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Advent 2

Advent 2

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent by The Reverend Canon Charles Royden

Gospel Reading - Mark 1:1-8
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, ‘See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight”’, John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, ‘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.’

Corinne came home with her new Christmas jumper yesterday. There were lots of things I could have said.

  • Why do you need a new Christmas jumper, surely if you only wear a jumper once a year it will last for the rest of your life, why do you need a new one?
  • Perhaps you need a new one because you have electric lights all over it and therefore it can never be washed so when you spill trifle over it you just throw it away?

I never said these things I smiled, that smile of bewilderment

It wasn’t just that I was preparing my sermon that stopped me from joining in the fun of Christmas Jumpers. I am scheduled for a meeting with the Mayor next week and I have been advised that I and all others invited to the meeting can wear our Christmas jumpers. Why, even I owned a Christmas jumper, I would want to wear it and possibly be seen in public ? I cannot imagine.

O dear am I turning into Ebenezer Scrooge, the mean and moaning man who lived life in the misery of black and white while others around him enjoyed the beautiful colours of Christmas? No fear not I wait all year for the joy of wearing a clerical Christmas hat on Christmas Day, I just don’t like Christmas jumpers. Buying a jumper just for Christmas seems just a bit of a waste!

As I thought about jumpers and my sermon I wondered if Mark the Gospel writer would have worn a Christmas jumper? I doubt very much that he would. In his Gospel there is no Christmas, we miss out on all of the miracles.

  • There are no shepherds, no angels, no Herod, no starry starry night
  • In Mark’s Gospel the miracles of Christmas just doesn’t happen!

Not only that but he doesn’t substitute some other happy occasion either. He opens his Gospel with an announcement of who Jesus is, but not from a glowing shiny angel with wings. No his messenger is John the Baptist. No Christmas jumpers for him, he wears coarse clothes and no mince pies, he eats insects. We meet John in the wilderness wearing clothes made of camels hair and eating locusts and wild honey. He is an ascetic. That means that he practices a radical level of self-discipline and denial.  This is not good news for Christmas lovers, we want figgy pudding, not locusts!

Mark announces to his readers that Jesus has come, but he cuts out all of the birth and growing up and gets straight to business, no mucking about. There is a sense of urgency and importance about Mark’s Gospel and he drops something of bombshell right at the start.

You see everybody was told that Caesar was a God, he was the divine one the they called son of god. Mark will have none of this and so he undermines that from the very beginning and to stress that this is something huge he echoes words from the creation story - This is a 'beginning', and it is the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

This was inflammatory. All others who imagined that they were Messiahs, or like Caesar called themselves son of god were impostors. How would Caesar feel to know that Jesus was coming along and he was the real Son of God? I suspect he would have felt a bit like Herod the Great when he found out there was somebody going to be born who was going to be King of the Jews. Herod the Great tried to kill Jesus by killing all of the little boys in Bethlehem and he missed. Sadly John the Baptist was not so lucky and when predictably the son of Herod the Great, the new King Herod (Herod Antipas) came looking for him he lost his head.

With the opening lines of his Gospel, Mark has fired a mighty challenge and he is in no doubt that what sets Jesus apart from all of the others was not his birth at Bethlehem but his death on the cross. The next time that Mark will uses those words Son of God was when Jesus was crucified. Mark knows that the significance of Jesus was not that a star lit up the sky or that magi travelled to his home to bring him presents, not even that he was the child of a virgin called Mary. The importance of Jesus was that he was the presence of the living God on earth who died for humanity on a cross.

We are going through Christmas and it is a time of wonder and hope and imagination. John the Baptist brings us to our senses but he doesn’t want to spoil it all for us. This is nevertheless Good News. Christmas will last all too short a time but the Good News about Jesus which Mark proclaims, this goes on all year.

Mark tells us that John spoke about the need for repentance.

Many people have a world view which says that our life is destined by fate. The Christmas song declares ‘very soon we all will be together if the fates allow.’ It is the view that life is laid out before us and there is very little which we can do about it. John says that this is nonsense. You are not a victim with a destiny which you can do nothing about. You can take things into your own hands and make change happen. We can actually choose what path we wish to take. This is called 'repentance.' John tells his hearers, life doesn’t have to be the hand which you believe you have been given, you can be different, you can make your life different and it is never too late to change. He encourages everyone his hearers to repent. We think of ‘repent’ as saying sorry, we use the word at our confession, ‘We repent of our sins.’ The Greek Metanoia actually means ‘Change.’ It means that you are not like a train, set on a railway line which dictates where you go. As John the Baptist says, you can make your own paths, good ones, straight ones. You don’t have to walk the same path, you don’t have to repeat the same mistakes, you can change.

Perhaps John the Baptist was like this because he had done it himself. He left the comfort of a very nice religious upbringing, his father was a priest, but he went not to the holy city of Jerusalem but into the desert. John came from an establishment background and he rejected it. His father you will remember was Zechariah, his mother Elizabeth the cousin of Mary. John said, 'God is doing something new and you can be a part of it.'

We often think of John the Baptist as a sort of fire and brimstone guy who shouted at people and threatened them but when you read what is recorded he is actually very different. This passage today has none of the familiar Christmas stories but it is filled with comfort and reassurance, not threats. As Mark tells us - This is Good News
Caesar isn’t in control of you God is and he shows his love by giving you Jesus
John proclaims repentance for forgiveness of sins. Understanding forgiveness allows us to change, to move away from the past and embrace the present
He promises Jesus and the presence of God’s Holy Spirit to be with his people

We are told that all the people of Jerusalem went out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Perhaps that is why Mark’s Gospel doesn’t need all of the miracles of Christmas, because he begins his Gospel with such good news - that because of Jesus we had the opportunity to repent, to find forgiveness with God, and that is the greatest miracle of all.