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“But the good news is that it is not cancerous” — the doctor’s words upon examining a suspicious spot. Good news is not just information, it is a new lease on life, a cause for jubilation. “Good news” signifies a triumph, just as it did in ancient times when “gospel” was a term for victory in battle. We live from and in that good news, even past the moment it gets uttered. In a way, it defines us. We become the good news we embrace. People can sense its effects in us.
What is “Gospel”?
The Gospel of Mark opens with the words, The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God. If this line reminds you of the opening verse of Genesis — “In the beginning ….” — that’s on purpose. Echoing the biblical creation story is Mark the Evangelist’s way of assuring us that the beginning of the Gospel is the beginning of new creation in us who receive it.
But what exactly is meant by “Gospel”? That is, does the word signify a book or an event? The answer is both! In Jesus Christ, there is no separation between who he is and what he says. Pope Benedict XVI helps us to understand this.
The preaching of God’s Kingdom is never just words, never just instruction. It is an event, just as Jesus himself is an event, God’s Word in person. Jesus’ proclamation was never mere preaching, mere words; it was “sacramental,” in the sense that his words were and are inseparable from his “I” — from his “flesh.”
Which means that the beginning of the Gospel is the beginning of the life, preaching, and saving ministry of Jesus Christ and it is the beginning of the book that records those saving events.
This is essential to keep in mind as we read and listen to the Gospel because the Gospel is much more than the conveying of a message. If all we needed to be saved was a message, God the Father would not have sent his Son — he would have sent a memo. As Pope Benedict says:
The Christian message is not only “informative” but “performative.” That means: the Gospel is not merely a communication of things that can be known — it is one that makes things happen and is life-changing. More than just the proclamation of a message, the preaching of the Gospel is seen as a witness to the person of Jesus Christ and an invitation to enter into communion with him.
Really Good News
And that’s how we want to spend our Advent. Opening ourselves to the beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ means saying NO to the bad news that dominates us, whether it be fear, shame, doubt, self-hatred, hopelessness, cynicism, anger, or whatever. The Good News is really good!
The promise of the beginning of the Gospel in our life exceeds anything we can imagine. Here are 100 words of Good News that Jesus Christ speaks in the Gospel of Mark well worth our Advent meditation:
Come after me. To proclaim the Good News is what I have come to do. I do will it — be cured. Your sins are forgiven. I have come to call sinners. Whoever does the will of God is brother and sister and mother to me. To those who have, more will be given. Your faith has healed you. It is I. Do not be afraid. Everything is possible to one who trusts. With God all things are possible. Many who are last shall come first. You are not far from the reign of God. My words will not pass away.
The Son of God
At Mass, after proclaiming the Gospel, the priest or deacon kisses the book, saying quietly: Through the words of the Gospel may our sins be wiped away. What an awesome expression of hope! We might do the same this Advent in our private prayerful reading of the Bible — kiss God’s holy Word in thankfulness. And, as we make our way to the manger, let us pray even now what the centurion will declare at the cross: Truly this man is the Son of God! (see Mk 15:39).
Find his series of brief reflections on prayer here.
And his new series on the Eucharist here.