We just heard today’s Advent Gospel according to Mark: The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God announcing the original Christmas Gift, for God, for us. The writer of the Gospel according to Mark, full name: John Mark, gets right to the Gift. He doesn’t wrap it is Matthew’s words that make for an exquisite scene of star, camels, colorfully dressed Eastern scholars who study the sky for signs of world-shaking events; nor in Luke’s wrapping paper printed with a current events with the bold-print headline: “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus…” that fades into the quaint scenes of shepherds, angelic choirs, and a Baby cradled in a feed trough overseen by attentive parents; nor in John’s first-century interpretive art swirling with heavily-colored lines of poetic phrases.
The writer of the shortest Gospel, with which we will spend this cycle in the church’s year, doesn’t bother to wrap the Gift, nor does he even take the time to box it. He hands it to all to read - with no Baby in a manger, no shepherds, no choir of angels, no travelers from the East showing up sometime later…maybe two years later.
Samuel Massey muses (quoted from his book You've Got to be Kidding! ) “…how inconspicuously the Gospel begins according to Mark. All (the writer) offers is John the Baptist, Martha Stewart's worst nightmare, smelling like a camel and calling people to change their ways.” to receive the Gift of the grownup Jesus, flesh of our flesh, come to live our life from beginning to end, and then give us life beyond death; and in between, show us how to turn God’s love for us into our love for one another.
Like some of the gifts we give, or the cards we open, and hear a recorded message speaking in digitized tones, John Mark, dubs in a voice of John the Baptist, last of the prophets, crying out from a his wilderness pulpit: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”
The Advent cry to remove every obstacle, every barrier or pitfall that keeps God’s Good News Gift in Jesus from getting through to everyone. “For God so loved the WORLD, that he gave his only Son…” Jesus, God’s Gift for EVERYONE!
When families began to settle here in the 1800’s, between historic Evansburg to the East and Trappe to the West, Abraham Hunsicker realized there were enough people to have a Christian Meeting house between the two in what was then called Freeland (now Collegeville), and from the beginning there were to be no limitations; the congregation was to be “a place of worship for all Christians.” Literally a place along the highway from Philadelphia to Reading where God’s Good News in Jesus would be a Gift waiting to be opened and shared.
A life-changing Gift that has us reading and dramatizing Charles Dicken’s Christmas Carol Christmas after Christmas. The heartwarming story that needs to be heard in these hard- hearted, cold-hearted times – the cold of Hell, as Dante said its center is not the unbearable heat of fire, but the deadening freeze of ice. The ice-cold heart of Scrooge melted by the horror of his greed that thaws him out to let himself be adopted by the Cratchit family and give away his hoarded money that has him seeing Tiny Tim healed and well.
Gregory Knox Jones confesses it is a story that warms his heart. “But more than that, it is a hopeful story. It provides us with the hope that we too can make needed changes in our lives. We can break free from the ruts we have burrowed, and the negative behaviors we have cultivated. We can become kind and compassionate, humble and hospitable, joyful and generous.” (Gregory Knox Jones, An Alternative Future)
Today, we who are members, attending friends of this congregation, and drop-in visitors at Trinity Church – “a place of worship for all Christians,” hear John Mark quoting another John, John the Baptizer, the voice crying out to “make his paths straight,” to remove every obstacle within us and around us, to receive the Christ Who makes it possible to love ourselves as much as God loves us, and to make that God-love in Jesus “OUR GIFT TO GIVE TO OTHERS!” And so, today we purpose to remove any barriers or pitfalls as we enlarge the word “all” in “a place of worship for all Christians,” from what that “all” meant in the midst of the religious battles of the mid- 1800’s and the family-dividing, nation-severing time of the Civil War, to the “all” of this twenty-first century. The “all” who are loved by God, the “all” to whom God gives the Good News Gift that comes to us through Jesus.
Sue Monk Kidd, the nurse turned devotional writer through reading Thomas Merton, who awakened her to explore the inner life, recalls her childhood when she prepared for Christmas early in December. She would place a wooden Nativity scene under the tree and think deeply about Christmas and the coming of Jesus. One remembrance was of a visit to a monastery a couple of weeks before Christmas. As she passed a monk walking outside, she greeted him with, "Merry Christmas." The monk's response caught her off guard as he replied, "May Christ be born in you." His words seemed strange and peculiar at the time. What did he mean, "May Christ be born in you?" Years later, sitting beside the Christmas tree, she felt the impact of his words. She discovered that Advent is a time of spiritual preparation. It is also a time of transformation. It is "discovering our soul and letting Christ be born (into) the waiting heart." (King Duncan, Collected sermons, www.Sermons.com)
The Gift we receive and make “Our Gift to Give to Others” as we let others know the word “all” is defined by God's Good Needs in Jesus. AMEN.
Rev. Dr. Martha B. Kriebel is the pastor of Trinity Reformed United Church of Christ in Collegeville, PA