Project Description

Advent 2B

Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11 / 2 Peter 3:8-14 / Mark 1:1-8

 

It was the best of times,

it was the worst of times,

 

Anybody recognize where

this great line comes from?

 

It’s from Charles Dickens.

 

It’s the very first line of

A Tale of Two Cities.

 

What a great way to start a novel.

 

Great writers know just how to draw

us in with the very first line.

 

It was the best of times,

it was the worst of times.

 

Here’s another first line. . .

 

this one got nominated for one of

the best first lines of a non-fiction book.

 

We are going to die,

and that makes us the lucky ones.”

 

Not a very hopeful line. . . .

 

but it sure draws the reader in.

 

We are going to die,

and that makes us the lucky ones.”

 

That’s the first line from a book entitled

Unweaving The Rainbow by

the prominent atheist Richard Dawkins.

 

Here’s another great first line:

 

“The Beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ,

the Son of God.”

 

We just heard it. . . .

it’s how the Gospel of Mark begins.

 

It probably seems like a

rather dull opening line to us. . .

not much zest or zing.

 

But if we were listeners. . .

or readers. . . .

around 70 AD when this book was written. . .

 

then this opening line:

 

“the Beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ,

the Son of God.”

 

would have made Dickens

or Dawkins

seem like. . .

well. . . .

amateurs when it comes to composing first lines.

 

First, associating the term “Good News” with

Jesus Christ would have shocked anybody.

 

“Good News” was a pretty common term back then.

 

Typically used to describe a

military victory won

by Caesar’s army.

 

When the emperor won a battle—

or squashed some rebellion—

 

Caesar would send an evangelist—

someone to spread the “Good News”

ahead of him and his returning army.

 

So the people’s mood would be lifted and

prepared for a celebration when the victors returned.

So to use “Good News”

to talk about a victory won not by Caesar. . . .

but by Jesus.

 

To imply that true victory. . .

doesn’t have a thing to do Caesar. . . .

 

but with Jesus. . .                                                 (Barron, Word on Fire Bible)

 

How shocking and provocative

this opening line of Mark’s Gospel was.

 

And to make this opening line even more shocking. . . .

even more provocative. . . .

 

Mark claims that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. . .

 

“the Beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ,

the Son of God.”

 

You see ever since the time of Caesar Augustus,

The title “Son of God” was reserved

for the Roman Emperor.

 

But “Oh, contraire says Mark”. . .

 

It’s not Lord Caesar. .  .

it’s Lord Jesus.

 

Final allegiance is due to Jesus Christ—

Not to Caesar.

 

A first line that would have stunned its original audience. . . .

 

a first line that drew the reader into a most wonderful story.

 

Here’s another great . . . great first line. . .

this time from a poem.

 

It’s from our first reading today!

 

It was written by the poet known as 2nd Isaiah. . .

 

His poem runs chapters 40 through 55. . .

 

It’s one of the greatest poems ever written.

 

Here’s how it starts. . .

 

Comfort, give comfort to my people,

says your God.

 

A little dull too, you think?

 

But if you were a Jew in 540 BC,

this opening line would have drawn you in

like a cool, fresh stream of water

draws in a person dying of thirst.

 

Why. . .

because your life was in shambles.

 

You would have been dragged away

from your home in Jerusalem. . .

 

forced to live in a strange and foreign country—

with no power or influence.

 

Everything had gone wrong.

 

The Temple in Jerusalem—

the place where the Israelite God dwelled. . .

the God you worshipped. . .

was destroyed.

 

So you would have had the stomach-turning

thought that the God you trusted

was not the one, true God. . .

 

but a weak God—

defeated by the stronger gods of the Babylonians.

 

Or that the true God had abandoned you.

 

So you now lived without any hope. . .

 

So you thirst for any sign of it.

 

And then the great and respected Prophet. . .

Isaiah. . .

writes this incredible poem that starts with the line. . .

 

Comfort, give comfort to my people,

says your God.

 

Oh, how you would have been drawn in.

 

Both the first line of Mark’s Gospel. . .

“the Beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ,

the Son of God.”

 

and the first line of Isaiah’s great poem

Comfort, give comfort to my people,

says your God.

 

Drew their readers in. . .

 

and hopefully draws us too. . .

 

into THE One Great Story. . . . Our Story.

 

It’s a story of a people who live somewhat in exile. . .

 

Live in a world that’s not what it should be. . .

 

In a world where we are sometimes assaulted

by fear. . .

and by division. . .

and by acrimony. . .

and by injustice. . .

and by suffering. . .

and by disease. . .

and by death.

 

And we too are thirsting. . .

desperately thirsting. . .

for a message of hope.

 

And the all-good and all-loving God sees our plight. . .

 

And the all-powerful God sends us this message. . .

 

Comfort, give comfort to my people.

Everything, in the end, will be OK.

 

I know it looks bad now,

but it’s not what you think.

 

I’m going to do something totally new.

 

I will come and rescue you.

and it will be in a very unexpected way.

 

It’ll be through a Servant King. . .

Who will reign in a New Kingdom.

 

the Good News of Jesus Christ,

the Son of God.”

 

So, you are not alone.

 

And through this new King. . .

One day. . .

One day all of creation will sing

and shout for joy. . .

 

And guess what?

 

It’s already started . . .

it’s already started.

 

And Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

isn’t that what Advent is. . .

 

realizing that we are part of THE great story. . .

 

part of THE wonderful poem. . . . .

 

and watching. . .

watching so carefully

as THE great story. . .

THE great poem starts to play out in our lives. . .

 

in sometimes big ways. . .

but mostly in small ways.

 

Small stanzas of a much longer poem of love. . . .

 

Small sentences in a much lengthier story of rescue. . .

 

Like a phone call from someone just checking. . .

 

Like receiving some kind words during this chaos. . .

 

Like someone being patient with us in a very stressful time. . .

 

Like the unwavering dedication of a health care worker caring for others. . .

 

Like front line workers working more and more overtime. . .

 

Like scientists tirelessly laboring for a vaccine. . .

 

Watching,

that’s what Advent is about. . .

 

Watching for something that has already started.

 

And Advent is about waiting. . .

 

Waiting with the sure hope. . .

 

For the new creation. . .

 

For the full manifestation of the Kingdom of God.

 

Watching and waiting. . .

 

Watching and waiting!!

 

the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

 

Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God

 

Holy Spirit 12/5-6/2020