A Feast of God’s Love

God in the Darkness!
December 8, 2023
THE SEASON OF JOY!
December 14, 2023
God in the Darkness!
December 8, 2023
THE SEASON OF JOY!
December 14, 2023

There is a heart hunger for good news.  Many of us struggle with the barrage of bad news washing over us each day through all the media which overlays the burdens and worries we each carry as a consequence of being human.

The opening statement by Mark at the beginning of his Gospel, is stark, blunt and without any preparation: ‘The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’  It reminded me of the way Genesis is opened: ‘In the beginning, God created all that is, on earth and in the heavens – and God saw that it was good!’

Here Mark declares another beginning, a new creation, the beginning of the good news. We are to pay attention, sit up and listen.  I suspect we’ve got so used to the words, we may well no longer hear and experience the impact of them, ‘the good news of Jesus Christ!’.

The connection between the creation of the world and the plan God has for all humanity over the millennia is startling. God works with everything and everyone, so we can trust the good news of Jesus Christ.  Nothing is wasted or overlooked, all is encompassed by God.  

This is the 2nd Sunday of Advent and we look at the world through a prophetic lens, and can see the overwhelming encompassing reach of God’s love, and its individual character for each of us.   Faith in God is not simply an experience of feeling good, but a decision to trust God and believe in God, knowing it is a contradiction and a rejection of all that is happening around you and which is being told to you, but choosing instead to trust God’s love .

As Mark describes the good news of Jesus Christ, God’s son, he reaches back to the prophets and quotes Isaiah, bringing into view his evidence of God’s hand at work, with the reference to God’s messenger, coming ahead who will prepare the way for Jesus Christ.

‘the voice of one crying in the wilderness:  ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ (Mark 1:2-3)

Isaiah tells us of valleys being lifted and mountains made straight so the path is clear and ready.  The messenger is full of good tidings.  He is being sent ahead of God’s Son to help us to prepare.   And if we listen very carefully, we can hear the drumbeat of God’s heart, we can hear the call to follow Jesus in the good news.   There is no doubting the power of God to call us to action and through whom the good news becomes real.  In Jesus, God has acted definitively to reveal and make real God’s own character and saving action for every single person.

John the baptiser appears in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. (v.4)  We’re told everyone in the whole Judean countryside and everyone in Jerusalem was coming to listen to John and were baptised by him in the River Jordan.    The prophetic turn of God’s message told 600 years earlier by Isaiah are coming into view and God is present.   The bible is full of such examples where God works with us, through Jesus Christ, to bring the good news into the world and make it real.

I remember a story told about a Japanese Christian man, a doctor who converted from Shintoism to Christianity whose name was Takashi Nagai.  During his training to be a doctor, he boarded with a family whose Christian ancestors were among those present at the crucifixion of 26 Christians on 5 February, 1597.  These Christians are included among the Japanese Martyrs for whom we pray each year.  Saint Francis Xavier had arrived in Japan in 1549 and his preaching was so popular, Nagasaki became the only Christian city. In response, the persecution of the converted Christians by the authorities became so fierce, the faithful remnant had become hidden, and became farmers.  They met in cattle barns for their services, holding onto the key elements of faith to keep it alive. When Japan finally opened up to western visitors in the mid nineteenth century, a cathedral was built in Nagasaki, and it was the tolling of the bell which raised the questions for Takashi Nagai. 

His conversion was long and hard, as he left behind his traditional way of life and beliefs and became a convert to the Catholic faith. He was one of the early pioneers of radiology and the use of the x-ray, and his work eventually gave him leukaemia.  WWII began, and Takashi, who had done his national service twice in Japan’s defence, saw the wastefulness of lives and the improper use of power.  He was 800m away when the atom bomb was dropped on the city of Nagasaki on 9 August 1945, killing so many people and destroying the cathedral. 

His faith helped keep him alive, kept him going, gathering the survivors together, helping everyone, caring, recovering, burying and surviving.  In the dreadful days afterwards, he learned his wife Midori had been killed.  He led a memorial service in Nagasaki on 23 November 1945, calling on the people not to seek revenge but to give thanks for the burnt offering. He referred to the holocaust of calvary which made sense of the holocaust of Nagasaki. 

The bomb for Nagasaki had been destined for another city, but Takashi drew a link between Nagasaki being the chosen victim, the lamb without blemish, slain as a whole burnt offering atoning for the sins of all the nations during the war.  Some people were outraged at such a reflection but at the end of his sermon, he asked for thankfulness, that through their sacrifice, peace was granted to the whole world, and religious freedom to Japan.  8,000 Christians were among those killed by this bomb. ….  The local people rebuilt the cathedral, raised the bell, accepted Takashi’s way of thinking and the character of the memorial in Nagasaki is a testament to this man, whose faith was born out of actions taken centuries beforehand as a prophetic witness to God’s love.  In God, nothing is wasted, nothing is superfluous.

In the darkest of times and in the horror of so much suffering in these days, when our stories, our speech, our beliefs and opinions are fiercely challenged and contested, God sent a messenger, as God intended, to tell us of the good news of Jesus Christ.  It was good news that Takashi heard.

We can be certain, we are made unique in God’s eyes, each of us, no-one else is the same as us in all of human history.  Each of us is part of God’s purpose, whether or not we see it or accept it, and we can be sure, our faith is real, as is God’s love.  John came ahead, baptising with water to prepare us for baptism with the Holy Spirit, to show us the wilderness is not the only place in the world, it is not God’s plan that this is all there is for us.  There is more, and in Jesus Christ we see God’s love offered to all of us, whether or not we see it or accept it, and live into it.  I hope you hear this Advent message of hope and love and know the power of God in your life. The Lord be with you.

References:

Jarvis, C.A., Johnson, E.E. [Gen. Eds] 2014.  Feasting on the Gospels.  Mark.  Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.

Glynn, P. 1988.  A Song for Nagasaki. Ignatius Press, San Francisco.

Lucy Morris
Lucy Morris
Anglican Priest, International Speaker, Published Author, Social Justice Advocate and Activist.

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