In the current situation of being in the midst of a pandemic we long for good news. That might be the arrival of a successful vaccine, or a steep decline in the number of people infected or, best of all, the knowledge that the virus has either burnt itself out or at least mutated into a much less harmful threat to our health.
What are we left with whilst waiting for good news? Primarily, whilst the professionals seek to provide a cure, the rest of us are left with just that, waiting, and whilst we wait we peer ahead to seek a light at the end of the tunnel.
In attempting to stay positive, let me begin with a negative. Let me consider what it means to be in a tunnel, using the analogy of a train journey. There is a sense of being confined, albeit in a lit space, surrounded by a dark exterior. If the train gets stuck in the tunnel, I, for one, can feel a bit claustrophobic. Others may also feel this and an anxiety about not reaching their destination on time or how to cope if they suddenly felt unwell.
So what might a passenger do to stay positive? In normal circumstances you could distract your mind with chatting to your travel companion about pleasant things, or have a joke with them to ease the tension. If you are travelling alone you could exchange a pleasantry with another passenger. In the current situation, though, where we are required to maintain social distancing, this might not be so easy. So instead you could read a book or listen to music or use the imagination to take your mind elsewhere.
Some of these ways of staying positive may ease your mind. The problem, though, at the moment is that the tunnel we are currently in that has been generated by the pandemic is very long; we have already been in it for quite a while and may be in it for some time yet. During this time many people have lost loved ones and the situation is exacerbated by money worries as ways of making a living are heavily reduced when everything is on hold.
So to stay positive perhaps the best way forward is to dig a bit deeper, beyond distracting our minds and find solace and hope in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. To consider this bigger picture to address the anxieties that have arisen following the onset of the pandemic. The non-believer might also wish to at least take a look at this life of Jesus; after all, we are all in this together.
Let us see why this is so. Well, we have the words ‘good news’ in the opening sentence of today’s reading from Mark’s Gospel. Thus he writes in his opening sentence: ‘The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God’. Without any preamble, Mark affirms head on that this ‘good news’ which is about to be proclaimed by John the Baptist, is now with us.
Why is Jesus Christ good news? We can say this as it is salvation in Jesus made possible by his death on the Cross for our sins and his resurrection with its promise of eternal life for us all. We can take comfort from this promise of eternal life in a situation whereby many people have passed away. This promise is there for us in the offer by God to us of baptism when by water, oil, and the Holy Spirit we are made members of the body of Christ. This is what John the Baptist is calling people towards in today’s Gospel reading. Here we find John as the messenger who is preparing the way for us to have this participation through baptism. John baptises with water which is to be followed by Jesus baptising in the Holy Spirit. Once baptized, Jesus is within us and we are within him. Baptism opens the door for us to become faithful people of God, armed to resist the Devil and his destructive purposes. For those of us who live on, this faith in God and his son Jesus allows us to find ways out of trouble and to be renewed and refreshed. It does so because, whilst seeking to provide practical solutions to problems, we can not only pray for the souls of the departed but also commune with God through prayer to ask for his help in our times of trouble and to show us the way forward. We can do this because he is the way, the Truth and the life and that is all positive for us as it has a beginning and a new beginning in its narrative. That is to say the Bible begins with the positive act of creation and ends with the positive event of the resurrection with its promise of eternal life, and we are all in that story. This gives us hope for now and the life to come – a hope to dwell in, in the current situation and the promise of eternal life for those who have died.
So we have the good news offered to us by God through his son Jesus and the activity of the Holy Spirit. Let us hold on to that whilst we are in the tunnel and pitch the onset of the virus, which came as a bolt out of the blue, against the sudden appearance of John the Baptist in the wilderness summoning people to baptism and the abrupt beginning of today’s Gospel reading both of which affirm the good news that we are urgently seeking today.