St Mary’s, Puddletown
Sunday 10th December 2017
Isaiah 40.1-11; Mark 1.1-8
You might be quite surprised at how many words are used in commentaries to dissect the first sentence in our Gospel reading this morning, which said: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
In fact the grammarians among you might even point out that it’s not a sentence – there’s no verb in it.
You might or might not be pleased to hear that I’m not going to spend too long discussing with you the different possible readings there are for how to interpret this phrase.
But I do want us to spend some more time thinking about it this morning.
What do we mean by good news?
Perhaps we learn that a friend undergoing treatment for cancer has been given the all clear,
or maybe we hear that our pensions or salaries will rise in line with inflation this year,
or perhaps a new grandchild or great-grandchild has been born.
Perhaps you thought the recent news of Prince Harry’s engagement was good news,
or maybe you won raffle prize at the Christmas fair yesterday.
There are all sorts of things that we count as good news.
Sadly we sometimes forget that Christianity is good news – that’s what the word Gospel means. It is good news.
Our media doesn’t help us – so often the picture it paints of Christianity is negative.
It is often portrayed as a faith which wants to limit freedoms or judge others for living in particular ways.
It is attacked by secular liberals for being too conservative and ardent right-wingers for being too liberal. (Of course, in journalistic terms good news stories are often seen as no story, which doesn’t help our cause.)
The good news that John the Baptist was announcing drew crowds and crowds of people.
I imagine the phrase “all the people of Jerusalem” might be a bit of an exaggeration but John was certainly attracting the hordes. It was a message they wanted to hear. Something in what he said had caught the imagination of the Jewish people of the time. There was life and excitement around John the Baptist.
And that’s because what he offered was a complete transformation in one’s life. We often limit the meaning of the word “repent” to being or saying sorry, but what it really means is a complete turnaround in one’s life.
Baptism was a sign of utter transformation in one’s life.
That has to include acknowledging the sins of the past and leaving them with God to deal with, but baptism brought so much more than that. It brought a new life.
If that was what John was offering, how much more is the gift that we have in Jesus Christ, the one whose sandals John was not fit to untie?
How much more is the gift we have of baptism in the Holy Spirit as well as by water?
Think for a moment about the role of your faith in your life. Where do you find its good news?
What good news do you have to offer your neighbours?
What good news do you have to offer this village?
What good news do you have to offer this country or our world?
It begins with a transformation in our lives. John proclaimed the coming of one who would baptise with the Holy Spirit. God’s power can and does transform lives – that is great news for everyone.
So good news there really is, and if your faith doesn’t feel like particularly good news at the present, think on these things.
We have a God of power who has created each one of us as a precious treasure.
We have a God of love who loves us unconditionally, whose love remains even when we get it wrong, as we do so much of the time.
We have a God who reaches out with arms of forgiveness to welcome us back to the heart of goodness.
We have a God whose word remains steadfast however much the world crumbles around us.
We have a God who has promised us a better future – a time and place when there will be no more pain or dying or weeping or mourning.
We have a God who turns the world’s values upside down, who makes the poor rich and uplifts the lowly.
That all sounds like pretty good news to me.
The other word I want us to think about a little is the second word of Mark’s Gospel: “beginning”.
Theologians argue as to what Mark is referring to, but I’d like us to put this alongside the ending of Mark’s Gospel, which, if you remember, leaves us all hanging.
Again theologians argue about this but I believe that Mark wrote it like that deliberately because the story didn’t end when Mark’s Gospel ended – with the resurrection. The story continues today, and that again is good news.
What Mark wrote in his Gospel was the beginning, the end is still yet to come.
It is of course the good news of Christ that we are part of, but what a privilege to be entrusted to join in with God’s work sharing the good news.
God hasn’t given up on us but allows us to be part of the story, to be part of the good news.
John wasn’t fearful about speaking up, even though he was on the edge of society and wouldn’t have been found at the smartest dinner parties.
When good news happens to us we’re not usually slow to share it, so why are we so reticent about sharing the good news of Jesus Christ?
Advent is a time of preparing our hearts for the coming of Christ at the end of time, even more so than for getting ready for the Christmas dinners, family get-togethers, parties, present-giving, card-writing and so on. The big message of Advent is Get Ready.
Getting Ready is about nothing more or less than the complete transformation of our lives as we act on the good news of Christ and share it with others in our words, our deeds, our attitudes, in our speaking up for justice and love and care.
The temptation once we become a Christian is to think we’ve done what we have to do, but one of the exciting things about the way of Christ is that how much more there always is to come. But God won’t force that upon us; in our getting ready the chief thing is to open our hearts to God, to make Christ the priority in our lives from which everything else flows.
Christianity is not a Sunday-morning hobby but a complete way of life – an exciting one where there is always more to gain than we might lose, where there is no end to what we can experience of God and God’s world, where learning is lifelong, where forgiveness brings freedom and where God’s love is the best news of all.
The beginning of the good news . . . where do we fit into that story? Its end is yet to come.
How can we be good news to others in our homes, our villages, our nation, our world?