Sunday, December 03, 2006

Advent 1 - Year C

When you hear the word “gospel” what pops into your head?

In my final year of seminary we were asked to define the word “gospel” in one sentence, for our respective theses. Being little too full of both myself and Jurgen Moltmann’s major theological writings, I made 8 revisions. But when I thought I finally had it down in perfect theological prose, my thesis advisor, usually a cross between a teddy bear and Santa Claus, pulled out his red marker, scratched out my wonderful words, and bellowed, “Make is simpler!”

The assignment was harder then you might think. After all, the word “gospel” has become to mean anything that people want it to mean. It’s become shop worn, a rather limp sort of word. It’s become so many different things to so many people that the word has been rendered virtually meaningless. When someone says the word “gospel” it could mean anything from something of individual significance, to the forgiveness of sins, to the ticket to eternal life.

However, many of you know that the word “gospel” simply means “good news.” At the end of the gospel reading each week I say “This is the good news of Jesus Christ” because I like translated language better than the word “gospel.”

But Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder said that to translate “gospel” as “good news” misses something. He translated gospel as “revolution.” It wasn’t just any old good news, he said. There was social and political significance, not just personal meaning in that word.

For example, when one city was at war with another, fighting for its civic freedom, “good news” was the report that a runner brought to a city. “Good news! The battle has been won!”

Or when a son was born to a king, ensuring the political stability of the kingdom, “gospel” was what they announced to the public, “Good news! A child has been born to the king! Our reign is secure!”

I think he makes a fascinating case.

Others aren’t as sure. They suggest that the gospel writers were merely appropriating the word “gospel,” for their message of Jesus’ complete renovation of their lives. They say that Jesus was talking about a revolution of the heart, not a political insurgency; a spiritual uprising, not a historic revolt.

So which is it? An upheaval of the social order or an overhaul of one’s life? Is it justice for the oppressed or forgiveness for sinners? Does the gospel bring peace on earth or does it heal the sin-sick soul?

I think the gospel is about both. If we relegate the gospel to either the social/political realm or reduce it to the personal forgiveness of sins, then we are saying that there are parts of the world, or parts of our lives, where God doesn’t belong.

But I think the bigger question is: what is good news?

Before we can talk about good news, we need to talk about bad news. I suppose the difference between good news and bad news is where you’re standing when the good news arrives. Where I stand, on my privileged perch, benefiting well from the present order, well fixed. Comfortable. Some may say TOO comfortable. I don’t want, nor do I particularly NEED a revolution, if it benefits only those on the bottom rung.

“Good news, a saviour is coming whose going to set everything right, who’s going to turn everything on its head; who’s going to take food out of the mouths of the well fed, the warm coats off the backs of the rich, money out of the wallets of the self-satisfied … Then forgive me for not catching the first bus to Bethlehem. Jesus is bad news for those who love things as they are, who are comfortable, who look out for themselves while hurting those who need their help. After all, who needs a revolution when life is good?

But the gospel is good news for the Mexican family living on less than two dollars a day. It’s good news for the single mom who got her EI cut because her 16-year-old daughter got a part-time job at Burger King. It’s good news for the homeless guy who can’t find his way into Alberta’s booming economy. For these folks, the revolution starts now!

But the gospel is also good news for the young dad dying of cancer, praying that the Spirit will guide his children after he is gone. It’s good news for the couple whose marriage is crumbling down around them, and they turn to Jesus hoping to renew their relationship. It’s good news for those reaching the end of their years, hoping that after they close their eyes in death, they will open them again in the presence of God.

That’s also the revolution that Jesus was talking about. That’s the revolution for which we wait.

Advent is a two-edged sword. We wait for the baby Jesus, but we also wait for Christ’s return. Today Jesus asked us to look for signs of his coming again. As much as I affirm the fact that he will return as he promised, I also wonder if he’s talking about returning within peoples’ suffering; if he’s saying to look for the revolution in our lives, tucked away, hidden inside the pain and anguish of a broken, hurting, and sin-stained world.

If you’re still wondering how I first defined the gospel for my Master’s thesis, it went like this “the gospel is the eschatological fulfillment of Israel’s messianic expectations” (warms the heart, doesn’t it?). When my thesis advisor was finished with it, it said “the gospel is new life in Jesus.” And that’s what I think Jesus wants to tell us, that he is still in the business of making all things new.

That’s the revolution that Jesus was talking about. And may that revolution be among us. Amen.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Kevin,
I'm a LTRFTC (long time reader, first time comment)

I dig the sermons... I'm caught up in the Buttrick, Halmerson, Boyd, Long, Bell method. I like how you say something without getting bogged down in tons of biblical exegesis in the pulpit.

sean bell

11:09 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...



10:28 AM  

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