Sunday, December 7, 2008

Continuing with the Beginning

Second Sunday in Advent
December 7, 2008
Mark 1:1-8

We know the way it begins: In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. You’d expect the beginning to begin with the beginning. You’d also expect the story to move on from there until it gets to the end. But this story has no end. The story continues; it moves on from the beginning. But what it moves on to is other beginnings. Such as the one we have today in the Gospel reading. Mark tells us that what he is going to tell us is the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We might have expected talk about beginnings last Sunday when we actually began the new Church Year. But here on the second Sunday in the Church Year what is appointed is talk about beginnings. That’s because the story didn’t begin only at Genesis 1:1. The story doesn’t just continue, it continues with beginnings. That’s what this story is, a story of beginnings. There was never supposed to be an end. There was the threat of an end, if Adam and Eve decided they didn’t like the whole idea God set up of living forever in perfection and glory under God’s gracious hand. But even then, when they decided to bring it all to an end, God loved them too much to bring their blessedness to an end. So He created a new beginning.

That new beginning He brought about immediately upon their fall into sin. The beginning of the Gospel Mark is talking about in our Gospel reading was brought about way back there in the Garden of Eden. God promised to save them. He promised to send a Savior. Even though they wouldn’t die then and there, they were condemned in their sin and all their offspring would be born in sin. For the Gospel to be the Gospel, for it to be effective, it had to begin right then and there. When all their hope was lost God brought about hope from the beginning.

You can imagine that with this second chance there was relief on the part of Adam and Eve. Their children and grandchildren and many descendents were grateful that God didn’t bring it all to a halt right then and there when Adam and Eve chose the path of death. You can also imagine that there was much struggling with God and with each other, having inherited the sinful nature Adam and Eve chose for themselves. You can imagine what it was like to wake up each day and still be bound to that Old Adam you were born with. You can imagine what it was like to long for hope even as God gave hope to Adam and Eve when they were in utter despair.

You can see the need for a new beginning. And you can see that it’s needed every day. You can imagine all this and know the need for God’s hope because you live this existence every day, as all who have gone before you have. You know very well how deep it is as you see it on a daily basis in others and as you catch yourself doing things wondering what might have possessed you to do them. You know very well what it is like to hope for a second chance.

This is how the story goes in the Old Testament. God always going back to the promise—the promise of salvation, the promise of the Savior. The story progressing by going back to the promise, which brings about new beginnings. The people of God, just like us today, choosing that path that Adam and Eve chose, and God giving them hope, a new beginning. There are countless examples in the Old Testament, today’s Old Testament reading is one of them. The people of God are the people of God, but they need to be constantly given that hope, constantly given new beginnings.

So Mark begins his Gospel account in that way. He says the Gospel began this way: Centuries before, Isaiah prophesied the messenger to pave the way for Christ. John was preparing the people for a new beginning, he himself the product of the promise of a new beginning—that the Messenger would come. What does the Messenger do? He baptizes. Baptism is all about new beginnings. In Baptism you are given new life. So the way to prepare for the coming of the Savior was to show the people that this was all about new beginnings. Without repentance they would be left in their sins. They would be left for dead spiritually, so they needed a new beginning.

John came preaching. He came baptizing. He came talking about repentance and the forgiveness of sins. The messenger God sent to usher in the Messiah baptized with water. The new beginning would come shortly with the Messiah bringing a Baptism of the Holy Spirit. This is Baptism in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. This is God’s continuing act of creation in you. It doesn’t take us long for us to mess things up. Adam and Eve managed to take care of that shortly after creation. Our daily lives as Christians are new beginnings. Daily in repentance you are created anew. As He gave you a new beginning in Baptism, He continues to create in you new life daily in repentance and recalling your Baptism.

The Gospel is what saves you. The Gospel is what gives you new life daily. When the breath of our Lord expired on the cross the Holy Spirit took it to breathe it into you in your Baptism. The death of our Lord wasn’t the end, but a beginning. Your Baptism is the beginning for you. Each day in repentance you die to sin and rise to new life, to a new beginning. This is the story. You are very much a part of it because Jesus died for you. He died to give new life to the fallen world. It is the same hope He gave to Adam and Eve. The same salvation. The same joy that has no end. It is ever new and continues forever. Amen.


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