Saturday, December 2, 2017

Ta-Da! A Proclamation!

Mark 1:1-8, the gospel lesson appointed for the Second Sunday of Advent, is the first 'Ta-Da" moment in a line of many others to come in Mark's gospel.  You can almost hear the trumpets sounding as Mark begins.  There are no verbs, only the announcement, "[Hear ye, hear ye!]  The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God!"  That must have garnered the crowds' attention.  Undoubtedly it also got the Romans' attention, since only Caesar was regarded as 'son of god', and only Caesar was licensed to give 'good news'.  Hints of things to come?

(The following questions have been formed to get at some of the fundamental concerns of Law and Gospel preachers.  For more on this unique genre of preaching, please see my brief guide, Afflicting the Comfortable, Comforting the Afflicted, available from or amazon.)

1.  How does the Word function in the text?  This is pure proclamation.  As such it is a gospel function:  the One for whom we have waited is coming!  He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit!  This is a new beginning!  Lift up your heads, for your redemption is drawing nigh!

2.  How is the Word not functioning in the text?  There is no word of Law here, although there is a report of public repentance.  This is interesting in that John the baptizer, who will speak a word of Law, is announced, but here there is no such word.  That word of judgment, in fact, is completely absent from Mark's account.  Matthew and Luke include John's dire warning to those who came out to be baptized, but Mark omits this.  No word here of "the wrath to come" or of an "ax even now laid to the root of the trees," but only of the One whose sandal "I am not worthy to stoop down and untie."

3.  With whom are you identifying in the text?  As always we identify with those to whom the Word is addressed.  This whole text is addressed to the reader, thus it is addressed to us.  The announcement of the good news of Jesus Christ is coming to us.  We are the ones who are told that the baptizer has appeared in the wilderness, signalling the end of our wilderness wanderings.  We are the ones who are invited to be baptized in the Jordan, confessing our sins, and step foot into a new land on the other side of the Jordan.  We are the covenant people of God!

4.  What, if any, call to obedience is there in this text? The call to "prepare the way of the Lord" could be counted as a call to obedience, except that the call to obedience is always in response to God's work in Christ.  Since all we have here is the announcement of Christ's coming, a call to obedience would be premature.

5.  What Law/Gospel couplet is suggested by this text?  We will have to delve into the context of this passage in order to fashion some suitable Law/Gospel couplets.  Remembering that Caesar is the one for whom the terms "son of god" and "gospel" were reserved we might imagine the following:  false Christ/Son of Man; false gospel/Good News.

6.  Exegetical work:  I have always liked the quote attributed to Gregory the Great (d. 604):  "Whoever preaches right faith and good works prepares nothing other than a road for the Lord to come into the hearer's hearts so that his gracious power might penetrate and the light of truth illuminate them.  Thus may the preacher make straight the paths for God..."  (Lamar Williamson, Interpretation, Mark, p. 33)  Donahue and Harrington, in their commentary on this gospel, make note of the River Jordan, a "barrier between wilderness and land of promise," inviting we readers to hear this good news and enter into a new land ourselves.  (Sacra Pagina, The Gospel of Mark, p. 63)  This is a promising tack, given that a new Son of God, a new land, and a new life of repentance await us.  I am intrigued by Eugene Boring's idea that this whole prologue in Mark's gospel (verses 1-15) are heard "offstage."  Boring imagines a theatre audience hearing an "offstage voice of God speaking in words of Scripture."  The action unfolds as Jesus is introduced. (The NT Library, Mark, pp. 33-37)

7.  How does the Crossings Community model work with this text?  In my analysis of this I highlight the ways in which we are seduced by false Christ's, passing on the untruths of the empire, and finding ourselves finally without a Savior.  The word of the prophet that One has come who is truly Son of God frees us from our bondage and illusions.  See the entire analysis at study.

8.  Consider the insights of the pioneers of the New Homiletic?  Could there be any better time than this to do what Henry Mitchell always encouraged?  Celebration!  Celebrate this announcement!  Christ is coming soon!

Blessings on your proclamation!

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