Here we are in the second week of Advent now and we are really progressing through the year. Before we know it we’ll be in the third week of Advent and then we’ll be that much closer to Christmas, a week closer to be exact. But we do this year after year, lectionary cycle after lectionary cycle, and some people think that it is all the same old stuff, predictable, drab, mundane. A few weeks ago we had members of First Lutheran join us for worship, and in that group was a fellow visiting from another denomination who was doing a study on worship styles. Interestingly enough he was the second visitor we’ve had since September for the same reason, in that people are learning more about worship and exploring the different styles out there, maybe to learn how to create a new and innovative way to hold worship and maybe attract a different kind of group.
So why are they coming here?
The long standing joke is that we Lutherans never change in our worship, we have our same liturgical order, our super old hymns, and every Sunday more or less looks the same. I even heard a story about a preacher who used the same sermons for so long that his people were actually able to mouth them out verbatim. If that doesn’t say Lutherans don’t change, then I don’t know what does.
But, in spite of the lack of change in worship styles, it appears that people still attend the Lutheran church. People are still going to Lutheran seminaries, and people are still hoping for more Lutheran pastors. And all of you, faithful Lutheran Christians, come back almost every week wanting to learn, to commune, and to worship together among God’s people.
And I think that is wonderful.
In my conversations with the two different young men who came to experience a “different” style of worship, they too, actually thought it was wonderful. They said that while our liturgical style of worship wasn’t for them, there was something about our theology and how we worship that spoke to them, but they couldn’t exactly put a finger on it. And one of them actually said that he didn’t understand why more people didn’t flock to the Lutheran church for its rich theology and faithfulness to God’s Word and call.
And it warmed my heart to hear this, that there is something about us that is different in a good way, and that we have this draw to people who care enough to pay attention, and that it isn’t just me that thinks that the Lutheran church is pretty awesome.
Because really, that is the gospel. The good news of Jesus Christ, coming in where we least expect it, looking like anything but good news, but suddenly and somehow changing us forever. The beginning of Mark’s gospel, the gospel account that we will focus on mostly in this Lectionary year B, starts with just that, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”. There is so much we can do with just that one phrase, that very ordinary, seemingly boring and drab phrase.
In our many many years of church and learning and all that, it is easy for us to be like, sure, we know this is the good news, the story starts here, and Jesus as the Son of God means he is fully human and also fully God, which feeds into our Trinitarian theology. Nothing wrong with that.
Except, do you think Mark (if that is the author’s real name) meant all of that almost 2000 years ago? We actually might think so, we might even hope so, because then everything fits into a nice neat package that we can sell much easier. We can say of course that it what he meant because this is scripture that was being written, fully inspired by God where every stroke of every letter was intentional to be packed full of meaning and inspiration… except when it isn’t.
See when the author of Mark wrote “the good news of Jesus Christ”, he wasn’t being theological, rather he was being political through and through. The “good news,” the “evangelion” (not the anime) was usually a pronouncement of the empire’s current victories and conquests. Heralds for the government would walk up and down the streets yelling out the good news, the evangelion of the empire is that we just conquered such and such a country or we expanded into so and so a territory or we have a new plan in reconstructing the metrotown area which really is fine the way it is but hey we like progress or something like that. The good news was to drum up more patriotism, to remind people that they are on the right team, and that their emperor was the best emperor there is. Also, that they had to fall in line with their government, or else. So for Mark to use this very specific term, it was clearly to rouse up some political rabble. He was saying that everyone needs to hear this good news, this evangelion that he was proclaiming, in that it will remind them of who they are, it will strengthen their loyalty and patriotism, and it will change their lives.
And change them, it did. But not in the way anyone expected. See, as I mentioned, hearing the evangelion was to show them how powerful they are, how mighty, how they are to be feared among all the peoples. Because that is what they thrived for, what they wanted, what gave them a name above other names. Respect, authority, intimidation. That is where the true power lay. That is where their confidence and self-worth came from. That is how they can be the most popular among the nations, that everyone wanted to be a citizen of that country, that they were the place to be. But this evangelion that Mark was talking about was different, wasn’t it. It wasn’t about power, at least not the kind of power they were thinking about. It wasn’t about intimidation, far from it in fact, as it was more about humble meekness and servanthood. And it most certainly wasn’t about popularity, as the main character of this evangelion was tried, convicted, and executed as a traitor. This was political indeed.
To add to that, Mark calls Jesus the Son of God. Well there you go, you might think, there is the proof that this is theological, not political. Well, surprise surprise, the title “Son of God” was also a political term, usually reserved for Caesar, the emperor, the ultimate power of the land. In this landscape of Roman rule, they cared little about your religion and spiritual allegiances, as long as you paid your dues to Caesar, the true Son of God. And there would be others to claim that title, and guess what would happen to them? Probably be tried, convicted, and executed for treason.
And so Mark using these terms, these very specific terms of the times, was intentional to stir up sh…tuff. He was trying to change the way people saw the world, to show them that being the most powerful or popular wasn’t the end all be all of life, that there is more to the world than just conquering and expanding. There is love as well.
You see, this is the beginning of the new evangelion, that Jesus Christ, humble servant to all, shall show us what it means to have power through love, through community, through being human to other humans. Mark was subtly (or maybe not so subtly) throwing it in the faces of the powers that be, telling them that their way will not last, their thirst for power cannot be quenched in the way they think, that their quest for more stuff is only going to feed their emptiness. Mark was saying that there is a new way emerging, a way that will last, fulfill, spread across the land and into the world, revealing to all a love that doesn’t fade and a peace that surpasses understanding, and that this good news is one that we cannot help but to proclaim.
That is what John the baptizer was about, he couldn’t help but proclaim this new way, this power in humility, this baptism in the Spirit. This is what Isaiah meant when he called the people of Jerusalem to get to the top of a high mountain and tell the nations of all that God has done. This is how we, as we are called to in all the readings, are to be prepared for God entering our lives, to prime ourselves to be able to recognise God working, to be aligned with what God is doing so we can walk alongside with each other, communally blessed by God, and joined together by the Spirit in which we are now baptized. It is in the righteous humility, the peaceful servant, the steadfast love where God resides and is seen.
We might think that God can only be seen in the larger than life productions, the mighty acts of power, and the loud clanging gongs of self-proclamation. But rather God is found in the crazy backwater prophet wearing funny clothes and odd diet, in the counter cultural ideals that seem to flip our world upside down, in the shrinking denomination that practices the seemingly stale worship. God is seen where we least expect it, and it is glorious.
My friends, this is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. This is the evangelion of Jesus Christ, the new ruler of the world. This is the proclamation of Jesus Christ, the herald of the new ways of God, bringing to all people the steadfast love of God, the faithfulness of the saints, the righteousness of the Spirit and the peace that surpasses all understanding, and above all revealing to the world that God is present among us.
And the good news, the evangelion, the proclamation continues on in us, in who we are and whose we are, as fallen saints, forgiven sinners, sons and daughters of God, called to humble righteousness and steadfast love, witnesses of this humble power found in the grace that has been bestowed upon all of us. This doesn’t mean we need to trade our clothes in for camel’s hair or learn locust recipes, but it means that we are a people of promise and hope, seeing God active and well in the ordinary and mundane, turning our assumptions and worldviews upside down, and constantly doing new things to surprise us, empower us, and bring us joy.
As we continue in the waiting and hope of Advent, let us look forward with anticipation to the presence of Christ, the steadfast love of God, and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in and around our lives, now and forever. Thanks be to God. Amen.