Mark: looking forward
Advent week 2 2016
TRUE or FALSE: Jesus was born on December 25
FLASE: Jesus was more likely born in April or at least in the springtime. It was the year 336 before we started celebrating on December 25 and a few years later Pope Julian made it official.
TRUE or FALSE: Jesus was born in the year 0 AD
FALSE: Jesus was not born in the year 0 or 1 as people assume. Herod the great is named as the ruler when Jesus was born, and we know Herod died in 4bc. You can blame a 6th century Monk named Dionysiuys for choosing the wrong year to split the calendar into AD and BC.
TRUE OR FALSE: Mary and Joseph are the primary characters in Mark’s telling of the Christmas story.
FALSE: Mary and Joseph never appear in the gospel of Mark. Look as hard as you will through all 16 chapters of the gospel of Mark, but you will find no Mary or Joseph, no shepherds or angels, no stable and no manger and certainly no baby. Mark has no nativity story at all.
While it is true that Matthew and Luke tell the nativity story, John tells the incarnation story, and Mark has neither of those, I still see a Christmas story in the Gospel of Mark. Let me show you what I see.
As the gospel of Mark opens we don‘t see shepherds and angels, but we see a title. “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
The Greek word behind “good news” is Gospel. Gospel is the announcement of good news. It is helpful to know that the word gospel has not always been a strictly religious word. During the time when Mark was written, it was used secularly to announce the birth of an heir to the Roman throne. Mark’s readers would have been expecting to hear in a birth announcement from the royal family.
There are two words in that sentence, however that throw a monkey wrench into that: “Jesus” and “Christ.” Stuck right in the middle of what would have been perhaps a pretty ho-hum announcement to most people, are two words that turn the announcement on its head.
This is not a routine announcement. This is not the emperor’s son. This is not a baby born in Rome, but a fellow named Jesus born in a little out of the way corner, of a little out of the way country, occupied by the Roman Empire. Furthermore, it says that he is “Christ” in Hebrew “messiah” or anointed one for whom we have been waiting for generations! This uniquely Jewish concept of the Messiah turns this whole announcement on its head. This is no routine announcement. This is the story of the fulfillment of the dreams and hopes of the Jewish people who sat in darkness. (To borrow John’s phrase) This is a story different from any other story, and we better keep our hands and feet inside the ride at all times because it could be a wild ride. So get ready.
Mark goes on to quote two Old Testament prophets: Isaiah and Malachi. The prophecies are considered messianic, but not directly. These prophecies are about getting ready for the messiah. They anticipate an Elijah type character, who will get the people ready. Mark writes, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
John the Baptist is that Elijah character. He even dresses like Elijah. From the moment he appears on the scene, he is urgently calling ‘REPENT FOR THE KINGDOM OF God IS HT HAND.” “REPENT AND BE BAPTIZED BEFORE IT IS TOO LATE” “REPENT AND PREPARE FOR THE ONE WHO IS GREATER THAN I “I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” So… Get ready NOW!
That’s exactly what Mark’s Christmas story is all about: getting ready. Perhaps he left out the details about Mary and Joseph, because the other gospels did a fine job with that story, and he wanted to focus more on preparing ourselves, our hearts, our lives, our spirits for the coming of the Christ- the Messiah in our lives. Not just get ready… get ready NOW! Over and over” Four times in the first chapter alone mark used the word “immediately.” 42 times in the 16 chapters he wrote. Mark’s Christmas message is “GET READY… GET READY NOW”
In our culture, getting ready for Christmas begins for the retailers about July. For the rest of us in earnest about thanksgiving. That preparation, however, consists of being deluged by commercials and ads telling us that in order to be ready for Christmas we have to buy things we can’t afford for people who don’t need them. We have to decorate our houses better than the neighbors do. We have to decorate our trees to look like we cut them out of Martha Stewart Living magazine. Sure, we bake and we cook, and we gather with and family, but the clear message of the culture is that preparation for Christmas is about cramming as much stuff in our month, and our credit cards as is humanly possible.
I don’t buy it. I am not against gifts. I like a present as much as the next guy does. I am not against decorations, as long as someone else puts them up. I am not against parties, although I am not much of a party animal. However, what does any of that have to do with preparing a way in our lives, and making our paths straight for Christ to dwell in us?
Mark’s Christmas message is a call to preparation on a whole different level. It is not on a doing level… it is on being level. Not what do we have to do to be ready, but what do we have to BE to be ready for Christ to swell anew in our hearts.
I have some suggestions. First, be generous as God is generous, not out of guilt or one upsmanship, but out of love. When God gave us that first Christmas gift, wrapped in a blanket and laying in a manger, it was pure and simple love and grace. It was an overflowing of God’s generous heart. That is the attitude we ought to have. That is the spirit of Christmas giving that started the whole thing.
I am not saying that we can’t give gifts… Christmas is about the greatest gift of all time. But I am saying that we need to examine our motivation, rejecting guilt and cultural pressure, to give as God gives, out of love and grace.
Second, give as God gave, until the wise men came there were no material gifts on that first Christmas. … God’s gift was a simple homemade baby… God’s gift was himself. The gift God really wants in return, therefore, is not wrapped in paper, but wrapped in skin… your skin. Prepare for Christmas by giving yourself. Give yourself to God in worship, devotion, study, and praise.
Don’t’ get so wrapped up in the craziness of the season that you forget the reason we have this season. Stop and have a silent night moment. “With the angels let us sing, …Alleluia to our King; … Christ the Savior is born, …Christ the Savior is born!”
Finally, expand your vision of Christmas. Jesus didn’t come just for the kings and wealthy. He came to a poor pregnant teenager, and her scared husband; to shepherds who were minding their own business, to blind men, and adulterous women.
Consider this… For every dollar you spend on gifts for friends and family, put a dollar toward someone who really needs it like the folks who will be shopping at Christmas in Grundy next week, or any of our great mission projects, or Doug and Kelly, or the pediatric department at a hospital, or the society of saint Andrew or any of a million places where your gift goes to someone not usually on your Christmas list. Dollar for dollar may sound crazy, but is it? Not really… not if you give as God gave.
And if it is not money, give stuff, or time. Make this the Christmas that you took Christmas out of the fancy box and gave it to someone who really needed it.
I know this can be a busy time of the year. Actually, the church calendar slows down a little to allow you time to do the family things. But don’t schedule every minute, stress over every gift, worry about every detail and fall down in exhaustion on Christmas afternoon. Take time to look up and see what is coming and prepare. Get ready… get ready now.
Prepare the way… by preparing with a generous heart.
Make the paths straight… by focusing on God so Jesus can come anew into your lives
The kingdom of God is at hand… remember the poor and treat them the way Jesus would treat them
Get ready… get ready NOW.