Hurry Up and Wait: Messenger
This week I've been thinking a lot about messages and messengers, and the kinds of messages we send and receive. We’re bombarded with messages every single day, certainly, from friends and family, from strangers we interact with each day, from the media, from TV, from advertisements everywhere. A message is simply some kind of content communicated from one party to another. And the one delivering the communication, in whatever form, is the messenger.
In particular, I’ve been thinking about what kind of messages I’ve been eager to communicate to others, and what messages others have been eager to communicate to me. I still remember learning how, in eighth grade English, to write what the teacher called persuasive essays – essays where the main point was for the author, the messenger, to communicate a message that resulted in persuading the reader to share his or her point of view on any particular subject. What kinds of messages have you delivered that seek to persuade someone? And when have you been persuaded by the power of a message you received? Maybe at first nothing comes to mind, but I promise you, we are all messengers and recipients of messages from more or less convincing messengers multiple times every day. Of course, as a pastor, you might say that I give what I hope are persuasive messages every week! I won’t deny that I hope my preaching has an impact. Not only do I want you to hear my message, a message that I hope is grounded in how God is leading me to lead you, but I hope that my message has a more concrete impact. I want you and me (I’m preaching to myself too!) to grow closer to God, to change our behavior, to turn onto a new path, to follow Jesus more closely, and I hope that my message is received and is persuasive.
But I’m a messenger in other ways too. I love the musical Jesus Christ Superstar. If you let me talk to you for any length of time about Superstar, I will try to convince you how awesome it is, how meaningful, and try to persuade you to watch the movie or listen to the soundtrack or take in a performance. I was pretty obsessed with the TV show LOST, and I talked most of my family members into watching it. Can you think of times when you convinced someone to do something, even something that seems trivial, like getting them to start watching your favorite show? How did you do it? What did you say that convinced them? On the flip side, I can think of times when I was the one who was convinced, persuaded, by a message I heard. My older brother Jim was the first one to go vegetarian in my family, and he was definitely a big influence on me, persuading me to take the plunge many years ago. What about you? When did someone’s message to you persuade you to do something differently? When have you been persuaded to change your mind, your belief, your plan of action, because of a message you received from someone?
In the Bible, the Greek word for messenger is “angelos.” As you can see, it looks a lot like the word angel. In the Bible, what we think of today as angels are called “messengers of God,” “angelos tou Theos.” The Greek word in the Bible for “gospel” is “euangelion” which means “good message.” That’s how we describe the Bible’s accounts of Jesus. They’re good messages! And our word for “evangelism” – meaning, the spreading of the good news – comes from these Greek words – good message. Euangelion. At this time of year, when we think of angels, God’s messengers, usually our mind jumps right to the angel Gabriel, telling Mary that she will bear a son, or the angel filling Joseph in on the plans, or the angel telling the shepherds about Jesus’ birth, or the heavenly host filling the skies. And those are certainly special messengers that are part of the story of Jesus’ birth.
But today, we’re talking about another messenger of God. Today, we’re in the gospel of Mark. As I mentioned last week, this lectionary year focuses mostly on Mark. I’ll tell you that Mark is my favorite gospel. It’s the oldest – it was written first of the accounts we have in our Bible – and it is by far the shortest. Mark is in a hurry. He says nothing in three verses that he can squeeze into one instead. He’s sparse with details. But he gets to the point. He’s a gospel writer, a sharer of the good message, and it is like he is so excited, so bowled over by the news, so anxious to have you know about Jesus that he can’t possibly get the story out fast enough. And so Mark’s gospel starts, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” and by the end of our reading today, John the Baptist is already preparing folks for Jesus’ arrival on the scene – not as a newborn, but as an adult, about to be baptized in the Jordan, ready to start preaching and teaching. Unlike Matthew and Luke, who talk about Jesus’ birth, describing the Christmas story, Mark gets right down to business. Who needs a nativity story when you can get straight to the point? Mark writes, The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God as his first verse, and in it he says who Jesus is – he is the Christ, the Son of God. And his gospel certainly attests to why Jesus came. Of the birth of Jesus, Mark simply has no comment.
But although Mark doesn’t describe Jesus’ birth, he certainly starts out with a messenger who announces Jesus’ pending arrival. John the Baptist is an angel – a messenger of God – in a very real way. John the baptizer appears in the wilderness, in the way of Isaiah, proclaiming baptism, repentance, and forgiveness, and announcing that someone was coming, the kingdom had arrived. Israel was then under Roman occupation, and the Roman government was ruling over the people. Their lives were monitored and controlled by these occupying forces. So people were coming to John, repenting of their sins and being baptized in anticipation of the one John said was coming, the one who would bring with him God’s kingdom. John might be an interesting messenger if you looked at his outside package. The gospels describe his appearance more than that of most others, so it must have been notable: He’s described as “clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” You get the sense that he stood out in crowd, John the Baptist. But he was indeed a persuasive messenger. People were flocking to him to be baptized, flocking to hear someone tell them to repent, turn their life around, start fresh. He certainly had a compelling message, but clearly John was also an effective messenger.
What message is so compelling to you that you are transformed into an effective messenger? The Bible is filled with unlikely sorts like John becoming effective messengers because they’re so compelled by the message they have to share. Next week we’ll spend more time thinking about the nature of the message John the Baptist is sharing in particular. But I’m wondering – what messages have been so important to you that you’ll tell anyone who will listen about them?
This month, I’ve given us all the homework of inviting someone to join us in some part, any part of our life here at Apple Valley: worship, Bible Study, Caroling, Pageant, Blue Christmas, Christmas Eve – I want you to invite someone to join you. I want you to be messengers. The best messengers, though, are the ones who are so excited about or convinced of their message that it can’t be contained. The best messengers have had their own lives transformed by the message. As you think back over your own faith journey, I wonder: who were the messengers who told you about Jesus? What convinced you? What messengers helped shape your life so that you ended up sitting here today? I think of the faithful example of humble servanthood in my grandfather, Millard Mudge. I think of the steadfast faith of my mom. I think of Sunday School teachers and pastors. I think of professors and colleagues in ministry. Of authors, of activists – they’ve all shaped me, delivered to me again and again in a thousand ways the message that guides my life, the good news, this life of following after Jesus. Who are your messengers?
And what message about God-with-us, about this Christ-child we’re preparing for, have you been delivering to folks? What would they know about this community and its role in your faith journey from your life and your words? What would people know about Jesus from the messages that you deliver with your life and your words? As we continue to prepare of Christ’s birth, I wonder: What do people who are not Jesus-followers know about the meaning of Christmas from those of us who are? What message are we, the messengers, sharing? If the messages we were delivering with our lives were being overheard by a group of shepherds, would they make it to the manger? If we were the messengers, preparing the way in the wilderness, would people be changing their lives, preparing to meet Jesus, who was just about to arrive?
Beloved of God, here and now, we are God’s messengers. We are. We’ve already received the message. Let’s deliver it, with the urgency of Mark. With the conviction of John the Baptist. With the persuasiveness that can only come from those whose own lives have been transformed by it. Amen.