Good news, ever now

This article appears in the Advent 2014 feature series. View the full series.

Halford E. Luccock (1885-1961), a longtime professor of homiletics at Yale Divinity School, was fond of saying that he believed in comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. After all, he reasoned, the Gospel we preach is supposed to be good news for the poor and a wake-up call for the rich and self-satisfied.

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Second Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 40:1-5, 9-11
Psalm 85
2 Peter 3:8-14
Mark 1:1-8

"It should never be forgotten," said Luccock, "that Christianity did not come into the world through the editorial page; it came through the news columns. It was a news event -- front-page, stop-the-press news. Something happened. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Gospel was first preached as news, good news. Wherever it has been preached with power, it has been preached as news. Whenever it has dwindled down to mere advice or whenever it has become merely editorial Christianity, it has evaporated into a cloud, as vague as fog" (Marching off the Map, Harper, 1952).

On this Second Sunday of Advent, Isaiah, Mark and the author of 2 Peter preach to us with power. There is no fogginess here. Their words are truly good news for all who will listen, learn and allow the power of the Word to grace their life, their actions, their thoughts, their choices.

Deutero-Isaiah shares his conviction that God called him to be the herald of good news. Judah's exile was at an end! His message is one of tender assurance that God has forgiven Judah and will make all the arrangements for the exiles in Babylon to travel home. With uncontained joy, the psalmist joins the prophet in celebrating God's proclamation. The psalmist personifies God's gifts of truth, kindness, justice and peace, envisioning them as living beings kissing and keeping careful watch over God's people.

The author of 2 Peter, speaking of the second appearance of Jesus, encouraged his beleaguered contemporaries to live holy lives, allowing the good news about the second coming of Jesus to inspire their repentance and deepen their faith.

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John, the herald of Jesus, speaks unequivocally in today's Marcan Gospel. He calls listeners to prepare the way of the Lord, who comes. John was focused solely on the good news that God was about to become more personally involved with humankind than ever before, in the person and through the mission of Jesus.

Some may wonder: If the sacred texts proclaimed in our hearing were good news more than two millennia ago, how can they be good news today? These texts do indeed constitute good news for each and every generation because God's word pulsates and respires with life -- God's own life through the power of the Spirit. For that reason, the word is ever new, ever pertinent and ever revelatory of the news that God loves; God saves; God liberates; God creates and recreates; God comes.

This good news has sustained the community of believers through centuries of growth, division, conflict and confusion. This Gospel has been preached to the faithful and the disbelieving, to the hopeful and the despairing, to those who love and those who have ceased to believe in the power of love. God remains constant. With each proclamation of the word comes the grace we need to listen and receive it into our hearts.

Once again, this Advent, we come full circle to that moment in time when the Word of God became flesh and pitched his tent among us. This moment of history is ever present now. David N. Power compares the Word of God to an echo (The Word of the Lord, Orbis, 2001). An echo is heard when a word spoken out into the open reverberates and returns. But even though the original word is recognizable in the echo, that word has traveled through time and space, and the word, upon its return, is new, marked by the people and places encountered in its journey.

The Word of God, spoken to us in the Scriptures and in the Son, is like that. These two living Words have been launched into our world and continue to be launched into all the changing times and circumstances in which we, the people of the Word, find ourselves.

As God's good news echoes off new surroundings, new people and events, it returns to God with a new sonority. As God's people, it remains our privilege and responsibility to enrich that sonority by our faithful response to the news of God's salvific love.

[Patricia Sánchez holds a master's degree in literature and religion of the Bible from a joint degree program at Columbia University and Union Theological Seminary in New York.]

This story appeared in the Nov 21-Dec 4, 2014 print issue under the headline: Good news, ever now .

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