The beginning of the Good News

Published 10:30 am Wednesday, December 13, 2017

by Charles Qualls

There’s something compelling about a time of retreat when we can get it. About being away from the usual — and finding a quiet space now and then.

Mark’s gospel (1:1-8) doesn’t open in town near a manger, or with angels singing. In Mark, there’s not a shepherd in sight abiding in the field at night with their flocks. In fact, Jesus isn’t even a baby. Nor is Jesus what Mark first wants to talk about, as his Gospel account starts up.

This is no Bethlehem, small as that city was. There is nothing here as busy, developed or full as the City of David that we think of at Advent. The scene is cast out in the wilderness, instead. 

I think try as we may, when we picture a “wilderness” we think of the lush green of the Southeastern United States. We think of our latest trip to the lake. Or, even that cow pasture we pass by out in the country. The camping trip we took once upon a time, way back. That’s where our minds go when we hear something about this time in Jesus’ and John’s lives. 

Instead, in the Middle-Eastern reality of soil and climate, Jesus went out into the “wilderness.”  Because that’s where folks were going. Jesus had a stirring in His soul that something big was about to happen, and he went, too.    

The Jordan River was out there, and He went to see and hear a strange guy he might have been related to. That distant cousin nobody knew what to do with, and who really couldn’t live in town among “normal folks.” All the good Hebrew ladies would gather at synagogue, and John’s name would come up once in a while. They had tried to let their kids play with him, and study with him, but the older he got he had just become different. He dressed so strangely, and don’t even get started about that bizarre diet of his. He ate unspeakable things.

John slept in a cave for shelter out in the wilderness. Probably didn’t keep real clean. Counter-cultural doesn’t even begin to describe John.

Someone said he had become a preacher, and against all odds he was developing a following. His nickname was “The Baptizer” because folks were actually letting him drop them under the water in the Jordan if they responded to what he said. 

Oh, they were responding alright. Voting with their feet, folks were leaving town and flocking out to see him there. His message shouldn’t have sold then — wouldn’t sell now I fear — because he preached the need for repentance and forgiveness. They were letting him take them down into the water — some of them — and gently lower them over into it in a symbolic act of being cleansed. Or, maybe that was a new-fangled anointment signifying their intent to live in a new chapter of life closer to God? 

I’m not sure folks realize what all the preacher can see:

• We try not to look but we can see who’s scrambling for their cellphone when it accidentally rings in the middle of the sermon. 

• We can see who’s talking to whom, stubbornly finishing up that conversation even if the service has begun. 

• I knew that Fred Eidson was the one you could hear all over the Sanctuary clipping his fingernails each and every week in one church.

We see things. We just do. 

So, I know how John must’ve looked out into the back of the crowd and realized that his cousin Jesus had slipped up on everybody. He was almost finished, it was almost time to let everybody go, because even the baptizing had begun. John couldn’t let it go. He went off his manuscript — oh, who are we kidding. John didn’t use a manuscript.

Mark has Jesus being baptized in the Jordan by John. He submitted to the moment, and if baptism is really anointment then He took onto Himself the heavy mantle John described. 

Here came the Son of Man. To mark the beginning of the Good News. Our lives never had to be the same after that. Still don’t. Jesus is still in the business of helping us to see that which is robbing us of life. That which is holding us back. That which is dead wood, tangled up undergrowth. Annoying brambles and briars. 

It’s almost Christmas! Take in the lush, green adornment all around you. Drink in the beauty of the Good News. Take hope! It’s not too late for you, or for anyone you love. For Christ has walked up into the midst of our wilderness, and wants to see to it that we have life!

DR. CHARLES QUALLS is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 562-5135.