Where do I begin? Have you ever found yourself asking that question? Have you ever wondered amidst all the things to do and with the limited time to do them – where will I begin? Or perhaps even with time on our hands we can find ourselves asking – where will I begin? Today we read the beginning of the Gospel of Mark (and we will follow Mark’s Gospel for the next year). Mark commences his Gospel: ‘The beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ.’ And in his introduction there are two things of particular note. First, the Good News about Jesus Christ needs someone to prepare the way; to point to Jesus; to invite people to look towards Jesus Christ. The second thing that Mark tells us is that the beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ involves a personal conversion, repentance, metanoia or change of heart.
This is as much true for us in this Advent of 2020 as it was for the first believers in Mark’s community. The beginning of the Good News involves both preparing to receive Jesus into our lives and personal change. Both these things are difficult.
Preparing a way for Jesus is difficult. Our culture today in Australia (and in the west in general) can be described as Post-secular or Post Christian. What do I mean by that? In 1947, in Australia around 97 percent of the population declared themselves Christian. The vast majority were Anglican Christians. Today in Australia Catholics amount to the biggest single group of believers. But Christianity is on the decline at around 54 percent of the population. There are more Buddhists than Baptists, more Muslims than Lutherans, and more Hindus than Jews. 30 percent of Australians claim no religious affiliation. So we are in a multi-faith and multicultural environment.
In this world preparing for Jesus is different. The culture as a whole does not carry the tradition as it once did. This affects all of us. Each of us is influenced by the culture of which we are a part. So today for example we are environmentally aware and gender sensitive to a degree that we were not in the past and that awareness and sensitivity is carried through to us largely by the culture we are in.
When speaking with parents who are bringing their children for baptism I usually talk about the need for us to find a space for the Word of God to be heard in their child’s life.. In other words to “prepare a way for the Lord!”. If we do not do it then it will not happen. We cannot take for granted that the gospel will be heard or that the tradition will be known unless we deliberately and strategically make a space for it to happen. The same is true for each of us. Unless we as individuals and as a parish community find ways to explore, listen, engage with the tradition we cannot be sure it will be kept alive. That is why our parishes nominate worship, outreach and learning as key to assisting us in developing our Christian identity. They help us prepare a way for the Lord to be known.
Secondly the beginning of following Christ calls for repentance, conversion, metanioa – call it what you will. It is about change. If finding a space to hear the word is difficult then change is doubly difficult. But change is to what the gospel calls us. Not superficial change like the colour of my shirt or the style of my hair. Not change for the sake of change to be fashionable or to avoid boredom. Not change to simply be like everyone else. No. Real, deep and radical change. Change of the human heart to conform to Christ in whom we are baptised. Change to become Christian – patterning our lives on the life, death and resurrection of Christ. This change of heart might then call us to a change of view, a change of priority, a change in our parish – who knows.
So in this week of Advent, can I find a small space to read the Scripture or discuss an element of the faith and can I wonder if perhaps the faith is calling for any change in my life?