The Second Sunday of Advent, Year B, Christ Church Cathedral, Nashville, December 10, 2023

“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mk. 1:1).

Christians talk about “the four Gospels” (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), but it’s actually only Mark who uses the word “gospel” or “good news” to describe what he’s written. Both Luke and Matthew mention “the good news” about Jesus Christ or that Jesus Christ preaches (Lk. 2:10; Matt. 9:35), but neither one places the idea front and center at the start of their narrative like Mark does. Luke calls what he’s written “an orderly account” (Lk. 1:1): which certainly sounds like underselling; a bit like describing Taylor Swift as a “vocal artist”: true, but not really adequate to describe a global phenomenon (“oh right, forgot to mention”). Poor John never even uses the word “gospel,” which in turn makes you wonder how his work ever got included with the others.

“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mk. 1:1): that’s Mark in our reading today, from the first verse of the first chapter of what is quite fittingly known as “the Gospel of Mark.” Front and center at the very start is this notion of “good news.” Rowan Williams says in his little book on Mark’s Gospel that the term “good news” starts off in the ancient world as a political term, a sort of government press release about an important event. What’s being announced has the power to change things, he adds: it’s “a message about something that alters the climate in which people live, changing the politics and the possibilities; it transforms the landscape of social life” (Meeting God in Mark, 6).

So let’s go a bit deeper: the “good news” that “begins” in Mark’s Gospel is not a news report about something that happens far away, maybe brought to our attention so that we can be better informed; so that we can pick or choose what we will think about and what we will think about it. It’s not that kind of news. Nor is it propaganda, government meddling; or the social media product of Russian trolls or algorithmic filters, meant to influence us so that we can do things that our influencers want us to do. It’s not that kind of “news” either.

This news is not about us at all, though it is vitally important to us. It’s an authoritative statement, not a speculative one. Neither is it manipulative. It’s actually “good news” about stuff that matters, that is close to us and our concerns, that is changing things simply by being announced.

Mind you, there’s no doubt that this “good news” requires our response. It doesn’t just “hang” out there. Our Gospel reading makes that clear through the message of John the Baptist: “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mk. 1:4). Repentance is an action we have to engage in; we have to turn away from the dead end where life has led us and turn back to God. A little bit later in the chapter, Jesus echoes the call of John: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe the good news” (Mk. 1:15). Action is required.

Here the “good news” is the possibility of new life. Repentance clears the path to a new way of being. Jesus’ teaching throughout the Gospel, and his miracles, illustrate the character of the new life that is on offer. When Jesus gives the disciples the parable of the sower, he tells them “to you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God” (Mk. 4:11). This teaching is given so that (put positively) people “may… turn again and be forgiven” (Mk. 4:12). When Jesus heals the paralyzed man he also forgives his sins (Mk. 2:10-11). The healings themselves are signs of the forgiveness that is now available to those who come to him in faith.

But part of the narrative arc of Mark’s Gospel is that the good news that “begins” in chapter one with the announcement of the kingdom and the call to repentance, becomes by the end the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection. The message of the angel to the women at the empty tomb is “You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here” (Mk. 16:6). In other words, the good news that Jesus preached becomes by the end of the Gospel of Mark the good news of Jesus’ resurrection.

The announcement of this good news has already changed the world. Remember: it’s not speculative, nor manipulative, but authoritative. There are now new possibilities for us that didn’t exist before God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Forgiveness is now embodied in the one who has overcome death: the ultimate dead end. God knows there are plenty of dead ends that people encounter, but none could be greater than the one that Jesus himself has already encountered and overcome. God raised him from the dead, and that’s good news for you, for me, and for everyone.

  • The Rt. Rev’d John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee