The Beginning of Hope in Our Wilderness
by Bishop Chris Giesler
Preaching Text: Mark 1:1-8
Beginning sequences in movies are always very important. Don’t ever be late for a movie, and if you are watching one at home, don’t start it until everyone is in the room so they can watch the opening scene. You can bet that some significant bits of information will be shared right up front that will impact the movie at the end.
Beginnings are very important.
I truly do believe that God is active and engaged in the world in which we live each and every day. I believe the Spirit of God is here and is at work right now. That being said, I also believe that there are two points in human history when God’s work took on epic proportions and radically changed the way things were. In both cases, the Biblical record uses the word “beginning” in the description.
The first time God moved in such a dramatic fashion is recorded in the first few chapters of Genesis. This, of course, is the description of the creation of our little corner of the magnificent universe. Had they known then what we know now about the expanse of the universe, this story would have been even larger. These creation accounts (there are two of them) are powerful statements of faith, and the first one begins with these words, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”
In the beginning, God moved and transformed darkness into light, and creation was begun.
The next significant move that God makes with the fabric of human life is what Christmas is really all about. Here, God decided to leave the heavens and physically step foot into the human story as flesh and blood in the person of Jesus. He was born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth, did ministry throughout the area of Galilee, and was crucified, died, and was buried in Jerusalem. It was there also that the bonds of death were broken with his resurrection.
The Gospel of Mark, the first Gospel written of the four we have in the New Testament, begins this remarkable story by saying, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
And here, in the beginning it is John the Baptist who bursts onto the scene with a people living under brutal oppression. The headlines in the morning newspaper in Israel during those days would NOT have been pretty. They might have said something like:
- Roman Oppression Continues with Mass Killings
- Local Tax Collector, Zacchaeus, Extorts Millions While People Starve.
- Leprosy Epidemic Continues Its Rampage: Social Distancing is Still Required
- Prostitution is Out of Control in Jerusalem
But into all of this bad news, Mark says, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” And the chosen messenger to share this announcement lives and does his ministry out in the wilderness, for he is the voice crying in the wilderness with words that come right from the prophet Isaiah, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”
Of course, it only makes Biblical sense for the good news to come from the wilderness to people who were living in the wilderness of life. Good news for them was not about to come from Rome or even Jerusalem. Good news was not about to come from the marketplace. Good news was hard to find, even from their religious authorities.
But John says to them: “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
All of this came from a voice crying out in the wilderness. The beginning of the good news, the gospel, of Jesus Christ, the son of God. But for some reason, the good news can’t be heard very well unless we get to the wilderness. Think of the parable of the prodigal son. The good news of his father’s love could not be heard over the son’s desire to have his father’s wealth. The good news of the father’s love could not be heard over the excitement of travel to an exotic foreign land. The good news of the father’s love could not be heard over wine, the women, and all the food. The good news of the father’s love could not be heard over the pride of not wanting to admit his mistake. But finally, in the wilderness of hunger, desperation, and humiliation, he hears the good news of his father’s love, and he goes home to a waiting embrace and a more than generous welcome home party.
So from the wilderness, John speaks to our wilderness and says, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the son of God.” Can you hear it?
You see, for John the Baptist, Jesus’ arrival isn’t just one more birth among the many of his day. So let us not allow this to be just one more Advent and Christmas that comes with the fury taking over our lives for a couple of weeks and then getting packed up into boxes and put back into the attic for another 11 months of collecting dust.
The good news will not come from the shopping centers, the good news will not come from our sports teams, and the good news will not come from the lottery, the casino, or the movie theater.
The beginning of the good news is that God comes to us in our wilderness to bring comfort, peace, and hope. This is also meant for you in the midst of whatever wilderness you find yourself in right now.