Mark 1. 1-8
Advent is one more chance
to remain rooted in god’s amazing grace.
Every year, it’s – pretty much – the same thing. Sure, the details vary. But overall, from Sunday-to-Sunday and season-to-season, it’s the same. Advent and Christmas. Epiphany. Lent and Easter. Pentecost and all those SundaysAfter. That’s the rhythm, the cadence, of the church year. Around and around. Year in and year out. We’ve been doing it for centuries. Generations. Even here in the wilderness. In the midst of pandemic. It’s something we do without really thinking about it. Custom. Tradition. Habit. And for the longest time, I would have said it was because we’ve always done it that way. But lately, I’ve realized there’s more to it than that. The church year is our way of staying connected with what’s important. Our way of staying rooting in what matters. Focused. Centered. And it’s all there in those first dozen words. “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” We start here, each and every year. Same time. Same place. And then, we spend the next fifty-two weeks, the next three hundred sixty-five days, the next nine-thousand-or-so hours, following Jesus. To the cross! To the grave! Beyond! But it can be so east to get distracted, along the way. Especially when we’re wearied by the changes and chances, like we are right now. To be sidetracked by the jots and tittles. Before we know it, we’re confused. Disoriented. Lost. Adrift on a sea of morals and principles. Adrift on an ocean of philosophies and ideologies. And we need a moment – like this – when faith is reset. When believing returns to the default. You see, faith isn’t a doctrine. And believing isn’t a creed. Not foremost. Not first. It’s a person! It’s Jesus Christ, the Son of God! And this – all this – is just the beginning!
It’s so easy for us to wander off into the weeds when we believe. And it happens so quickly. Even with the best intentions. One moment, we are walking down the road with Jesus. The next, he’s nowhere to be seen. And we’re talking about the bible. About baptism. About endTimes and secondComings. Armageddons and millenniums and tribulations and raptures. Talking about last judgments and heavens and hells and everything in between. And none of it has anything to do with Jesus. Anything, at all. And to make matters worse, it’s all so heartfelt. It’s all so sincere. So, each year … every year … like clockwork … god hits reset! And we’re back! At the beginning! Of the good news! Of Jesus Christ! The Son of God! Back where it all starts! With Jesus! And we have one more chance to get it right!
It’s like clearing an Etch-a-Sketch! All year, we’ve been turning the dials. Scribbling out an image of believing on the screen. But the more we scribble, the more complicated is gets. And so, that first Sunday of a new year, we flip it over and shake! And we shake! And we shake! Until there’s nothing left! And we turn it over and start, again! “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God!” And it’s just like it was meant to be. And for a while, it’s as it should be. Us and Jesus! Jesus and us! Until we trip over something. Tempting. Seducing. Luring us out of the way. Without giving it a second thought, we wonder off. Again. And then, once again, along comes Advent. And it happens over and over. Year after year after year.
It sounds like such a simple thing. Following Jesus. Being there – being here – with him by our side. But the reality is quite different. Believing god has our best interests at heart? Staking our lives on god’s grace? On god’s mercy? That doesn’t come easy! In fact, it’s a contradiction to everything we hold dear! It’s radical! Audacious! Believing that free lunches exist! Believing that some things are true, no matter how good they sound. Believing that lives can change! That the world doesn’t have to be this way! Believing in Jesus is – nothing less – than believing in love! Shaken down! Pressed together! Flowing over! And it’s the hardest thing we’ll ever do! The hardest thing we’ll ever TRY to do! But fortunately, there’s Advent and “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
This is our “Groundhog Day!” You know, that day that keeps repeating itself! That keeps replaying! Until we, finally, get it right! Believing’s not about us; it’s about Jesus! It’s not about what we say; it’s about what Jesus has said! It’s not about what we do; it’s about what Jesus has done! It’s not about what we accomplish; it’s about what Jesus achieved! And it all begins – begins, again – here in the waters of the Jordan! “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus, the beginning! Jesus, the finish! Jesus, everything in between!
It’s not that we’re bad. It’s not that we don’t care. It’s just that we’re people. Plain. Ordinary. We fall short. We miss the mark. We think it’s all about us. Our wants. Our wishes. And things start out, well enough. But after a while, well … we just get bogged down. Jesus is no longer enough. To entertain. To amuse. And we start looking for more. We run off chasing after squirrels. And we, just, leave Jesus behind. ‘Round about September … October … we, finally, look up. We look around. And Jesus is nowhere to be seen. And we realize, we’re lost, one more time. We try to find our way back. We don’t. We can’t. So we sit down. And we wait. For Jesus to find us! Before we know it, it’s Advent, again!
And here we are! Back at the beginning! With Jesus! In the Jordan! And we tell ourselves – like we have so many times, before – that this time … this time it will be different! But then, that’s why we have a church year. That’s why the custom! That’s why the tradition! That’s why the habit! It keeps us honest! It keeps us faithful! In spite of ourselves! It keeps us centered! It keeps us focused! In and on the one thing that makes a difference! In and on the one thing that matters! Jesus Christ, the Son of God!
We’re a Lutheran congregation. We’re a reform movement in the life of the church. That’s who we’ve been, that what we’ve done, for five hundred years, now. And if there’s one thing we’ve learned, it’s to take our life with god, our life with each other, with a good dose of humility! As the church, we know we don’t always get things right. Even as god’s very own, we get sidetracked, distracted. We overlook; we forget; we ignore. But god is still god. And we receive a second chance, and a third chance, and as many chances as it takes! There will always be an Advent to bring us back. Back to the things – the one – who matters! Back! To the beginning! Of the good news! Of Jesus Christ! The Son of God!