Sunday, December 10, 2023

Good News Or Bad?

2nd Sunday of Advent (B)

Readings: Isaiah 40: 1-5, 9-11; Psalm 84 (85): 9-14; 2 Peter 3: 8-14; Mark 1: 1-8

Picture: By hossein azarbad on Unsplash

My dear friends, what makes a piece of news sound good or bad? Doesn’t it depend not just on the news itself, but also on those who receive it? For example, we may recall that last year the then government of New Zealand passed a law that would have effectively banned the sale of cigarettes to future generations of Kiwis. Does this sound like good news or bad? Many in New Zealand and around the world thought it was great news. Many. But not all. Just weeks ago, a new government announced its intention to scrap the smoking ban to fund tax cuts. Clearly, to those somehow invested in the status quo, the ban had sounded like really bad news.


It’s helpful to keep this in mind on this 2nd Sunday of Advent, when our scriptures speak to us of good news. To a people living in exile, the first reading offers a tender word of consolation. To those who consider themselves punished by God for their own sinfulness, a joyful message is proclaimed, from the mouth of the Lord. God is coming to save them. To dry their tears. To heal their wounds. To finally bring them home. Good news, right? And yet, isn’t it likely that there are those who’ve settled comfortably in the foreign land? Built new lives for themselves and their families? And forgotten the place from which their ancestors came? To such people, won’t the prospect of relocation sound like really bad news?

In the gospel, St Mark begins his account of the life of Jesus by calling it Good News (the literal meaning of the word, gospel). The powerful story of the Son of Man’s first coming. The One who ushers in God’s kingdom of justice and peace. But there are those who consider this really bad news. Those for whom it brings desolation, instead of consolation. Isn’t this why John the Baptist eventually gets beheaded? And Jesus is crowned with thorns, and enthroned on a cross?

Still, the good news cannot be cancelled. Not only is the Lord raised from the dead, and taken up to heaven, we believe he will come again. Isn’t this what the second reading warns us to never forget? The belief that, just as Jesus ushered in God’s kingdom at his first coming, he will unveil this same kingdom in the fullness of its glory at his second. An event that will happen suddenly, like a thief. When everything will come to an end. To be replaced by new heavens and new earth, the place where righteousness will (finally) be at home.

Does this sound like good news or bad? Well, that will depend on where we choose to rest our hearts, and invest our lives. Whether on things that will eventually pass away, or on those that will endure to eternity. On our willingness to live as exiles in a foreign land, where righteousness is not yet at home. Isn’t this why, in each of our readings, we find a call to repentance? And why, in the coming week, we will gather for penitential services? To allow the Spirit to renovate our hearts and lives in the direction of greater justice and peace.

Sisters and brothers, unlike a ban on smoking, the Lord’s second coming cannot be scrapped. What must we do to prepare to welcome him as our true gospel this Advent?

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