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Carolyn’s Sermon for Advent II – 12/4/11

Sermon Advent II – Year B

St. Mark's on Advent 2, 2011

Grace to you and peace from God our Creator, and Emmanuel, God with us. Amen.

Think back to when you were a child in Sunday School – maybe for some of you it was  long ago, (maybe for some it was this morning).  See yourself sitting around the table in that classroom.  Remember who your teacher was.  Think about your classmates sitting with you.  Did you have to memorize a Bible verse? Were you supposed to bring your Bible with you?

My favorite Sunday school teacher was Mrs. Eichner.  I loved her.  She was sweet and we didn’t have memory verses in her class, and she didn’t get upset if you forgot your Bible. She could explain things very well and you could tell she believed what she was teaching.

Do you remember hearing Bible stories every week?  There were all those wonderful stories of the mighty acts of the God of Israel: Noah and the Ark, Abraham and Sarah, Moses parting the Red Sea, Joshua and the battle of Jericho, David and Solomon.  Then there were all the miraculous stories of the New Testament when Jesus healed people, fed the 5000, and of course the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

When you first learned those stories, did you used to ask yourself, or even ask your teacher, “why doesn’t God do things like that now? Why were there all those miracles in Bible times, but we don’t see them anymore?”  I know I used to wonder about that.

Now let’s jump for a minute from your Sunday School class to your English class at school. Your English teacher will tell you a sentence needs both a subject and a verb.  The first verse of our gospel lesson today isn’t a complete sentence.  “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”.

There is no verb in that verse, neither in English, nor in the original Greek.  Our gospel writer didn’t use punctuation marks or capital letters or spaces between words either, to save precious paper, but that’s another issue.

There is no verb in verse one because it is not the first sentence of the book, it’s the title.  The title of Mark’s gospel is, “The Beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

The whole book is just the beginning of the story.  It is a short book, only about twenty pages, so it makes sense that the author would tell us it is just the beginning of the story.  Mark ends the book abruptly, too.  The last verse is very unsatisfying if you are used to writers who tie up the loose ends in the last chapter. The oldest manuscripts end the book with the women who found the empty tomb fleeing in terror and amazement, too fearful to say anything to anyone.

Mark doesn’t start the story the way we might tell it either, or even the way the other gospel writers tell it.  Matthew and Luke start with the genealogy of Jesus and then tell stories about his birth.  John tells us Jesus was the Word of God, present at creation itself.

Mark starts right off with the story of John the Baptist. He connects the Baptist with the Old Testament prophecies of Isaiah and gives us a brief description of John’s appearance and actions.

Lutheran campus pastor and cartoonist, James Wetzstein, has called John the Baptist the ultimate opening act.  John knows how to work a crowd and he knows he is not the headliner.

Surprisingly, people came just to hear John. They came to hear this man who had a weird diet and dressed like the prophet Elijah.  They came because they heard something in John’s preaching that spoke to them.

He called them to repent, to turn their lives around and get ready for the coming of the Messiah.  Mark tells us they came in droves.  From all over the countryside they came.  Everyone from the city of Jerusalem came to hear this strange preacher.

There was something compelling about John’s message.  He wasn’t like some of the popular television preachers of our time who draw big crowds because of their own personalities.  For John the Baptist, it was all about the message, not the personality of the preacher.  He knew it wasn’t about him. John reminded the people it wasn’t all about them either.  The message is all about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

So if the Gospel of Mark is only the beginning, what is the rest of the story? Why isn’t God doing dramatic things like those miracles in the Bible anymore?

God is doing a new thing now: God is making us part of the story. We are in the rest of the story.  Actually, maybe we are just a little part of the middle of the story. Only God the Father knows when the end of the story will come.

And for God a thousand years is like a single day.  So when you look at it like that, it’s only been a couple of days since Jesus was was born and lived on earth.  Maybe we are still near the beginning of the story.

As we consider John’s message today, we hear him say it isn’t all about him.  He says it isn’t all about us either.  It’s all about Christ. John the Baptist points to Christ.  He compels us to turn our lives around and point to Christ too. He compels us to point to Christ who died on the cross for our sins, rose on the third day, and now lives forever in glory.

God continues to work in the world today. We are part of the rest of the story.  We are the ones who are doing God’s work.  When we come together for worship; when we study the scriptures; when we serve in our community; when we just do our jobs and care for our families; when we share the message of Christ with others by our words and the example of our lives; we are part of the rest of the story.

It may seem like a couple of days to God, but it seems like over 2000 years to us since the birth of Christ on earth.  In that time, the Good News of Jesus Christ has been spreading all over the world.  Mark tells us that the women who first heard that Christ is risen were too afraid to tell anyone.  Is it not miraculous that we in this small town in Nebraska, half way around the world have heard it?  This town is even named for St. Paul who spread the gospel all over what was the known world to him.

God works miracles in different ways in different times.  But God has always used ordinary people like us, and even strange looking people like John the Baptist, to share the Good News of Christ.  The gospels tell us the beginning of the story.  The story continues.  We are in it. We are blessed to point to Christ and share the good news with others.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

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