Hidden Beginnings

SECOND SUNDAY OF ADVENT

Isaiah 40:1-11
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
2 Peter 3:8-15a
Mark 1:1-8

Prayer of the Day: 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.

“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” Mark 1:1.

Beginnings are seldom noticed as such when they occur. Seemingly inconsequential happenings can set in motion a string of unforeseen consequences radiating their effects like ripples over the face of a pond generated by the impact of a small stone. There is no way I could have known that a fleeting glance and exchange of smiles with a young women I met passing through the church basement thirty eight years ago was the beginning of anything. It might have led to nothing at all. Or it may perhaps have flowered briefly into one of those relationships that, for whatever reason, fades into one of the many “roads not taken” along the winding paths of our lives. Indeed, if either of us had been engaged in conversation with someone else or if the timing of my entrance had been delayed or accelerated by any number of potential distractions, our brief encounter might never have happened. Yet from this vantage point in the autumn years of my life, I can recognize that meeting of our eyes as a critical turning point, the beginning of a relationship that has nurtured, sustained, transformed us-and generated three children and five grandchildren.

So, too, the appearance of a preacher in the wilderness of a backwater province on the fringes of the Roman Empire might well have gone unnoticed-but for the fact that there was a young man from the town of Nazareth coming forward with many more to be baptized by this preacher. Reading forward to the account of Jesus’ baptism, it isn’t clear whether John the Baptizer or anyone else saw the heavens rent asunder and the Spirit descending upon Jesus. For all we know, this might have been for John just another day’s work. From our standpoint as recipients of the good news about Jesus, we recognize this moment as a profound new beginning.

Of course, there have been other “beginnings” in the scriptural narrative. The words spoken by John in our gospel lesson were first pronounced by the prophet Isaiah declaring a new beginning for the people of Judah languishing in exile. Both of these beginnings harken back to “the beginning” where God speaks the cosmos into existence and quickens it with God’s divine breath. Genesis 1:1-5. In truth, eternity intersects with every nanosecond of time and God’s being sustains every molecule in the universe. Thus, every occurrence, however seemingly insignificant, involves a “God factor” making it at least potentially the beginning of something big.

Knowing this to be so, can we dare hope that any of the events within this last dark year of political chaos, pandemic and racial violence is the beginning of something beautiful? Do we dare imagine that one day George Floyd’s murder will be remembered as the spark igniting a national effort comparable to the New Deal and the Marshall Plan to dismantle systemic racism and reverse its centuries of insidious effects? Do we dare hope that the Covid-19 pandemic will be remembered as the event that finally convinced us universal healthcare is both a human right and essential to the common good? Will the Trump presidency finally awaken the American Church to the dangers of nationalist idolatry and move us to a deeper appreciation of the church’s catholicity?

Farfetched? Maybe. But Advent is, after all, the season of hope. If we believe that God spoke light and being out of darkness and nothingness, birthed the people of Israel from the chains of slavery and worked the miracle of resurrection in the darkness of a tomb, is it such a stretch to believe that God has been at work redemptively in what we all know to have been a bleak year?

Here is a poem by Mary Ellen Edge contemplating the hiddenness of beginnings and their concealed potential.

Beginnings

Dawns are always wonder-dawns
Of perfect untouched hours;
Buds are perfect promises
Of unseen perfect flowers.

Youth is life unlimited,
Not yet defined and small-
Not yet poured out in queer-shaped jugs
That cannot hold it all.

Source: Poetry, June 1923. I have been unable to find any information about this poet or any of her other works. I would appreciate any information anyone else might be able to provide.

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