Picture the old man with the baby in his arms. He stands chuckling with giddy joy, or perhaps he gazes with streaming tears on his cheeks, or is lost in transfixed wonder. He says that this is enough now, he is ready to die. He has seen salvation and he can depart in peace. But what has he seen, really?
Although Mark seems to find it right that Jesus of Nazareth should have been among those who heeded John’s preaching, the three other evangelists appear concerned over the suggestion that Jesus was in some way a disciple of this other preacher.
“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Like a starter’s pistol, this brief first verse rings out and Mark’s narrative is off and running. We may take the chain of phrases in this verbless sentence simply as a title, the announcement of what follows—the title and then immediately the headlong story.
As a child, I studied many different images of the Good Shepherd. I saw the official version every Sunday in the stained glass window above the altar at First Congregational Church in Tempe, Arizona. That shepherd was a tall, friendly-looking, 30-something man dressed in a full-length white robe. The image is probably the most familiar representation of the Good Shepherd. Yet the beautiful and peaceful image didn’t jibe with my own experience.
“Stir up your power O Lord, and come . . .” This traditional prayer for the First Sunday in Advent begins with urgent entreaty. There is no delay for caressing words of prayerful invocation; rude as a wakening alarm, we call for God to get moving. For now, it appears to be the sluggishness of God’s heart that is in question. It is God’s Spirit that first needs stirring to action.