Genesis 1.1-5, Psalm 29, Acts 19.1-7 & Mark 1.4-11
The Bible story is about the triumph of light over darkness, of pattern and meaning over chaos, of good over evil, of the Creator over the destructive forces that constantly threaten to overwhelm creation. What more fitting time to be reminded of this than the middle of winter? Christmas coincides with the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year, because Christians could see the symmetry between the Bible message and the turning of the seasons - the triumph of day over night, of life over death.
It's a message that we need to hear again and again, isn't it? In the chaos of recession we need to know that the forces of disorder and despair will not have the final word. When we hear about yet another onslaught by Israel against the Palestinians, or by Islamic terrorists against innocent bystanders in a hotel or railway station, we need to know that redemption is more powerful than devastation - that the seemingly endless cycle of bitterness, recrimination and retaliation will be brought to an end by the reign of true peace.
After the darkest night there will always be the morning. But, the good news of the Bible story is greater even than that. Even in the midst of the darkness God is with us. Even in the formless void God is moving. God gives a name, and therefore a meaning, to everything that happens. God is patiently weaving the broken strands of our disordered universe into a coherent picture. That is the faith which we proclaim. It is the message of Genesis, of the Passover from Egypt, of Christmas and Easter.
'Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength,' says the Psalmist. 'The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, over mighty waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.' The Psalmist is talking here about the waters of chaos. He isn't denying the existence of chaos and disintegration, pain and affliction, but he is asserting God's presence in them and God's ultimate power over them. God's mighty word has the compelling authority to make entire mountain ranges jump to attention, or huge trees snap like twigs. 'The Lord sits enthroned over the flood.' That doesn't mean the deluge cannot hurt us, that we are immune from harm and disaster. But it does mean that the Lord will give strength to his people and bless his people with peace. That is why all the worshippers in his Temple say 'Glory!'
So why did John the Baptiser's followers in Corinth need to discover belief in Jesus to complete their journey of salvation? Because Jesus is the ultimate proof that God really has come down into the darkness, and the darkness has not been able to extinguish his light. On the contrary, the light continues to shine in the darkness. The writer of John's Gospel and the Letters of John says, 'We have seen [him] with our eyes and touched [him] with our hands, and we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may [know] that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.' No wonder that the followers of the Baptiser recognised their need of something more.
In the film 'PS I Love You' a dying man leaves a series of love letters to be opened by his bereaved wife after his death. They are supposed to remind her that he is still with her when she feels alone and abandoned, but also to teach her - by easy stages - that the darkness of loss can be overcome and the sense of meaning and purpose can be rediscovered. The film has an unpromising start, but stick with it - it's available on DVD and it's worth watching.
The Gospel, of course, conveys the same message - that even in the dirt and poverty of a stable, God is with us, and even in the violence and suffering of a cross, God is still there. More than that, even in the anguish of total forsakenness we are not really forsaken. God always shares our forsakenness from the cross of Jesus. He is with us even in the most impenetrable darkness, even in the face of the deep formless void that is complete nothingness. The Gospel begins with God's ringing declaration that Jesus is his Son, 'the Beloved', and ends with the Centurion's belated acknowledgement of the same eternal truth.
So, Mark's story, like the whole Bible story that both follows and precedes his Gospel, is about the triumph of light over darkness, of pattern and meaning over chaos, of good over evil, of the Creator over the destructive forces that constantly threaten to overwhelm creation. What more fitting time could there be to remind ourselves of this than in the middle of winter?