See, what had happened was that I was sick all week.
I was fine at the beginning of the week. Perky and chipper even. And then, I made the worst of wintertime mistakes–I got on a plane. And by the time I got off, my sinuses had built a pillow fort inside my head, and had decided to wreak havoc on my poor immune system.
So I was sick the rest of the week.
This put a crimp in my sermon writing, because cold medicine is not conducive to logical or thoughtful sermons. It gives rise to wacky and disconnected sermons that sound like you have recently woken up from a nap. (I don’t respond great to cold meds.)
All this is to say that I arrived at Saturday evening with a mostly-formed idea for a sermon, a clearer head, and not a whole lot written down.
Then, sitting in my chair, listening to the opening prayers, I decided to shred the whole thing. It wasn’t good enough, I decided, and I had Another Thought which might work better. And if not, the 5pm crowd is friendly enough that they would probably forgive me.
Thus it came to pass that I delivered, not the sermon I wrote, but a different sermon all together. And lo, that sermon was better than the one I had written. So I took the hint, and wrote down the second one instead.
Sometimes, the Holy Spirit just sneaks up on you.
Here’s what I said.
Rev. Megan L. Castellan
December 10, 2017
Advent 2, Year B
We got all of Part 1 of Handel’s Messiah in that Isaiah reading. The annual test to see whether the layreader is good enough to avoid falling into the rhythm of the music when they read.
I went to the Messiah on Friday, and was struck by how often we’re told to proclaim good news. Nearly constantly!
Lift up your voice and shout oh daughters of Jerusalem. Rejoice greatly! Cry out!
At every turn, we’re bid by the prophets to shout out some good news–and here again–Comfort, comfort ye my people. Tell my people news of comfort.
That’s cool, but what is this good news we have to tell people?
Especially because more often than not, what we see around us is bad. All kinds of bad. A friend and I were comparing when it was, exactly, when we purged all news from our FB feeds during the past year. Did you make it to October? Good for you–I made it through three weeks ago, and had to stop again. Bad news, everywhere you look.
And even the Church seems guilty of spreading bad news. This past week, we saw our government make the decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel–throwing the international community and nearly everyone, except a small segment of evangelical Christians into panic. To nearly the whole world, this looks a lot like a great way to violate international law and start World War 3. To this small but vocal group of Christians, it looks like a way to ensure a Jewish state in Israel, and the second coming of Jesus, which to them will necessarily involve the destruction and death of all the Jews in Israel.
But either way this works out–it is bad news.
And so what is, again, this good news we have to proclaim? It had to be something, because whatever John was telling people was so compelling, people were showing up in droves out in the Judean desert. Which is not a friendly American southwest desert with your cacti and your roadrunners. The Judean desert is a desolate landscape of rock and sand. That’s it. No one wants to go there–but John was giving the people something good. Something they needed to hear.
We get a glimpse of how Mark puts it n the first line: The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Bam. There you go. Mark has a thesis statement. A little later, he will describe Jesus emerging fully adult, and the first thing he says is “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”
Between those two lines, is the sum of Mark’s good news. Here is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. So the kingdom of God is at hand.
The whole of the gospel will keep coming back to this point. The whole of the story revolves around this idea. That in this regular guy from nowheres-ville, Galilee, God had started to put right the things that have gone wrong in the world. God has started to mend, once and for all, the brokenness of creation, all the things that pain us, that cause us to hurt each other, that cause suffering. God is starting to bring this world back into alignment with how God wanted things in the first place, and Jesus shows us what it looks like when that happens. Jesus shows us what it looks like when we participate in that process. How we can help make things whole.
And so, EVERYTHING that Mark describes Jesus as doing will reflect this idea– his teaching, his healing, his parables, his living and his dying.
And Christ lives this out–as he brings recognition and dignity to outcasts and tax collectors, as he heals the sick, as he tells stories about who God is and how God works in the world.
Christ’s whole life and ministry revolves around illustrating what it looks like when God fixes the world, and what it looks like when we pitch in.
Repent, he tells us, for the kingdom of God has come near. Then he lives it.
This is the gospel that Mark writes. This is the way he presents the good news, the way he shouts it, the way he comforts the people. Don’t worry, he tells them. God is coming to fix this mess.
So then what is the good news that we tell? What do we lift up our voices and shout?
The first question is the simpler, I think–how would we explain the gospel, as we experience it in our own lives? What is the good news of God in Christ that propels us forward? What is our story to sing out, to comfort Jerusalem in her time of anguish?
But the more subtle question is what story do our lives tell? What good news do our lives bear out, if they were examined? What story about God and faith do our lives tell, our choices? Do our lives speak of a loving God, a God who loved this world so much he wanted to be one of us? Or do our lives describe a God more dour, more stingy than that?
Part of the task of preparation, this Advent, is to figure out what our good news is. What is the news we have been specifically gifted to tell–through our lives and through our words? It is through all of our news together, woven together like a tapestry, that the world can receive the news of what God is doing. So all our voices are needed in this great task.
So this week, as you finish the baking, as you’re stuck in traffic, take a moment and reflect–what good news do you know? What song does your life sing? Because the world needs this comfort now badly. So find your song, get up to those heights and sing it.