The beginning of the Good News: Second Sunday in Advent (Year B, 4 December 2011)

Today, the Rev’d Josie Nottle joins us for the first time. Josie will be working among us with her focus being youth and children’s ministry.

 

The beginning of the Good News

Readings
Isaiah 40.1-11
Mark 1.1-8

 

Three books of the Bible have the word ‘beginning’ right at, well, the very beginning… Those three books are

  • Genesis: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…”
  • John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…”
  • Mark: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God…”

What’s your reaction to that? If it’s Ho hum, or So what?, listen closely: the writers of the Gospels of John and Mark knew the Old Testament very well. They knew that its first words were “In the beginning”, and that those words started the stories of the creation of the world. Mark and John are giving us a clue: what they are writing about is as important as the creation of the world. In fact, it’s about a new creation.

John says that the Word with which God spoke the universe into being—“God said, ‘let there be light’ and there was light”—that Word was personal. More than that, this person was God. More than that, this person took human flesh and lived among us, not to judge us but to bring us life in all its fullness.

Mark says that the Good News is good news of a new creation. A brand new beginning. In fact, it seems likely that this was Mark’s title for his whole book: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”.

What is ‘the gospel’? You may know our word comes from the old English godspell, which means ‘good news’. The gospel is good news. If it’s bad news, it’s not the gospel.

But it’s not any old good news. It’s not the good news that the Rev’d Josie Nottle is commencing her time with us this Sunday. That’s wonderful news, but it’s not the gospel. It’s not even the good news that the Aussies are thrashing the Kiwis in the cricket. For one thing, it depends what side of the ditch you hail from—it’s bad news for the Kiwis. It’s not even the good news that the baby was born safely, or that the operation was a success. It’s a particular kind of good news.

The old English word is godspell; the Greek word is evangelion. Let’s just say ‘evangel’. We get words like ‘evangelical’ from this Greek word which also just means ‘good news’. In the ancient world, if you heard that there was some good news, some evangel, you knew what it meant. It was good news for the Empire. Good news for the Empire. News of a military victory, news that Caesar is indeed supreme over his enemies. The evangel was this kind of good news, a particular kind of ‘good’ news—the news that might makes right and that Caesar’s enemies ought to quake in their boots.

So if you’d never heard of Jesus, and you knew there was this book whose first words were “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”, you might think some of these things:

  • This says it’s ‘good news’, but it’s about Jesus and not Caesar;
  • It’s good news about Jesus the Christ, who must have fulfilled Israel’s hopes;
  • This Jesus is called “Son of God”, which is Caesar’s title. So is this a rival to Caesar?
  • This is a new beginning: it is as important as the creation of the world;
  • But it’s ‘just’ a beginning. What does that mean?

And if you knew anything about Jesus at all, you’d be totally mystified. Wasn’t he the one who Pontius Pilate crucified? How can he be important? What could be good about this news? How is a crucified man a Messiah or a son of God? Didn’t his life come to an end? What’s this talk about it being a beginning?

Mark says, I’m glad you asked those questions…let’s begin:

And he brings us his story of Jesus. We’re going to look at Mark’s story in much of 2012. It’s a story of action, a story of disciples who just don’t get it, a story of Jesus being let down and denied and betrayed and killed… It’s a story of Jesus coming through death and calling those who let him down, denied him, even betrayed and killed him to join him to bring the good news to others. And we are also invited to join the numbers of those who follow him.

That’s what we’re going to look at for the next twelve months. Mark is not a comfy read. Mills and Boon didn’t use Mark as their template. (But don’t forget that Matthew and Luke did use their copies of Mark as one of their starting points! And we are glad for that.)

For today, let’s just look at two words.

  1. Evangel, Good News; and
  2. A beginning.

I said evangel is where we get our word ‘evangelical’ from. The other week, someone asked me, “What does ‘evangelical’ mean?”. I replied that that was a good question. And I tried to give an answer.

How would you answer it? Suppose you were going along a precarious mountain track and the only way safely home was across a narrow bridge guarded by a fierce troll, who fixes you with his beady eyes and says, Those who would pass by me must first answer my questions three!

What is your name?
—You answer.

What is your age?
—Well, you think, that’s a bit personal but these questions are a doddle!

Then, the third question:

What is an evangelical?
—And you realise you’re not getting across that bridge for quite a while…

So what is an evangelical?

My definition is very simple. It’s this: evangelicals are those who put the Good News—the evangel about Jesus—right at the very centre of their lives. So much so that they become ‘good news people’.

Many others will disagree with that definition. They will say that an evangelical believes that the Bible is inerrant, an evangelical has certain views on marriage and sexuality, an evangelical tries to warn other people of the dangers of hellfire and damnation. In other words, an evangelical belongs to a particular ‘party’ of Christian people. A party that is quite particular about who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’.

I’ve seen many people who are members of the evangelical party who put Jesus and the Good News about him first in their lives, and I rejoice in them. But you know, I’ve also seen people who are not members of that party who put Jesus and the Good News first.

That’s because being an evangelical—being a ‘good news person’—is about the hold that Jesus has on us. It’s not about facts that we believe. When Jesus has a hold on you, you can’t help but put him first. And you want that good news to make a difference.

This is good news about Jesus who heals the sick even on the Sabbath, who gathers a renewed people of faith together, not just the people of Israel but also the Gentiles. It’s good news about Jesus who calls us to do the same.

This is good news of hope and joy and peace. There is judgement too—judgement for those who feel they are complete without Jesus, who stick to the way of the law.

It’s the Church’s constant temptation to be guided by rules rather than by the Spirit of Jesus. An evangelical knows that sometimes rules get in the way of the good news.

Remember Mark’s title? “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” This whole Gospel of Mark is the beginning of something radically new. It’s a new beginning that needs new people, good news people. In Paul’s words, which were already written by the time Mark’s Gospel was written,

if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them…

We are God’s ambassadors, living out the good news, telling the good news, being good news people. Jesus has a hold on us.

And Mark’s story is ‘just’ the beginning. Mark ends his Gospel with the women who had gone to the empty tomb running away from the good news of the risen Christ in fear. But they found their courage again, and spread the good news, and it has come as far as us.

We are part of that story. I dare to say we’re still part of the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It’s going on and the Lord has already won the victory. Not with might, not with power, not with a sword; his wounds have won our hearts.

That’s good news.

Josie, it may not be ‘the gospel’, but it is good news that you are here amongst us. Your being with us is not as important as the creation of the world, but it is very important for this community.

The gospel is what it’s not. What it is is this: it is part of that beginning of the good news that Mark has given us. It’s a new page in the story that Mark started to tell. It’s a new chapter in the great beginning of the good news of Jesus. It’s a new beginning for us. You’re welcome, Josie, and we look forward to the new adventure that God has in store for us.

 

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