May I speak and may you hear through the Grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen
We have a saying in our family, ‘Patience is a virtue, virtue is a Grace. Grace is a little girl who wouldn’t wash her face!’ It was often quoted when one or other of the children were eager to attain something sooner rather that wait. Of course, waiting when you’re very young can be a hard thing to do, especially if it’s something exciting that might be about to happen; but it’s no less hard waiting whatever your age.
In Peter’s letter he is faced with a congregation who are disillusioned and impatient by the non-appearance of Jesus coming in glory, definitely an event to be excited about. Even so, the ‘I want it now’s don’t get – they need to learn a little more grace. Instead he encourages them to live lives of holiness and godliness, to wait in ‘peace, without spot or blemish’. After all God’s time-relativity is different to ours. Except, there is still the need to be ready for the unknown moment of his return to the Earth.
But patience is not an attribute recognised by the writer of Mark’s gospel, as he takes us back to the beginning of the story. He starts off like a bullet train out of the station and to be honest never slows down or pause to take on water or fuel till the very end… an end that actually needed something added to it later!
His opening sentence is like a shout, a proclamation, a declaration of intent, ‘the beginning of the good news’. This is the gospel ‘of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, a word derived from the Anglo-Saxon term god-spell, meaning ‘good story’. No starlit stable, no paternity angst, no migratory gift bearers, just straight into the reason that he was here on earth amongst us – to redeem us for all time.
Nevertheless, his first appearance is heralded by an unlikely character, a wild man of the desert, clad in camel’s hair and sustained by a diet of kosher protein and wild honey (locusts are mentioned in Leviticus as a ‘clean’ food). John the Baptist certainly dressed like Elijah and was fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah to be ‘the messenger’ who was preparing the people of God for the long-awaited Messiah.
But why was this messenger so different from the many prophets that God had send before? What was it about this man that was attracting people to come out into the wilderness from the region of Judea and Jerusalem to be dipped in a river as a sign that were re-turning towards God – a baptism of repentance.
Well, it had been about 500 years since Malachi had stepped off the earthly stage, and since then no genuine prophetic voices had been heard. Without a prophet, people in the land began to divide into parties and groups, each claiming the right to interpret the scriptures and lead the people.
So, the time was ripe for the long-awaited Messiah to appear, even so we could ask why this was the moment in time that God chose to do so? What we do know is that he came according to God’s time schedule, as Paul states in Galatians, ‘When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law’ (Galatians 4:4-5)
And if we were to try and put forward a reason why it was a perfect time for the spread of the gospel, we might assume that the Pax Romana, a time of peace in the Roman Empire, and great road and water transport systems, allowed for information to be passed quickly. In addition, Greek was a common language with allowed the Gospel to be communicated to a wide range of peoples, although language is no barrier to the Holy Spirit.
Today’s technological advances in global communications might suggest that now would have been a better time to reveal the Messiah, but would people be prepared to go and submit to a need for repentance from an eccentric looking, religious firebrand in the wilderness of our city suburbs? Yet alone recognise and accept Jesus?
But do not ignore this one fact, beloved,
that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years,
and a thousand years are like one day.
2 Peter 3:8
God always communicates with us in ways we can understand and twenty first century humanity has sufficient reason to believe in Jesus. That he chose to come some two thousand years ago does not change the fact that he came and fulfilled everything that the Bible had predicted. Two thousand years ago, people were ready and able to understand just enough to get the message across; after all for the Lord, ‘a thousand years are like one day’ so it was God’s perfect time for him to come to us.
But it was not to be in the way that most people expected. He would not be a military leader. He would not crush the Romans and set up a Jewish state. The true Messiah would seem utterly defeated before he won.
Yet win he would, and John the Baptist knew this. Although his water of baptism would physically and metaphorically wash people clean from their sins, the power and glory of Jesus would lie in his ability to immerse, plunge or drench people in the Holy Spirit (from the Greek word baptizo).
For us, this drenching means that we are forgiven and brought back into a proper relationship with God; we are blessed with powerful gifts to prepare us for service and for building up the body of Christ, and we are given hope for the future, whatever that looks like and whenever it happens
As Peter says, ‘The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance.’ We can’t hurry time, but this Advent we can repeat our heartfelt wish – Maranatha – come Lord Jesus. Come amongst us and be with us once again and we will welcome you