It is the second Sunday of Advent. Today we light two candles in anticipation, not of Christmas, but the fullness of God's promise for Creation. The birth of Jesus is one place Christians see God fully present for us. Matthew and Luke start their Gospels here. Mark, however, does not. For Mark the "good news" of Jesus Christ starts not with his birth, but with John the Baptist who announces the coming Kingdom. Here, with the Kingdom declares Mark, the fullness of God truly begins to break into our lives.
You may know that "good news" is a translation of the Greek word "gospel." You may not know, however, that in Mark's day the word "gospel" commonly meant the propaganda of the Roman Empire. "Good news" referred to the tweats of Emperor Augustus Caesar. "The Emperor Augustus Caesar assures the world of Peace through the order of the empire . . ." Mark, as he begins his Gospel, consciously contrasts the "kingdom news" John the Baptist announces with that offered by the empire. God's good news comes from the wilderness, not the royal city. This good news straightens out the way of love and compassion, it does not make it more convoluted or constricted. The baptism John will offer, and Jesus will seek, was an act of public and political defiance. This, for Mark, is where it all begins.
So, today we light two candles to help banish the darkness. Today we shove aside, if only for a moment, the carols, cookies and claims of happiness through prosperity that the empire would have us invest in. And, with words whispered in hope, we pray:
Stir up our hearts, Lord God, to prepare the way of your only Son. By his coming strengthen us to serve you with purified lives; through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.