From Pastor Kenny's Desk
December 6, 2020
Dear MCC Richmond Family!
Greetings to you during this Advent Season of expectation, anticipation and waiting! I hope each of you have a meaningful Advent as you reflect on the joy of God coming to you in new ways and how God’s love is transformational and meaningful for you.
I hope each of you are enjoying the Advent Devotions from John’s story and finding them to be reflective. This Sunday’s sacred text is Mark 1:1-8 as we continue exploring Mark’s story. Through the Advent Devotionals and our study of Mark, my intention is to give two biblical narratives on how these two evangelists experienced the story of God entering our lives and our world through the life and ministry of Jesus.
In my life I’ve discovered there’s waiting … and then there’s waiting. Do you know what I mean? Some waiting is just waiting, the pointless exercise we all have to endure from time to time. Like sitting in the doctor’s office, just waiting for your name to be called so you can get your flu shot. But other waiting seems to matter. Like waiting for the results of a Covid test or the results of any other kind of medical issue.
My hunch is you know what I mean. Some waiting feels empty and pointless, while other waiting is heavy, significant, and really matters.
I think the kind of waiting we talk about in Advent seems like the former ... it can seem rather pointless. Waiting to sing Christmas carols. Waiting to decorate the sanctuary or Celebration Hall. Waiting and preparing for Christmas with the attitude that we’ll spoil it if we don’t wait just right.
But I don’t think that’s the kind of waiting Advent seeks to invite at all. To get at that, it helps to realize that Advent is all about promises. Given that most scholars consider the brief, descriptive opening to Mark’s story … Here begins the Gospel of Jesus Christ … not to be, actually, the first line of the story but rather its title, Mark literally begins his story with a promise of Isaiah. It’s the promise Isaiah makes to desperate Israel at one of the low points of its history. And while Mark clearly invites us to see John the Baptist as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s promise, it’s Isaiah’s promise of comfort, deliverance, and renewal that Mark is claiming that happens in the life and ministry of Jesus.
And the thing about promises is that they are not static. Not ever. Rather, promises create an expectation about the future and set something in motion. When I promise to make a pie or torte for dessert I am there to make it … and Kirk is there to answer my ongoing questions! When you promise to call someone after a date, that person typically anticipates the call. And when a friend promises to visit on a Zoom call you don’t make another appointment … why should you; you’ve got a promise.
Do you see what I mean? Promises create an expectation about the future and that future expectation sets something in motion right here and right now in the present.
The same is true about God’s promises … truth be told, even more so. And that is the key message of Advent. That in the stable at Bethlehem, God is not only keeping promises God made to Israel but also making promises to us. That in Jesus, God hears our fears, concerns, doubts, our joy, and responds.
And, my goodness, in these unprecedented times of Covid-19, the political scene in our country, wars and hatred throughout the world, social unrest due to systemic racism, harmful greed, and oppression of all kinds … in all these cries for deliverance, God responds with promises of healing, peace, and justice in and through the life and ministry of Jesus.
I know, I know, you’ve heard that kind of promise before, and at times it may feel like just another pie in the skyapproach to life, but consider this: What if God’s promises are not all about something we wait patiently for until the end of time? Or, maybe more accurately, what if we are invited to participate here and now in the promises of God by contributing to themin the present? That is, what if part of how God keeps God’s promises is through our efforts to heal, comfort, help, and bring justice by actively, fully engaging in our lives.
I believe Mark has something to say about that as well. The first verse is likely Mark’s title for his story and then the second verse is the promise … I admit it’s a little confusing. And, when you think about it, the title is a promise, too. Notice that Mark doesn’t call his story, The Good News … meaning Gospel … of Jesus. Rather, he titles it, Here begins the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Which means that everything Mark has to say about Jesus … all the healing, preaching, teaching, and even Jesus’ death and resurrection … is only the beginning of the good news. There’s still more to come.
Maybe that’s why Mark’s story ends in such a strange way … the angel announces Jesus’ resurrection and commands the women at the empty tomb to go share the good news but they run away terrified and say nothing to anyone. Mark finishes his story with an open-ending because it is … justthe beginning, the story isn’t over.Which means we are all invited to continue the story of the good news of Jesus as God continues to write the Gospel of Jesus in and through our lives as individuals and as a community.
So perhaps, the question is: what kind of waiting do we want to do? Certainly, we can sit around and wait for Christmas, or for Jesus’ return, for that matter. Or we can get in the game, see how we spend our time, energy, wealth, and our lives making a difference right now. Because it’s not just John who is called to cry out and prepare the way of Jesus … it’s all of us. Right here, right now, waiting actively by making a difference in the lives of the people God has put all around us. God is continuing the story of the good news of Jesus in and through our words, our actions and each of us will have a hundred and one opportunities to contribute to that sacred story, to make it come alive, to help God keep God’s promises here and now.
What we do will not bring ultimate healing, comfort, peace or justice … that’s God’s job, and God will keep God’s promises, but we don’t have to wait for that passively but rather are invited to throw ourselves into that adventure both trusting God’s promises and living them right here, right now.
This is the kind of active, involved, participatory waiting Advent invites. And why not get started now. As Mark says in the first words of our sacred text, this story about all those wonderful things that happened long ago is just the beginning, and the story continues to unfold both around us andthrough us.
~ Pastor Kenny