GOSPEL REFLECTION FOR THE SECOND SUNDAY IN ADVENT
6 December, 2020
We enter the “Year of Mark” in our daily readings and begin this Sunday with the short prologue to Mark’s Gospel. I recently referred to the direct, vivid quality of Mark’s writing and it is remarkable how these opening verses set the scene and bring us immediately into the narrative. Yet Mark
begins with the work of John the Baptist and his baptism of Jesus. This was the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry and Mark makes no reference to the birth and childhood of Jesus. There is no “Christmas Story” here, for that we must go to Matthew and Luke. The opening words, “The beginning of the good news (gospel) of Jesus Christ . .” are not so much a title but an assertion that the work of Jesus began with the work of John as its preparation. Luke, in his gospel, tells how the births and family backgrounds of John and Jesus were related; they were not strangers to each other.
These short verses make several things clear, but I will mention two. First, Mark quotes from the Old Testament prophecies of Isaiah and Malachi, which shows that the coming of Jesus was the fulfilment of God’s promises made to the people of Israel. The parallel between John and the prophet
of Isaiah as “the voice of one crying in the wilderness” is obvious in both a literal and spiritual sense. Both have a message of hope and a challenge to “Prepare the way of the Lord.”
Second, the good news of the Messiah’s coming begins in the context of a religious revival, not a political upheaval. This was contrary to the popular hopes of Jesus’ own time that the Messiah would
bring a national renewal and freedom from the yoke of the Roman empire. This conflict of expectations was to work itself out in many ways during the years of Jesus’ earthly ministry. There have been, (and still are?) many occasions in human history when political expectations have been
confused or conflicted with the Kingdom of God.
So as we worship through this season of Advent may we seek to renew our faith and commitment to bringing the Kingdom of God to our confused and troubled world, especially in these times of anxiety and uncertainty. As the old Advent hymn of Charles Coffin reminds us . .
“On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry’
Announces that the Lord is nigh;
Come then and hearken for he brings
Glad tidings from the King of Kings.”
Grace, mercy and peace to you all. Lloyd.
GOSPEL REFLECTION FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY IN ADVENT
29 NOVEMBER, 2020
Happy new year! Our traditional church year begins this Sunday as we enter the season of Advent, leading us to the celebration of Christmas. We also begin a new set of readings in our three-year lectionary. Last year (A) was the year of Matthew and this year (B) we focus on the gospel of Mark.
I continue to be fascinated by the way that each of the four gospel writers approaches the life and teaching of Jesus from a different perspective, each with a different emphasis. Matthew, as we have noted, is structured around five discourses, which is consistent with the Jewish origins of the gospel,
echoing the five books of the Law that we find in the Old Testament. If I had to choose a dominant feature of Mark’s gospel it would be its simplicity and directness. There are no long discourses, as in Matthew and John, and the deeds of Jesus are presented in a brief but vivid manner, which is suggestive of an eyewitness origin. That said, as we approach the joyousness of the Christmas season, it may seem strange to begin
Advent with Jesus’ words which warn the disciples of coming trials and tribulations, of persecution, war and natural calamities. In the original context of these words he was surely speaking of the troubles which came upon the first generation of Christians following the Jewish revolt against Rome in 66AD and the subsequent destruction of the temple and the Jewish state. It also warned of the persecution which was inflicted upon the early church as it confronted the power of the Roman empire. Tradition has it that ten of the original twelve apostles suffered martyrdom, only John living to an advanced age with a natural death.
However, from our twenty-first century perspective we can see that Jesus’ words reflect human history and experience in all ages. Christian martyrdom was not limited to the early centuries, as the memorials to twentieth-century martyrs, which were established at Westminster Abbey in 1997, remind us. Even today there are many places where Christians are subject to severe restriction, opposition and persecution. We do not usually experience this in modern Western society, although indifference to and ignorance of the gospel are common. In the face of this Jesus made two promises which are for Christians of all times and places. He promised to be with us at all times, including times of adversity, and he promised by his Spirit to give us words of witness and wisdom to enable us to effectively answer those who seek to oppose us. So as we approach Christmas and join once again (albeit with restrictions!) in celebration of our Saviour’s birth, let us be thankful and remember those brothers and sisters who cannot celebrate freely and openly as we do.
Let us also be thankful for the easing of restrictions. It is good that the first Sunday of Advent should be the first for many months in which we can worship without severe restrictions. We hope and pray that our new church year will be one of renewal and strengthening of our faith, as we look forward to the coming of a new rector to our parish.
Grace, mercy and peace to you all. Lloyd.