The Good News of Jesus Christ


Sermon preached by Dn. Jeff Smith on Sunday, December 31, 2023

Mark 1:1-8

Good morning. Today’s Gospel marks the beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Messiah. We are between the birth and the baptism of Jesus, so today really marks a new year. Happy New Year everyone. It was Good News when Jesus said, “follow me” and his disciples gladly followed. It was Good News to the hard Roman world. It was Good News to the ghettos and the slums of the Greek and Roman cities. This proclamation lifted men to their feet. It was not just good advice, but good news. John the forerunner prepared the way with a baptism of repentance that required a thoroughgoing change for the forgiveness of sins. Repentance means gaining a “new mind.”  It is one of the hardest things to do but is basic for any spiritual change. Metanoia leads to a new purpose in life. In this New Year, let us turn away from sin and turn toward the Lord. Nothing less than repentance can lead the world out of disaster today. So, we set forth in a new direction. Christian baptism also includes the gift and transformation of the Holy Spirit. Today we see the gift of Christ, who empowers us to meet all the demands that life throws at us.

So, what is this new direction? It seems that the world today is not that different from the one Jesus lived in. Jesus was a Jew of Palestine, a province of the Roman Empire. Among his followers, within his leadership core, we see Simon the Zealot, who was committed to the destruction of Rome by any means necessary. And when the Zealots rebelled, Rome responded by completely destroying Jerusalem.

The urgent question for the people was, “What must be our attitude toward Rome, this institution that cuts us down and deprives us of our humanity?” Rome was the enemy. Rome symbolized total frustration. And Rome was everywhere. Fear was endemic. How did Jesus deal with the fear of knowing that your life can be terminated at any moment by those who hold power over you?

How did Jesus respond to all the hatred toward those who utterly controlled his social, economic, and political life? Hatred is a common attitude between the oppressor and the oppressed. But Jesus rejected hatred because he knew that hatred generated not only destruction, but underneath, it meant death to the mind, death to the spirit and death to communion with God. When we are consumed by hate, the springs of creativity dry up.

How do we replace hatred with Love? To love the Roman meant to be a traitor to Israel and to God. Think about how the tax collectors were hated, but Jesus included them among his friends. In the eyes of Israel, the tax collectors had forfeited their souls. The tax collectors were despised and outcast. It was in this environment that Jesus developed his concept of love for the enemy. To love the enemy requires forgiveness, reconciliation, and a willingness to re-establish a relationship with the hated other. Jesus loved the parts of his community that were despised and gathered them to himself. At the center of his mission was a discipline made possible by a triumph over death, in which the oppressed and the oppressor become neighbors.

At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus read, “The Spirit of Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to preach deliverance to the captives, and to liberate those who are abused.” Then he closed his book, and said, “Today, this scripture is fulfilled in your midst.” God has exalted those of low degree and has filled the hungry with good things. Jesus taught that we are all God’s children. And to know this is to change fear to power. Jesus had something new in mind: the complete transformation of humanity. He did not turn away from the despair of the world but believed that the world would be utterly transformed over time. So, as we approach the New Year, this transformation is ours to live. Thanks be to God.