Prepare the Way of the Lord!

This Sunday, January 3, 2016 is the Sunday before Theophany.  This Sunday sets the stage for Theophany, the baptism of Christ by The Baptist.

It is interesting to note how the Gospel writers begin their works.  St. John begins with the pre-existence of Jesus Christ, the Word of God, as the second Person of the Trinity.  Both St. Luke and St. Matthew begin with birth narratives of our Lord.  In contrast, St. Mark begins his Gospel, not with a birth narrative, but with the ministry of St. John the Forerunner, Prophet, and Baptist.  Now, to understand the beginning of this Gospel one needs to turn to the very beginning — to the first verses of Genesis.  Here is a brief, but needed exploration of the first verses of the Scriptures from my translation of the Septuagint (Greek) text.

In the beginning God made the heaven and the earth.  Now the earth was unrecognizable [aoratos] and unfurnished [akataskeuastos], and darkness was upon the abyss, and the Spirit of God was brought [epephereto] upon the water.  And God said, “Let light come into being.  And light came into being.  (Gen 1; 1-3)

The state of creation was in chaos and needed deliverance.  In the ancient Hebrew mind, such a watery description was frightening and demanded a salvation.  So comes the Spirit of God upon the water [epephereto].  The Greek verb implies the action of bringing pronouncements and promises upon the chaotic situation.  Yet beyond that, the Spirit of God prepares the deliverance of creation.

Creation’s deliverance from such darkness and chaos is the manifestation of light at the word of God:  “And God said, “Let light come into being.  And light came into being.  Darkness was dispelled, and then the next steps of God’s salvation come to creation as structure is given to formlessness, and that which is unfurnished becomes furnished.  All is now prepared for the appearance of humanity — God’s vice-regents, priests, and prophets.

With this brief exploration of Genesis — the preparation of the Spirit bringing about creation’s deliverance, we can better understand the first verses of St. Mark’s Gospel:

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  Just as it is written in Isaiah the prophet, “Behold, I will send my messenger before your face, who shall prepare [kataskeuasei] your way; a voice of one crying out in the wilderness:  Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths (Mark 1: 1-3).

St. Mark the Evangelist

St. John the Baptist

St. John was a prophet.  A prophet is one who bears the Spirit of God.  In John’s person the Spirit of God is brought upon the scene of chaos of the world after the Fall.  As the Spirit of God acted in Genesis, so he acts through the person of John — pronouncements were brought upon hypocrites, and the promise of salvation was available for those who entered into his baptism of repentance.  And at the right time, the Word of God acts anew — Jesus is manifested to the world and all of creation by his baptism.  The Spirit of God descends on the Son of God, and his saving ministry begins.  The Light and Life of Christ appears and the darkness of sin, death, and alienation is driven away.  This is an astounding parallel to the Genesis text, and this parallel brings St. Mark’s gospel beginning to life with this understanding.

Note that St. Mark continues adding these words for our benefit: “John came baptizing in the wilderness proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1: 4).  Jesus Christ came to make a new, re-created people to be citizens of a new world, a new kingdom.  The ongoing message of John’s ministry means repentance is necessary to enter into the new world, the Kingdom of God.  A redeemed and re-created people are to exist in this new Kingdom with an on-going repentance, and consequent holiness of life.  So, we are to pray with the words of a litany:  “That we may complete the remaining time of our life in peace and repentance, let us pray to the Lord.”

In Christ,
Fr. Irenaeus

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