December 6, 2020
Fr. Joseph Jacobi
The Prophet Isaiah speaks to us today of the time when the people of Israel are returning from exile in Babylon after many years away from home. The Babylonian army had leveled their beloved Jerusalem, destroyed their beautiful temple, and taken the people of Israel captive. Uprooted from their homeland, they lived as strangers in a strange land, nothing normal about their life, everything they knew and trusted in before now gone.
As the people finally return home after this long exile, the prophet reminds them it is God who has saved them, God who has set them free from their captivity, and that now it is God who is preparing the way for them to go home. Though the people had been unfaithful to God, had turned their backs on God, the God of Israel had always remained faithful to them.
Now God is leveling all the immovable obstacles which like mountains had blocked their way home. Now God is filling up the valleys of their despair with the hope of new life. The God of their ancestors who had made a way forward where there was no way by parting the waters of the Red Sea, now makes a way for them to return home. Their long captivity is at an end.
How could they not shout out for joy, proclaiming to the world all that God had done to save them! So, the prophet Isaiah urges the people to tell the whole world what God has done. “Zion, herald of glad tidings! Cry out at the top of your voice! Jerusalem, herald of good news!” (Isaiah 40:9)
The same Greek word which expressed the glad tidings and good news of Isaiah is translated by the evangelist Mark as “gospel.” In the very first verse of Mark’s proclamation we hear: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mark the evangelist is the first one to tell the “Greatest Story Ever Told” and he is the first one to use that word—gospel—for such an account.
Translating the word “gospel” as good news or glad tidings, fails to capture the power of what Mark is trying to convey. Perhaps the best way to translate these first words from the first evangelist is: “A Cry of Joy,” yes, “A Cry of Joy about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
Mark’s passion is for us to know Jesus as he knows Jesus, and in doing so, to have our hearts erupt in a shout of joy over what God has done for us in His Son. This joy is like the cry of joy from a man saved from certain death. It is like the cry of joy from a woman giving birth to her child. It is like the cry of joy from a soldier and his family reuniting after a long separation.
Mark uses the same Greek word as Isaiah did for glad tidings and good news to connect the God of Israel with the God of Jesus Christ. The Good News Mark shares is about Jesus, who reveals the good news about who God is and that God’s reign has begun on earth. Isaiah and the people of Israel shout and dance for joy because God has set them free and made a way for them to go home. The people of Jesus’ day and ever after sing and leap for joy because in the very person of Jesus the Good News of who God is has been revealed.
In Jesus, we encounter God acting, God speaking, and the beginning of God’s reign. The Season of Advent is a time to welcome God present in our world in Jesus through the Holy Spirit, to recognize that in the person of Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God breaks into the world and takes root here. Everything, and I do mean everything, has changed forever, because in Jesus God shouts for Joy because of his love for all humanity.
With the coming of Jesus, time is fulfilled, for the moment all humanity has been waiting for has arrived. The rule of God can actually be seen and heard, touched and known, here and now. Jesus gives us a glimpse of heaven where there is food enough for all as he multiplies the loaves and feeds the multitudes; where disease will not destroy us as he heals the woman who had suffered from hemorrhages for 12 long years, and where death has no power over us as he lifts up a 12-year old girl from her deathbed.
As we follow Jesus in the year ahead, the Year of Mark, the evangelist wants us to know without a doubt that in Jesus God’s long-awaited reign on earth has begun, continued into Mark’s day and continues into ours as well.
Mark has experienced God’s reign in Jesus’ person and writes his gospel to transfer this experience to us. It is the awesome goodness of God that beats at the heart of Jesus’ mission. It is the mercy of God which propels him into our world to embrace the world’s pain. It is in the person of Jesus Christ that the good news of God actually exists.
Those are some of the first words from the mouth of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel: “Repent and believe in the good news.” Thus, we are called by Jesus to believe in this good news, to trust in God’s goodness revealed in his very person. This trust is the foundation for true repentance, not repentance by feeling sorry for this or that bad word or deed, but repentance as a change in the way we think about God, which leads to a change in the way we live our life.
It makes no sense with God now among us in Jesus to do anything except align ourselves, our whole selves, everything we have and are, with God’s rule. To recognize that our politics are not the Gospel and that our politicians are not God!
For the goodness of God in Jesus challenges us to realign our prideful posturing. The mercy of God in Jesus challenges us to recalibrate our ethical thresholds. The love of God in Jesus challenges us to remanufacture our principled priorities.
So, this Advent spend less time with your Facebook news posts and more time reading the Gospel of Mark. Set aside your social media during Advent and pray with the account of the good news found in Mark.
The Son of God is coming to us during this Season of Advent, but we are looking in the wrong direction—toward the “bad news”. Advent invites us to turn around and welcome Him who is Good News and trust that He alone can save us, that He alone can free us from all that enslaves us.
Then as we lean into the glad tidings of God and let go, we trust that we will be caught by the Good Shepherd who will carry us home.