Out with the Old, In with the Old

Pastor Joe Skogmo

St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Lowry, MN

Advent 2 | 12.10.2017 | Mark 1:1-8

Remember last week when we summarized the Old Testament with the history Israel? Remember when the question was asked, “So, what is the point of knowing/telling that story?”

If not, or if you weren’t here, here’s one point that comes from recounting the history of Israel: with God creating and then calling God’s creation ‘good’ in Genesis, with God’s promise to Noah in the rainbow, God’s covenant with Abraham, God’s deliverance of Israel from Egypt in the Exodus, God’s giving Israel commandments, relationship, offspring, and land, with God’s deliverance of Israel from Assyrian and Babylonian oppression, a point is that the Old Testament story reveals a God who shows up again and again and again to love and restore a suffering and sinful people.

…And that is a major point in today’s reading from the Gospel of Mark. In the opening of this gospel, John the Baptist proclaims that God is showing up yet again, this time, in Christ Jesus (Mark 1:1-3).

That is how Mark begins his gospel, by emphasizing the connection between God’s Old Testament promises and the arrival of Jesus. There is no birth story in Mark. There are “no angelic pronouncements,” no genealogy, no dramatic virgin birth, no shepherds, no kings—just an immediate proclamation by John the Baptist who quotes Isaiah to declare that the arriving Jesus is a sign that “God’s longstanding promises [of the Old Testament] are being fulfilled.”[1] Jesus’ arrival is a new era of an age-old promise that God will remain faithful.[2] In Jesus, God is showing up YET AGAIN to love and restore a suffering and sinful people.

This is all to say, the arrival of Jesus does not mark a moment of a new religion, and certainly, it does not mark the arrival of a new God. Rather, it is a continuation; the promise being proclaimed by John the Baptist is essentially, “Out with the old…and IN with the old.” This is the same old God acting on the same old covenant, offering love and restoration yet again in a ‘fresh way,’[3] in Jesus.

Now, what is the point of emphasizing this point? What is the point of stressing this connection that the arrival of Jesus is a continuation of an old promise? Because it is a crucial reminder, not only to the audience of John the Baptist, but to you and me, that God’s promises never stop unfolding.

You see, we dwell in stories like this at Advent and Christmastime not only to celebrate history or remember some moment when God showed up, but also to be reminded that God does and still shows up! This is God’s eternal m.o. God shows up again and again and again, like God did in history, because that is the promise God made to Abraham and Sarah, to Moses, to David, to Israel, to Isaiah, to John the Baptist, to the disciples, and now to you and me.

This commitment, wrote Isaiah in your reading today, “will stand forever” (Isaiah 40:8). As Paul would write in Romans, this promise is ‘irrevocable’ and perpetual (Romans 11:29). God’s promises happened in history and, see, implied John the Baptist, they unfold in Christ Jesus, and they will continue to unfold tomorrow and the next day and eternally through the Holy Spirit, all because of an old promise: we are God’s people and God shows up for God’s people.

So, this week, this month, I invite you to look and keep watch for where you see God at work, still showing up – in ‘the helpers,’ as Mr. Rogers would say in moments of crisis, in the world, in this community, in your lives, in your relationships – and I hope that such sightings will grant you confidence to the point of hope and faith to the point of joy despite whatever it is you or this world are suffering. Because that is who God is. That is Advent hope. That is the promise of the manger. “‘Comfort, o comfort my people’ says your God” (Isa 40:1). Amen.

     [1] Leah Mckell Horton, “Mark 1:1-8 – Homiletical Perspective,” in Feasting on the Gospels: Mark, ed. Cynthia A. Jarvis and E. Elizabeth Johnson (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), 5.

     [2] Walter Brueggemann, Charles B. Cousar, Beverly R. Gaventa, Jr., James D. Newsome, Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV—Year B (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), 11-12.

     [3] Ibid., 11.

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