Today’s Scripture: Mark 1:1-8
I barely even know how to work mine. I never snooze. I want the alarm set as late as possible, and when it goes off, I’m up.
I know there are snoozers out there, though. I had a roommate once who was a perpetual snoozer. Every time her alarm went off, I knew it was destined to go off again in 9 minutes. And 9 minutes after that. She’d snooze right along for thirty minutes or so, gradually awakening to the new day.
Meanwhile, I’d be lying there on my top bunk, going crazy because I’d been awake since the first alarm.
First-alarm folks like me like the way the gospel of Mark begins.
If you’re a snoozer, Matthew and Luke might be more your speed. They ease into the story of Jesus with Mary and Joseph, shepherds or wise men, and a baby in a manger. Not Mark; no birth story here, he just jumps right into the heat of things.
“This is the beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” says Mark 1:1. “Gospel” is the Greek word for “good news,” so we might remember this better as: “This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.”
Wake up! Here we go! This is the beginning!
In some ways, the beginning takes place long before Mark makes this announcement. A new morning works that same way, right? How we wake up today has a lot to do with last night: when we went to bed, what we ate before we did, what was on our minds as we tried to sleep.
Mark seems to know that, too. He starts by quoting words written some 500 years earlier by the prophet Isaiah: “I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way…” This points us back to the beginning before the beginning, the Old Testament. The good news is part of a plan. What God did before has to do with God’s new beginning now.
We should be on the edge of our seats at this point, because beginnings are important. After all, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and the early bird gets the worm, and we don’t want to wake up on the wrong side of the bed. So what is this beginning of the good news?
John the Baptist is here to tell us: repentance.
Wait – is that supposed to be “good” news? Good news sounds like, “you’re going to get a raise!” What John is asking people to do is to take a good, honest inventory of their sins and then turn away from them. That sounds like hard news. Awkward news. Un-fun news.
But this is just the beginning of the good news. This is the way we get ready to receive Christ’s message. It’s like eating a healthy breakfast or exercising first thing in the morning: we may not be thrilled about it, but it will get us moving in the right direction.
A good beginning for me is Scripture and prayer. That’s how I try to start my days, after the alarm goes off (just once) and I take care of a few essentials, like teeth brushing and coffee making. I sit in the quiet of our house, read a Bible passage, journal about it, and pray over it – all in the hopes that this beginning will point the rest of the day in the right direction. Maybe you do something like this, too.
However you normally begin your day, this week I propose we try something new in the spirit of Mark and John the Baptist: we begin by repenting. Each morning we start by confessing our sins and pledging to turn away from them and toward God.
This may seem like getting up on the wrong side of the bed, something akin to eating broccoli for breakfast. But this is worth trying because it’s “the beginning of the good news” in Mark for a reason. If we start each day by owning up to our sins, we will become hungry for the forgiveness Christ offers. If we start our days by turning toward God, we will focus our lives on spiritual gifts instead of on material ones.
Let’s take on this experiment in the spirit of Advent, the season that’s meant to prepare our way for the birth of Christ.
Let’s take it on in the spirit of John the Baptist, who first preached this message of repentance.
Let’s take it on in the spirit of Mark, and his alarm-sounding announcement:
“This is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ!”