Welcome to the beginning
The following sermon was preached by Kristin Rice, LSTC student, in Augustana Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago on Thursday, December 8, 2011.
Welcome to the beginning! The end? The beginning.
Well, I suppose if you think about it, this is the beginning of the end of the beginning. Confused? Excellent.
I first heard this phrase, this concept, at the installation of a friend’s first call in a congregation. The preacher named this installation as the marking of time – where seminary and candidacy had been the beginning of the journey to ordained ministry. Graduation was the end of that part of the journey. And now, being ordained and installed is the beginning of her pastoral ministry. This was a moment in time unlike any other. It was a time set apart, full of memory of the past, full awareness of the present, and looking in hope toward the future.
And here we are now – in the second week of Advent. The beginning of the liturgical year. The end of the semester for all of us (save a paper or two that lingers and looms). The end of the seminary and academic journey for some. The beginning of something new – extended sabbath, ministry in new places, I could go on and on but lists can be a bit, well, boring.
We may find ourselves marking this moment of time differently than we do elsewhere in the year. We might just well be full of memory of the past, (how did we get here?!) fully aware of this present moment (how did we get here), and looking into the future, hoping and dreaming and yet uncertain for what could be (how are we ever going to get there).
Advent is a moment where all the strands of time come together – because it is in knowing the past that informs our present as we look toward the future.
And The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ is this moment – a moment we find ourselves waiting for Jesus to enter the scene and yet also knowing that Jesus is here. In this season of Advent, as with every Advent, we again mark the time of waiting for the one to come, the one who is already with us.
It’s interesting, right? This is the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and yet – in this reading from Mark’s gospel, Jesus doesn’t actually make an appearance. The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ starts on the banks of the Jordan River with this strange guy John the Baptizer – and a group of people who, like John, were waiting for someone else to come.
In that present moment, John knew the prophet Isaiah – that when people came looking for the Lord, they would only find John, one who does great things with water, but who is only a precursor for the one who does amazing things with the Spirit. Fully aware of what generations upon generations of people have been hoping for – that God is going to show up and make God’s presence known – all John can do is say: “I’m not the one – but the one is coming, the one who I’m not even worthy to untie his sandals.”
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ marks for many the end of a time when God seemed far away and not here with us. Yet, God has always been with us from the very beginning. God created the world in which we wait, God delivered and freed, God has always been one step ahead of us. And as we wait for Jesus to come into the world, God is still walking with us.
Here’s the thing. I have this image in my head. One of my favorite poems in life is Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”. In the poem, the speaker finds herself at a fork in the road, where one path looks grungy, unkempt, and a bit worse for wear. The other path is a bit grassier, a bit more cared for, and a bit more traveled. At the end of the poem, the speaker reveals, I quote “I shall be telling this with a sigh / Somewhere ages and ages hence; Two Roads diverged in a wood and I / I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
This is where we begin – where God has already gone and yet still goes with us. Like John and the crowds at the riverbank of the Jordan, we just want to see God. You and I know even a bit more than those crowds – we want to see Jesus.
Whether we find ourselves comfortably on a path right now, or at least a path for the next six months to graduation or summer vacation or even on a path to the next step out of this place –
We want to see Jesus Our journey is not our own and we do not go it alone.
As Dr. Satterlee so poignantly pointed out on Monday – the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is now. And we are taking but one small step as part of this beginning. Our small steps follow one giant leap that God has already made through the waters of the Jordan up to the hill and on a cross where Jesus died. One giant leap out of a tomb into a life made new, a life eternal.
Jesus is waiting with us in this strange time of beginnings and ends and beginnings. Jesus waits with us while we wait for him.
Allow me one more image for you:
Last summer I had the privilege of spending a week at Holden Village in the middle of the Cascade Mountains in Washington. I spent two days working in the weaving room, learning a craft I have only admired from afar. As you weave, whatever you are weaving – especially as a beginner, it is hard to know what you are going to end up with. But what is certain is this: while weaving, you are pulling the warp strands up and down to create a pattern – but the shuttle, the part that actually does the weaving back and forth – that never changes trajectory. The shuttle holds the weaving together, and it is always making a straight path.
In this beginning, this end, and beginning again – Jesus is the shuttle, constantly holding us together amidst the warped threads of time and place where we find ourselves today.
On this Advent journey, on our life journeys – wherever and however we find ourselves making it through each day –
Whatever weaves and patterns our lives take
Whatever path we seem to follow –
When we go out in the wilderness looking to find Jesus –
Jesus is already with us. Jesus is the beginning, the end, and the beginning again.