Summary: December 23, 1776 Thomas Paine wrote “These are the times that try men’s souls” in reference to “summer soldiers” who fought well in Spring and Summer but gave up and went home in the cold.
December 23, 1776 Thomas Paine wrote “These are the times that try men’s souls” in reference to “summer soldiers” who fought well in Spring and Summer but gave up and went home in the cold. It was a statement read to the Colonial army at Valley Forge before they crossed the Delaware and attacked the British.
Let me paraphrase this for the Body of Christ. These are still the times that try the human soul. The ‘fair weather believer’ will, in 2020, shrink from the service of their Lord. Unsettled, uncertain, and unprecedented describe the last year.
This was the second Thanksgiving Phyllis and I had alone. The first being 1980 when we moved to Abilene Texas. I couldn’t sneak pieces of turkey to John as I carved it. There were no kids begging to watch their shows. In some ways it was empty.
There have been other eras in which times seemed empty and without hope. I came across a meme the last week or so (SLIDE 1).
“It’s important to remind people of the true meaning of Christmas: ghosts terrorizing rich people in the middle of the night until they agree to pay their employees more”
In fact, Charles Dickins wrote A Christmas Carol because he’d read of girls seeing dresses six days a week for 16 hours a day and of “8-year-old children who dragged coal carts through tiny subterranean passages over a standard 11-hour workday (Broich).” We have laws that protect children, but such unprecedented times are still the reality for some in our world. (END SLIDE 1) Remember the controversy of Nike and Adidas and the use of sweatshops and child workers?
I want you to know that God’s people are not free from ‘fair weather’ christians. I’ve known more than a few from pastors to people with a seemingly unshakable faith. Something happens and they fold up their tent and fade away into the mists. We cannot force them to believe. But we can work in our own lives so that we don’t run the risk of becoming just one more ‘church drop out’.
I want to suggest that Mark 1:1 is our starting place. Let me suggest we return to something that is elementary to us, God’s Son, Jesus.
Mark 1:1 reads, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." With Mar there is no Mary or Joseph. We don’t hear of Herod or a census nor are there angels, or shepherds. It is as if Jesus just fell into history at a point and Mark started the story. The lack of no nativity doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. It just means Mark wasn’t led to tell the stories he’d heard from others.
The beginning maybe temporal having to do with the time of Jesus’ coming. Yet the word has other senses. Remember axioms in geometry or algebra? They are rules that ‘just are’ you can’t prove them but they are believed as a grounded starting place for math.
“Beginning”, as Mark uses it, "can also denote the 'first things,' 'elementary principles or the 'rudimentary elements' (Guelich 8)." In verses 2-3 Mark reaches back into the lives of Isaiah and Malachi in order to show how Jesus fulfills their prophecy. This “’beginning’ is not just a moment in time, it is a step-in eternity (McKenna and Ogilvie 24).” This truth doesn’t start in zero AD but before the world was formed. John writes the same thing, “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God” Jn. 1:1
Jesus and his calling that starts off Mark. Jesus and His purpose for coming to us are equally ‘set in stone’ facts with which people have to deal each day. Thus, the object of this beginning is the gospel.
It is not a gospel, like one among many, but “the gospel”. And uses it “in the absolute sense (Guelich 8).” The clearest translation for the term Gospel is Good News. It is the “’reward for good news’… the good tidings of God’s redemptive act in Jesus Christ (Bratcher and Nida 2)." This gospel is the starting place for Advent. Todd Outcalt writes,
"Advent begins—and in fact, the entirety of the Christian journey begins—at the point where we accept Jesus as our Guide and begin to walk with his calm assurances in the midst of our fears (Outcalt)."
Keep this in mind as we continue through the next few months. Science can fail us, but Christ does not. Political wins and losses may elate or discourage us but Christ is Lord of lords and King of kings.
It can be very tempting to become ‘fair-weather followers’ and walk away when the world is in such turmoil. Such people are not ‘bad’ but they have just not been grasped by the gospel and held captive. God takes the initiative of wrestling with us and holding tight to those who He saves because the good news, takes place only through His son, Jesus.