The First Sunday in Advent also marks the beginning of a year’s cycle of Gospel readings focused on Mark. The season of Advent and Mark’s Gospel go well together – a seemingly odd statement perhaps, as nothing of the story of Jesus’ birth is found in Mark’s rendition. In fact, Mark’s narrative seems as far away from Christmas as one can possibly get – a dark, terse, dramatic narrative bearing an enigma called “the messianic secret.” Yet it is perfect for Advent, a season that declares something hopeful on the horizon when everything seems to say otherwise. Mark’s original audience faced looming annihilation – a real possibility under Nero’s persecution (just as today’s Christian communities throughout the Levant and other locations are forced to endure a religious ethnic cleansing). Mark’s gospel is about faithfulness and trust under duress – and Mark’s voice comes from the midst of the experience.
Get ready for a year of riding the storm with Mark!
Jesus separating people at the Last Judgement, by Fra Angelico, 1432-1435.
This one word stands out at the peak and culmination of this year’s journey with Matthew’s Gospel. Over the course of the year, beginning last Advent, we have climbed Matthew’s mountain, celebrated with Matthew’s traumatised and exiled Jewish community the invitation to see Jesus as the new Moses who completes the Torah, all that is in the Law and the Prophets. More than that, Jesus calls out a community to live courageously serving, defiantly loving, calling for a world to be built on the principles of chesed (mercy) and shalom (a just peace).
Alexander Shaia (who will be visiting Perth in March) invites us to consider Matthew’s Gospel, as a first path of awareness, particularly when confronted with change that may well hide a divine summons to fuller living. We move through shock, unease and unsettledness to pronounce a final “Yes!”
The Gospel of Matthew provided the fledgling church with a handbook drawn on Hebrew heritage but recasting old and wise ways for a newly expanded world opened by the life, teaching, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, who says “Lo, I am with you… to the end of the age.”
Where is he to be found? Today’s climactic parable of the separation of sheep and goats tells us in one word – “Inasmuch!” Inasmuch as you regarded and served with dignity the most humble person, you did the same for Jesus. This is the summit of the mountain.
Our local high school has access to two school chaplains throughout the week. YouthCARE chaplains Andrew Winton and Susan Sydney-Smith are in high demand by students, parents and staff as they provide, first, a listening ear and then, if needed, care by provision of information, referral or practical help. Local churches come together to raise financial support for this service. Susan Sydney-Smith is guest speaker at the Church of Christ Wembley Downs this Sunday, November 23, at 9.30 am.
YouthCARE chaplains Andrew Winton and Susan Sydney-Smith at Churchlands Senior High School