Even for young generations today, the opening scene from Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film, 2001 A Space Oddessy, is one of the most classic pieces of cinematography. Set to the dramatic music of Richard Strauss’ Thus Sprach Zarathustra, it depicts, as it were, the un-creating of the world. The story opens with scenes of a dawning new day, revealing a prehistoric, ape-like family tribe, living peaceably among other animals, cultivating crops, and engaging in their natural environment. But overnight, an artificial form mysteriously appears in their natural world, triggering a descent into fear and the pursuit of progress, competition between species and violence.
Rather than bringing enlightenment and integration, the appearance of the alien form brings darkness and disintegration. This opening scene from Kubrick’s movie is something of an allegory for the perennial human lie we repeat to ourselves: that the new is always progress. It is a parable of bad news.
The utterly radical nature of Christian belief in the incarnation of God, is that it was with the old, not the new, that the world would be truly re-created. God did not come into the created world as an alien, otherworldly and entirely new device to change the course of history. He came among us, as one of us. It would be with his broken creature, a human being in every way except sin, that God would save the world.
Into the heart of what had fallen from grace, grace would find a way. Not some newly created thing to be forcibly imposed on the old from outside, but a transfiguration from within of what already was. This is why Mark could commence his gospel with the words: The beginning of the Good News about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
This was so radical a beginning – one new-born human child, among all the other new-born babies of the world – it needed a messenger, for the light of this child might otherwise not have been noticed. This messenger was the voice we needed to hear, so as to prepare a way for our own salvation, to straighten the path we had left to crumble.
John the Baptist was like a runner with a light shining on the road ahead of us, marking out the path for us to trod so as to reach the light coming toward us. His message of repentance prepared a way for Jesus Christ to enter into our lives.
The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ is a beginning for every day. Our time of Advent – the time of the coming of the Lord among us – is not confined to one moment long ago. The advent of God among his fallen humanity is for all times, and in all places, and among all people. You and me, our families and neighbours, fellow citizens and foreign nations – all of us share in the re-creation, the new beginning, that the birth of Jesus Christ brought. Instead of an appearance that would descend into darkness, Jesus is the beginning of the ascent into light.
On the fences of each of our parishes this Advent, you will find a banner depicting a baby child in a manger, with the words “Jesus, gift of love and hope for our world” printed on it. This is right re-creation; this is genuine human progress – God who became one of us, as gift to light our way back to God. The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is our true beginning.