December 2, 2011

Dec. 2: The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ


By Steve Nolt, professor of history
SCRIPTURE: Mark 1: 1-8 (NRSV)
Scroll down for complete Scripture.

Today’s text offers us “the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.” As we read on, if we’re honest, it’s something of an odd beginning. Or at least an unexpected beginning. True, the story begins with reference to the prophet Isaiah, and faithful readers of the Hebrew Scriptures might well recognize the call to “Prepare the way of the Lord.”

But the awesome deeds we’d like to see from God begin in an inauspicious place and with an odd leading character. Unlike the original prophet Isaiah, who had functioned within the royal household in the city of Jerusalem, this story begins out in the wilderness, and with the cry of a Grizzly Adams-type figure – a seemingly socially-maladjusted man clothed in camel’s hair and who survives on a strange diet.

Nor does John, the baptizer, simply cry out from the Wilderness. He wants people to leave their homes in Jerusalem and join him in this unexpected place. It is here, amazingly, that they will see God’s awesome deeds. And if this isn’t surprising enough, John is upfront about what is to follow: The one who comes next will have even more powerful surprises in store.

Remarkably, some people do respond to John’s message. But, as we see in the subsequent pages of Mark’s Gospel, many do not respond – to John or to Jesus. The message and the messengers are not what people expected. They may have longed to see awesome deeds, but this wasn’t what they were looking for. They were not expecting to see God here or in this way.

Where do I expect to see God? Advent is a season of waiting and of anticipation. But where am I looking and what am I anticipating? A recurrence of an experience we’ve had before?

Ninety years ago, 85-year-old Baptist theologian and mission historian, August H. Strong, considered these questions as he reflected on our ability to often miss God’s unexpected deeds.

On Nov. 28 – the day before he died, it turned out – Strong wrote, “When you come to the end of your life, will you say that you have never seen God? The answer [must] be that you have never seen anything else.”

SCRIPTURE:Mark 1: 1-8 (NRSV)
1 The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 It is written in Isaiah the prophet: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way”– 3 “a voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ ” 4 And so John came, baptizing in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. 6 John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 And this was his message: “After me will come one more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. 8 I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”



Comments (12)

  1. Thanks for your words, Steve.

    Jeff December 2, 2011 |
  2. Thank You, Dr. Nolt for this thought provoking devotional. Sometimes we need to have Abba raise such questions as we press to remain faithful and usable vessels. Much love to you and the Goshen community of faith.

    Mother Mamie Moore December 2, 2011 |
  3. Thanks Steve for helping us focus on the Advent Season and providing a way to see God through unexpected people and events!

    Vicky Kirkton December 2, 2011 |
  4. Thank you for your words and for the Strong quotation. Indeed, if we see our lives in the light of Christ, we see God everywhere and in everyone. Peace.

    Warren December 2, 2011 |
  5. Love the closing story!

    Joan December 2, 2011 |
  6. Thanks for the clarity with which you lay out the John the Baptist story, and your naming of the “odd beginning” of this gospel. Your comments will influence my Advent 2 sermon. Thank you, Steve.

    janice December 2, 2011 |
  7. Every season of Advent and Lent I receive your wonder filled writings; thank you for this writing today. I will forever remember the quote from the Baptist minister..August Strong. And each day I will surely think, “have I seen anything other than the face of God”…thank you Goshen, you are very important to me.

    Kristin McNamara Freeman December 2, 2011 |
  8. the quote from August H Strong was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read. Thank you.

    Laure December 2, 2011 |
  9. Thank you for a powerful lesson. You have the gift of expressing the meaning of advent with a clarity that speaks to the mind and soul.

    marjorie December 2, 2011 |
  10. Thanks, Steve, for reminding us that God is in everything and everyone, even those things and people we may not want to see or acknowledge!

    Lisa Guedea Carreno December 2, 2011 |
  11. Thank you Steve for this wonderful commentary! I greatly appreciate your emphasis on how God often works in unexpected ways but that we can recognize this if our eyes and hearts are open. I think it’s extraordinary that God can work despite all of our preconceptions! Thank God for that!

    Ellen m December 2, 2011 |
  12. Thank you, Steve, for your splendid idea of the unexpectedness of God and his prophets. John Baptist had no power base, no party machine, no TV prime time, no corporate sponsorship. He came to his mission straight from the desert where among lizards and scorpions he had to depend absolutely on God. A man of transparent integrity, John is as relevant today as he was was two thousand years ago. Steve, we need men like you to point out like John the duplicity, inconsistency and squalid living of certain people.
    Mervyn Carapiet

    Mervyn Carapiet December 3, 2011 |