This past Monday was my first day back in the office after two weeks of vacation. We didn’t go anywhere overnight but we saw family, outside and socially distanced, and we tried to be out in the sunshine as much as possible, knowing that those warm days wouldn’t last.
When I got back to the office this week, I found the AT-A-GLANCE calendar Hanne gets for us each year and sat down with it and gave about two hours to the process of transferring information from my old calendar over to my new calendar.
I like to keep people’s birthdays, anniversaries, and other significant dates on a paper calendar. I’ve tried to use google calendar and other apps and programs for my phone, but I like to be able to open up a paper calendar and flip around easily to see where everything is.
My guess is that you have your own process for keeping up with significant dates in your life.
Hanne has been getting these at-a-glance calendars for me all the years that I have been here at Epiphany and so I know what to expect when a new one arrives and I know how they’re laid out
and I know that every year for the last five years
the new year’s calendar also includes the last 6 months of the previous year
so that you can go ahead and start using it right away when you get it in October or November or December.
I remember well that my 2020 calendar had the last six months of 2019 in it too, so that I could make an easy transition to the new year.
But when I looked at the front of my newest calendar, I did a doubletake, because it just said 2021 and when I opened it I was surprised to see that it starts abruptly on January 1!
Either the makers of AT-A-GLANCE know it’s good for business NOT to include the dreaded numbers “2020” embossed on the front of their calendar, or they don’t want the reminder of this past year any more than the rest of us.
I think that it’s not just the At-A-Glance calendar company, but all of us –
All of us are ready for a new beginning.
We all want a new start.
We’re anticipating what’s next.
We are anxious to get to a new season of life.
God gives us a new beginning.
And thanks be to God — the new beginning that comes from the Maker of All Things is different than all the other new beginnings of our lives…
because the new calendar year will not erase our racial division,
the new administration in the White House will not bring an end to the political division in our nation,
and even if a vaccine becomes available and the long process of distribution begins in the coming months (and let us pray that it does!),
the economic disparity that the pandemic has uncovered will not be so easy to cure.
Yes, we long for a new beginning that only God can provide.
We long for a remaking of all things!
And the Gospel according to Mark announces that God, in Christ, has given us this new beginning.
Mark doesn’t promise that it will be an easy transition from the old to the new, but he does claim that for those who hear and understand this good news,
there is a new beginning with a future in which we can place our hope.
Mark starts by abruptly announcing, like an alarm waking us from sleep: “The Beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
We have heard the phrase the “good news” so often that it may have lost something of its meaning.
In the world in which Mark lived “Good News,” or evvangelion in Greek, was news of a military battle…
news that your king had won the battle which meant there wouldn’t be the burning of your town and ripping down of your city.
Evvangelion was the news that your team was victorious, and would get to hoist the Vince Lombardi trophy high, stand under the confetti, and shower in champagne as the champions,
but this victory of God, this good news, according to Mark, is definitive, and once and for all times.
There’s not a next-years’ Super Bowl. This is it and it is conclusive.
This is not just A new beginning, but THE New Beginning for the community that hears this message.
It is probably worth mentioning, on this first Sunday in December, that Mark begins his good news of Jesus, Son of God, very differently than our other gospels.
Mark begins with Isaiah and then John the Baptist crying out the wilderness preparing the way for Jesus, but in this narrative, there is no baby Jesus, no Joseph and Mary traveling to Bethlehem, no night song by the angels, no visit from the shepherds, or the magi.
What we find instead, from the very beginning, is a full-grown man who is filled with the power of God and smoldering with the white-hot urgency of the mission to bring a new order into the world.
A quick glance at this gospel’s sixteen chapters reveals a man who teaches with authority, confronts evil and demonic forces, heals sickness, and is always busy, yet finds the time to stop and pray.
Continually moving forward, he has pity on the sick, cleanses those who are unclean, gathers followers, preaches, instructs, and proclaims God’s favor.
He shows new possibilities by healing a paralytic, crosses cultural boundaries and defies long-held norms when he invites a gentile tax collector into his inner circle, and makes new interpretations of God’s law.
He gets angry at those who lack compassion to those who are disabled, makes enemies with those who would slow the inbreaking of the reign of God, and passes leadership to his followers giving them the message of the gospel and authority to heal.
Mark’s account of the Good News tells of a Jesus who stills a raging storm on the sea,
raises a young girl who has died, miraculously feed thousands of hungry people,
confronts those who are apathetic to the message of God, gives the ability to hear and speak to those who are unable to…
All the while making it clear that he wants US to hear and understand and speak his message, which at its core is that faithfulness to God drives out all fear,
and nothing — no amount of suffering, opposition, or evil, not even the cross and death itself — will stop Jesus from being faithful to God’s call on his life to love this world.
And ALL this activity of God in Jesus Christ is the beginning of the Good News,
not just this first verse in our text today or even the first chapter of this gospel…
all of it together tells us of Jesus who is God’s Son,
come among us in the flesh, and whose life, death, and resurrection
are the act of a new beginning that God calls us to be a part of
so that now, we turn the page and see that because of God’s new beginning we are not afraid. We will not fear!
Calendars companies may be afraid to print the number 2020 on their products and others may find it advantageous to point us ahead to 2021,
but God has NOT been afraid to glance at 2020.
God has not been afraid to gaze at 2020.
God has not been afraid to enter deeply and profoundly into the year 2020.
God is unafraid of 2020.
God is unafraid to be with us though the deepest darkest depths we experience — depression, addiction, fear, worry, and brokenness, when the whole world trembles, in this or any year —
God comes into even the deep silence and darkness of the grave in the death of his Son on the cross.
God has been with us through the worst of it all, but God has raised Jesus and dug a trench through time so that all of the power of these dark forces lay on the other side of where we stand.
God has been here with us all this year – active and busy, providing for us, nourishing us, leading us…
as parents and children told the story of God’s promise to Sarah and Abraham and hung glow stars on their ceilings
so that when the lights were cut out for the night, the reminder of the promise of God glowed in the darkness.
God has been here with us –
as middle school and high school students gathered with their parents to rake leaves for members of our community again this year.
As they created care packages for college students, wrote notes to the homebound, and gathered every other week to name the specific and personal ways God has blessed us richly this year.
God has been here with us as we reached out to the community as a congregation –
and God is coming into the homes of students and families at Ridge Elementary as God uses us to gather Christmas gifts for our neighbors in creative ways this year to make this season brighter.
God has been with us though this year –
in circle gatherings, in our music ministries, in our Bible studies;
though HHOPE Pantry and ACTS House and LAMB’s Basket.
God has been with us as we made care packages, health kits, and quilts.
God has been with us, baptizing a parade of people who received the new beginning of baptism and were immersed in God’s river of love.
And God will be with us in the coming year, no matter what it may hold…
So we look to our calendars and to the days ahead with hope.
We give thanks for the gift of faith that casts out all fear.
And we continue to be the church and serve, filled with the power of God’s new beginning, the joy of Jesus’ victory over death, and the promise that the Holy Spirit will continue to be with us in our work and in our words, in our living and giving and in our loving and forgiving.
Thanks be to God, our Living Lord, the One for whom a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years is like a day, holds us and all our days in his love.