Sunday, December 7, 2014

Opening Line

   Second Sunday of Advent   B 

Once upon a time…
It was a dark and stormy night…
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…
Or more appropriate to this time of the year:
’Twas the night before Christmas…

We all know the importance of first impressions,
and what’s true of face-to-face meetings
is also true when telling a story.
Did you know there’s been an annual contest
for more than 30 years
to write the worst possible opening line for a novel?
I considered sharing a few examples with you…
…but I’ll spare you the agony.

Those first few words of a story
can tell us a lot about what will follow:
whether we’re in for a fairy tale, a mystery, a classic,
or something just plain bad.

This Sunday we hear:
The beginning of the gospel 
of Jesus Christ the Son of God.
We’ll spend most Sundays of the coming year
hearing gospel accounts taken from Mark—
as best we can tell,
the very first of the Christian gospels 
to be written—
and that’s his opening line.
The beginning of the gospel 
of Jesus Christ the Son of God.
To our modern, American ears, 
it doesn’t exactly sound
like this book’s going to be a real page-turner.
But let’s pick it apart a bit…

“The beginning…”
Mark’s very first word echoes the very first words of the entire Bible:
the Book of Genesis opens, In the beginning…,
as it tells the story of the creation of the world.
Mark is setting out to tell the story of a new creation:
God’s re-making the world, giving a fresh start to everything.
This isn’t going to be just another story.

This is the beginning of what? 
“The beginning of the gospel…”
The original Greek word literally means “glad tidings” or “good news.”
We can hear that and think,
“Well, this is going to be a nice, happy story—
the opposite of the news we usually get !”
But the word “gospel” previously had a very specific meaning:
the announcement of a great military victory.
When a conquering emperor or general returned from battle,
he sent “evangelists” on ahead
to tell everybody the “good news” of his triumph.
Mark is setting out to tell us about the real victory—
not of Caesar or one of his generals,
but of a man Caesar put to death.
This will be the story of the ultimate conquest.

And these are the glad tidings about whom?
“…the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.”
Who is this man, Jesus, whose story Mark wants to tell?
He is the Christ: the Messiah, the anointed one.
This Jesus was Jewish, living and dying in a Jewish context.
The word “Christ” would have certainly perked up Jewish ears.
For centuries, this oppressed people
had been waiting for a liberator, a savior, promised by God,
who would set them free—once and for all.
There were many who made false claims to be the Messiah.
Could this man really be the one?
But Mark also tells us that this man is the Son of God.
Those words would have perked up Roman ears—
the Romans, from whom the Jews longed to be liberated—
for the Caesars declared themselves divine,
and one of the emperor’s many exalted titles was “son of god.”
Mark says—quite provocatively—
that he’s going to tell the story of the true king of the world.  (cf. R. Barron)

All of that is packed into just one line!
(It’s not even a complete sentence!)
You can draw out meaning like that
from every word of the gospel,
from every line of Sacred Scripture!

And we can do much the same
with every little detail of our lives.

God is attempting to write
another tale of glad tidings, another “gospel,”
in your life and in mine.
Their opening lines are as unique
as every distinct human person.
Some of our stories begin meeting God in tenderness:
Comfort, give comfort to my people,
God says through Isaiah.
Some of our stories begin with a shock,
much like the sudden appearance
of a bug-eating wild man from the dessert named John the Baptist.
And some of our stories emerge from out-and-out disaster,
like St. Peter’s picture of the end of time
when the heavens will be dissolved in flames
and the elements melted in fire.
But what these stories have in common—
if we take the time to examine them closely—
is that they are more than just an unconnected series of events;
each one of them has a thread that ties it together,
and that thread is Jesus:
God-made-man, the savior, the liberator,
the king come to definitively conquer sin and death,
to recreate this world one life at a time.
And what else do our stories have in common?
They are meant to be told.
As the old saying goes:
Your life may be the only Bible
some people ever read.

How does the story of your life in Christ begin?
(And if it hasn’t started yet,
are you ready to let God begin writing?)
What’s the opening line?
What’s happening in the most recent chapters?
Can you recognize the thread that ties it all together?
Can you see where it’s all going—that it’s truly good news?
And are you willing to tell it
to anyone and everyone who’s willing to listen?

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God.
Let it begin again in you this Advent.


Rosary Maker said...

This one makes me want to sit at your feet like Mary did while you pick apart the rest of the Bible for me and teach me! Nice homily Father!

Fr. Joe said...

How kind of you to say! Thanks!