How many of you sitting out there today knew that the new year has already begun? Well, okay, maybe not the new calendar year, because I'm guessing that many of us are putting "2011" as a date on our checks. However, the church year always begins anew with the first Sunday in Advent. I'm not too surprised if you didn't notice. There's not much that marks the beginning of the new church year. Really the only thing that is much different from this beginning of the new year from the previous church year is that, starting last week and running throughout the coming church year, we will be hearing the vast majority of our gospel readings from the Gospel according to Mark. Not much is different, but there is something nice how the church marks each new year with the beginning prologue to the Gospel story that has brought us and our ancestors together in faith throughout the centuries.
Beginnings are terribly important to us in our lives, are they not? How much time and energy do we put into the start of something new? One of our favorite and biggest holidays of the year is New Year's Eve, as many people gather together to ring in the New Year as the clock strikes midnight on January 1st. We mark the passage of time by celebrating the anniversaries of the beginnings of things. We measure the years of our life by celebrating the day we were born and our journey on earth began. Our marriages are marked by celebrating the day two people are united in the bonds of matrimony. And if you happen to be a Vikings fan, there's always the start of the new season, right? I believe that new beginnings are important to us because it shows us that life is not over. It shows that there is still something for us to live for. It shows us that there are new adventures for us to undertake – new stories to hear, new places that our friendships and relationships might go we live and grow together. Marking the beginning helps us to prepare for what just might be coming.
And really, this is where we find ourselves as we encounter these words from the Gospel of Mark on this day: We find ourselves at "the beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." Yet, even with all this talk of how things are beginning, we all know too well that so many things that everything that has a beginning also will have an ending. Sometimes that ending is tragic. Sometimes we just may feel that the ending has come all too soon. Sometimes the ending comes only a long journey filled with the ups and downs of life. That's one of the things we get to know to the core of beings, is it not? Friendships don't last. Whether through distance, disagreement, or death, all of our friendships come to an end sooner or later. The same goes with our work, our careers, and even the loving committed relationship we have with that special other person in our lives. This is all something we get glimpses of when we are young children, but become well-acquainted with as we get older.
Everything that has a beginning has an ending. Everything. Except that is for one thing: When we are baptized, we are baptized into something eternal, everlasting. We are baptized into the life love and Body of Christ that not even death and the grave can bring a ending to. This beginning is also a beginning steeped in the rich history of the past. John the baptizer is himself the very representation of the rich prophetic tradition of the Israelite people. He, very much like the prophets Jeremiah or Isaiah or Amos or Micah, calls the people back into the way of Lord away from the trappings of everyday life. Yet, comes bearing something new to the people who come to him to be baptized by him. He brings news. He brings Good News. He brings the news of the one who is coming after him who not even this pious man of God would be worthy enough to be a mere servant of. He brings news of the one who is coming after him who bears a gift to be given to the people: A new baptism that is itself the gift of God's Holy Spirit given to each so that he or she may be brought into A NEW BEGINNING WITHOUT AN ENDING.
That is really what all of our baptisms mean for each of us. Our baptism in an entering into a new life where no longer do we have to worry about what the ending is going to be. Instead we are given new life, right here and right now this day. It is simply a mistake to think that our baptisms only have to do with what happens to us when we die. No, on the whole they have a much greater importance the life we are able to live right here in this present moment. Each day we live out a response to the tremendous gift that is given to us as we receive the Holy Spirit on the day of our baptisms. We don't have to worry about the ending, so we can live everyday reveling in promise of that new beginning. We can live everyday still deeply amidst "the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God" like it is a story that is still being played even 2000 years after it all began. We are not to give up on the life that we have right now. We are to live this day actively learning about what it means to be a people of The Good News. There is always something to learn or to discover or to engage in. What new thing would you like to learn anew this new year?