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Good News

Sunday, December 08, 2002

Second Sunday of Advent. Fr Duncan Campbell preaches on the meaning of 'Gospel'.

The Gospel read in churches all around the world today announces itself as 'Gospel'. Good spell, or as we say in modern English, good news.

It is interesting that 'spell' is still in there - one advantage in keeping old words. As a verb, it means writing a word out correctly: w-o-r-d. As a noun it means something else, something magical brought about by a word. When reading and writing were known only to a few, to spell any words was seen as the magic it is.

In the Gospel we will find 'magic' - angels, miracles, resurrection, ascension. This can look very suspect to us today. We might want to explain it all as just a quaint old way of making unusual points, and something simple people misunderstand. We might be wrong.

There is always 'more than meets the eye'. As we advance in life we move into fields quite new, things not previously understood. From infancy we have to learn to see the world, first of all, at all. As toddlers, to move about in it. As children, to behave well. At school, to read and count.

More subtly, later, to be a sport, lose graciously. In adult life, to recognise justice, and respect others' opinions. To be wise enough to find true love. To find strange improbably things all over the world - geysers, giraffes, octopuses, volcanoes, waterfalls, and more, much more.

The people who wrote the Gospels must have advanced even further, into fields still stranger, and report a God who is much more alive and active than we might have thought possible. Wouldn't there be much more strangeness about God?

Writers like Mark have to tell it as best they can; how angels speak and wonders happen. Simply because we haven't seen them ourselves, or they haven't happened recently, or won't happen to order, doesn't mean that they didn't happen, or won't happen again.

The Gospel's main theme isn't only this. It is about how we can follow a very good man right through life and right through death. It is, unlike anything else we hear, more than anything else, good news.

Good may not be in our picture of religion at all. It seems all dos and don'ts. Grim, the four last things - death, judgement, hell, heaven. Things we like to be too busy to think about, and instead just get on with living here.

Even heaven - is that good news? Hitler, in one of his table talks, asked his secretaries,

Heaven? Who even wants to go there? Evening Service, going on, for ever and ever?

A clever-silly remark; and his alternative left the world at the end of war with millions dead, ruins everywhere and Germany looking like a rehearsal for hell.

We have to learn that we have to learn, that we can't do or say or think what we like. There are rights ways and wrong ways. There is truth out there. Dos and don'ts may be good news then, and death, judgement, hell and heaven the truth after all.

But - good news? Two-thousand years old? We picture fusty, musty churches, a long history and of bigotry.

And haven't we heard it all before, all too often at that? Every Christmas, at every christening or wedding or funeral, in such stale worn old words. Jesus and all that, miles away from our cars and supermarkets and modern problems and activities. What can be 'new' or 'news' about it?

The word really is 'evangel' - angel, again! - meaning message, and a message can be around for a long time, answered or unanswered. But let's stay with 'news', as it makes an important point.

The fact is that what is, is now, is new. The world is 'new every morning'. It matters of course what has happened; but practically, much more, what is happening or we can make happen now. The whole mystery of now; with us all the time. A fearful choice is with us all the time, to make anew, now. News can't be newer than that.

Why does the Gospel today start with a man named John? Perhaps to give us the key to the whole Gospel message. To get us out of a deep mind set, that whatever it is we are it - 'I know my own mind.'

John said he wasn't it but knew that it was there in someone. We must know much more than our own mind. We can choose a good hope, and hear news of a world where everything will be gathered and make sense, wrongs put right, separations ended, and we are occupied in wonder and praise for it all.

This is the good news, told as shown as best we can, every Sunday, in churches all around the world.


Isa 40:1-5,9-11
2 Pet 3:8-14
Mark 1:1-8


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