Advent is not an easy season, with its harried pace and busy schedule. Even non-Christians are surrounded by the holiday patterns of shopping, partying, decorating, and hurrying. Many people are haunted by grief: lamenting broken family relationships, deceased loved ones, and failed friendships. Even non-believers may find themselves yearning for connections with God and community that they seldom notice at other times of the year. And so, God offers the gift of steadfast love to the godly and ungodly alike.
The sinful Israelite's are offered hopeful words of comfort. Our reading this week from the second letter attributed to Saint Peter reminds us that God does not want any person to perish. And we are also reminded in Mark’s Gospel that John comes preaching not just repentance, but forgiveness. God’s gift of love is not just for perfect people, not just for loving people, not just for Christians or Jews or Muslims or Buddhists. God’s Christmas gift of love is for all people, so that “all people shall see it together.” We are given this season of waiting as a gift. For in the waiting, we are all invited to hear God’s glorious promise of love.
In the waiting, we are all allowed to grieve absent loved ones and lament unfulfilled hopes. All the while, God is waiting with us— waiting for the godly and ungodly alike to hear God’s tender voice, to perceive God’s constant presence, and to accept God’s steadfast love. In this season of hurriedness and impatience, Peter’s words fall like the water of a soothing fountain: “Regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.” God is in no hurry to force us into a realm of love and peace that we are not prepared to accept and embrace. God awaits the day when we will hear and believe: “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together.”
In our “church world” today we take the concept of a gospel, good news for granted. We have heard the “good news” throughout our lives. Even outside the church, scriptures are quoted and biblical principles are espoused so that it is impossible to escape some level of “gospelisation.” What would it be like to hear the good news for the very first time? What might the stories of Jesus elicit in our hearts and minds had we not heard them over and over since childhood?
In the opinion of most scholars, the gospel ascribed to Mark is the “beginning,” at least of the written form. Truly, it was a “new thing.” Imagine yourself in a life of poverty, locked into a spiral of hard work for little gain, tied to one place for all time, under the sovereignty of a foreign power, denied basic rights and freedoms, and lacking any real hope of change or advance. For some who will read this, that is the life they live and it’s not hard to imagine. For others it is hard to imagine such situations. Yet they still exist all over our world today both overtly and subtly.
It is easy to frame such an existence as futile and desperate. But into such a reality comes a message of possibility, a story of a redeemer and saviour. This is a story of a champion rising from the common herd, someone just like us, but in very significant ways nothing like us at all— a man who possesses the very power and wisdom of God. Could the stories be true? Could the prophesies and promises of the ages come to fulfillment? Was there hope for the oppressed and the downtrodden?
In our modern world, it is difficult to imagine what first-century Jewish people heard when they first received the “good news.” Yet, in our modern world, we can reflect on what we hear as, again and again, we hear the gospel message. Do we hear promise? Do we receive hope? Does the gospel still contain power to transform lives?