(B) Mark 1: 21-28
Good morning, and grace and peace as we move along through this odd winter. One day it seems like an ordinary January day, and then the next day, or maybe even later on in the same day, it’s 60 degrees and spring, and then back again to cold, snow, and ice. A little disorienting, anyway.
By my count it’s now today the Thirty-Sixth Day of Christmas. The traditional end of the season approaching this Thursday, February 2nd, the 40th Day of Christmas, the Feast of the Purification of St. Mary the Virgin, the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple. Candlemas, if you’re familiar with that older English holiday on the calendar. Always easy to remember because here in Pennsylvania we have Groundhog Day. Be sure to come for Evensong at 8 p.m. Thursday evening.
Next Sunday the first Sunday of the second part of this season after Epiphany. What the old Anglican Prayer Book calendars called the three Sundays before Lent, “Pre-Lent.” And as a kid I always loved to hear the Greek names: Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima. Part of the countdown: to mark seventy, sixty, and fifty days before Easter Sunday. The new Prayer Book calendar doesn’t give any formal notice to these Sundays, or to the two parts of the season between Christmas and Ash Wednesday, but beginning next week we will begin to hear a shift in tone and direction in the collects and readings from scripture. Moving from the Manger to the Cross.
But for where we are today in all of that, this reading from St. Mark’s gospel seems right on target, following path that began with the Wise Men, as they were led from the East by the star to find the home of the Holy Child, and as we stood with the crowds as Jesus approached John the Baptist in the shallow waters of the Jordan River, and as the Voice of the Father echoed across the heavens. This is my beloved Son. As the disciples began to come to him. Nathaniel. Promising, come with me, and you will see greater things than these. As he finds Andrew and Peter, James and John, at work by the Sea of Galilee. It’s all getting started now. Put down what you have been doing, and come, follow me. Fish for people.
We recall the meaning and theme of Epiphany. What was in darkness is now flooded in light. What was hidden is revealed. How the One born in the obscurity of the Bethlehem stable is revealed to all nations and peoples as Lord and Savior. How such poetic and grand words and images can settle into our hearts and our lives as real things, as life itself.
This morning we come to Capernaum in St. Mark’s gospel. And he begins to teach. Mark doesn’t tell us what the text from scripture was, or what Jesus said about it. We’ll hear more of his sermons and teachings later on. What Mark shares with us here is not what the words were themselves, but instead, what happened when Jesus spoke.
I was wondering about this last Sunday, as we saw Jesus speak to those fishermen. Come with me. Fish for people. What was it about that moment? About what he said, about how he said it? About his presence? What they heard. What they saw when they looked at him? What they experienced when he looked at them. What would it take, what would I have to see, hear, feel, experience, to repond so immediately, so wholeheartedly. Moving forward without looking back. An existential moment. Just this word, his word, and the whole direction of their lives turned around . . . .
Jesus spoke in the synagogue at Capernaum. And Mark tells us that they are “astounded.” They’ve been coming to church every Sunday all their lives, but they’ve never heard preaching like this before. Not so much because of what he was saying, but because of what happened to them, what happened in them, when they heard it.
This is new. This is real. This is a word that takes hold of us and won’t let go. Not like the sermons our rabbis preach, not like the teaching of the scribes. What they have to say is all good, certainly. But this is something different altogether. And I love the word Mark reports here for us. This is a preaching “With authority.” With authority. A power here, and we’ve never heard or experienced anything quite like this before.
And-- how dramatic is that?--even the Ancient Enemy is a witness. Wrenched out of his human hiding place. The Spirit of the unholy, the unclean, the cursed, the one who breaks and destroys. Compelled by the speaking of this word, and in the very presence of the Word made Flesh, to submit and surrender. To depart. The ancient Vesper hymn of Advent, Conditor alme siderum, Creator of the stars of night. “Thou, grieving that the ancient curse, should doom to death a universe, hast found the medicine, full of grace, to save and heal a ruined race.” And all were amazed. All were amazed. What is this? Who is this? A new authority.
Epiphany. What was in darkness is now flooded in light. What was hidden is revealed. How the One born in the obscurity of the Bethlehem stable is revealed to all nations and peoples as Lord and Savior. To all nations and peoples. Across the miles and generations. Continent by continent. And perhaps this just the beginning: all the wide universe of creation. Galaxy by galaxy. Earth and all stars, the planets in their courses. And to you and to me. Each of us. One by one. To know him as Lord and Savior.
The village of Capernaum is a nothing of a place. Flyover country. Somewhere between East McKeesport and Turtle Creek. The synagogue probably a room about the size of our Chapel, maybe smaller. The congregation at that Sabbath Day service probably not larger than the ten man minimum required in the Law. But he speaks, and they all at once know, all of them, all at once, that this is new, this is big, this is something we’ve never heard before. And yet, there is something about it also, that we know in this moment that we’ve known forever. All our lives. From the beginning of the world.
Paul echoing, Eighth Chapter of Romans: “For I am persuaded that neither death, or life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This is new, this is big. This is everything. Born in that Bethlehem stable. Revealed to all nations and peoples as Lord and Savior.
The testimony of the Christian. Each and every one of us, from those in that synagogue whose hearts were touched and whose lives were transformed, and until today. Each of us with our own words and experiences. Our own life stories. Up and down, back and forth. High moments and low moments. Insights, doubts--confessions and confusions.
But what is revealed that what we couldn’t see, we would now see. Eyes opened for the first time in the light of a new morning. To see him in every word of scripture written for us, to see him also in every mountaintop and sunrise, every smile, every tear. Every gain, every loss. In the Bread and Wine at the Holy Table. In the face of friend and stranger. Casting out the Evil One, healing the broken, creating in his word and in his presence forgiveness, love, mercy and blessing. A new authority. A new power. And his name shall be Emmanuel. God with us.
The 36th Day of Christmas, but no matter how many there are, there will never be enough days to tell the whole story. No canvas large enough for this painting. No matter how much we sing, how much we pray, how much we love. To complete the vision of the Prophet: For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea. And he is here for us. For all in the wide world and for the whole of creation. Epiphany.