picture could be seen.

  • Your story is set in the wider context of the family that raised you,

  • and in your marriage and family.

We are here today because we know that our personal stories are set in another, even wider story: the story of God.

It is crucial that we understand how we fit into God’s story if we want to survive in these days of anxiety and uncertainty.

One of the reasons why I love the bible is that it is all a story that shows us how to understand our place in God’s story.

It begins at the beginning: “In the beginning, God...” God’s story starts with God; and immediately, God’s involvement in our world. “In the beginning God… created”

It was his idea: he made it, and he made it good. God’s story tells us that He made us, people, in his image – and he made a living space for us in which all of our needs were met – peace, security, fertility, family; in one word, “Shalom” – well-being in its deepest sense. God’s story entirely encompasses our story, for our good.

Evil is a part of this story too – human choices to do what we know is wrong: from the forbidden fruit of the tree in Eden, to the fascist regiems of the Axis, including the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the greed and deception at the heart of our economic crisis.

But, the story we are in, God’s story, does not stop with a good creation-beginning gone bad. God’s story is a redemption story.

God’s story is of God’s covenant-making, covenant-keeping, starting with Abraham and Sarah – through whom he promised to bless the entire earth.

God’s story is the story of the Liberation of his people from the slave-labor bondage of Egypt. It is a story of preservation through 40 years of wilderness wandering.

God’s story – our story is a story that includes a long history of us – his people – getting off the path that he laid out for us, for our good, and ending up in dark places – and of his repeated rescues.

I wonder how much of that story you see yourself in? The bad choices, the times of bondage – wilderness periods, and also the times of rescue and redemption.

I wonder how you would describe the time you are in now?

We understand our story best when we can see it within God’s story, but we have not told the whole story yet.

It is one thing to rescue us from slavery and from our periods of faithless wandering, but we all can recognize the need for redemption at a deeper level – the level that addresses the root of those forbidden-fruit choices – the level of evil itself.

  • We need redemption at the level from which comes greed and arrogance that fueled the economic crisis we are in comes from;

  • We need redemption at the level that produces entire populations that support and defend fascist regiems,
  • We need redemption at the level of our own wandering off the path, into faithlessness, hopelessness, temptation, and simple selfishness.

This is where the Gospel of Mark comes in. This is the redemption story that gets to the root of our need and enables us to understand and live into our part in God’s story.

Mark, as you know, was the first gospel written – how does Mark choose to tell us the story of Jesus? It is fascinating! He begins at the exact same place as the original story of God started: at the beginning. The first word of the gospel of Mark is “beginning” just as it is in Genesis 1.

This has tremendous significance: the story of Jesus is not just another episode in the chapter of wandering people rescued yet again; it is an entirely new chapter; a brand new beginning!

So, what happens at this brand new beginning, set in Roman-occupied Galilee? Mark says this is The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

This is also huge! “Good news” (gospel) in Mark’s day was a technical word – in fact a political word – we would say “propaganda” – the word used to announce victories of the Imperial Roman Army or coronations of a new, “divine” Roman emperor. This new beginning that God is making involves a new regiem: the emperor his system, and his phony “good news” has just been replaced.

This is as true for us today as it was then: salvation and redemption that we need most will not come from Washington or Wall Street. Our hope is not in the free Market or even the bailed-out market. And our salvation is not available at any store at any price, and it is not available online.

The redemption that we long for, the solution at our deepest level of need is found in the new story of what God is doing: the story of Jesus who is Messiah, Christ, the one anointed by God.

Where are you in your story today? Are you in the wilderness in your story? If so, take heart; that is where the announcement of the new beginning comes from. That is where the voice is crying out:

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,’”

What is all this business about path-making? Just like at the Babylonian New Year festival at which they constructed a road for the procession of the god Marduk, so now, not just at the new year, but at the beginning of this new chapter in God’s story, the people are called upon to prepare a way.

This is what we do here today. We prepare a way for him by preparing our hearts and our lives for the new beginning God is making in us through the advent of his Messiah, Jesus Christ, son of God.

We come to the table he has prepared for us, and at this table we prepare a way, a path, a road for him. At this table we renounce the emperor’s phoney gospel and its false claim on our lives: we are not in Wall Street’s consumer story, we are in God’s redemption story. At this table we re-tell the real story, to make sure we know our lines: Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again.

We will eat the bread and drink from the cup, and his life will become our life so that our lives can be totally integrated into his – his life, his story, his victory over evil, and over death.

This is the story of the authentic “good news”: God has made a new beginning in Jesus Christ, Messiah, God’s son. This is not an easy story – it will involve betrayal, suffering, crucifixion and death for God’s Son.

But on Easter morning, his disciples will be told by a new messenger to meet with him – in Galilee – where he began. The Story begins again each time a disciple meets the risen Christ, in the wilderness, and joins him in his story.

This story will take us with him to the blind, the lame, the marginalized, the poor, and to lepers. In his story we will join him in pushing open the doors to strangers, people who had been shut out in the past, people who do not know how much God loves them – who do not know that they are part of his story.

We are not glib when we tell our story. We know that it may involve world wars, unprovoked attacks, economic depressions and personal suffering. But the wider story we live in, is one of grace and love, of forgiveness and redemption. It is the story of the New beginning in Jesus Christ, Son of God: it is God’s story.

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