Friday, November 20, 2009

Christmas According to Mark

When Jean and I lived in Turkey, we would occasionally visit Istanbul. I remember walking past the Consulate of the Soviet Union several times. It had a heavy steel gate around it. At the gate was a guard shack and a room about the size of this garage. A bronze plaque near the entrance to the room proclaimed Zal Ozhidaniya ("Hall of Waiting").

I often joked, "Yeah, I'll bet there's ozhidaniye going on in there alright. Hour after hour after hour. . . Waiting is something modern folks don't do well, especially with the advent of online shopping, a 24-hour news cycle and instant messaging.
OK, a few days back I asked people to read the Christmas story in the Gospel According to Mark. By now, everybody must think, "Well, he must have meant Matthew, not Mark. There is no Christmas story in Mark."
Exactly my point.
But there is really a Christmas story in Mark. It just looks different. Consider this. In Mark, there is :
1. No genealogy.
2. No annunciation to Mary.
3. No magnificat.
4. No angel Gabriel telling Joseph to take Mary (with child) as his wife.
5. No stable and manger.
6. No shepherds abiding in the fields.
7. No Magi from the East. So that means no star seen in the East. No gifts.
8. No slaughter of the innocents by Herod.
9. No flight of the Holy Family into Egypt.
10. No presentation in the temple and Nunc Dimittis by Simeon.
11. No boy Jesus at the age of 12 staying behind in the temple in deep discussions of the Torah while his parents walked a whole day's journey.
12. No water turned into wine in Cana of Galilee.
None of the above. But here's what Mark does have in the first 15 verses:
1. Mark says it's a good news story and that Jesus is Messiah and Son of God.
2. There's a prophetic reference, actually from Malachi, not Isaiah.
3. John the baptizer is preaching a baptism of repentance.
4. John is wearing the attire of a true prophet like Elijah. (In the Passover seder ritual, a door is left open so that if Elijah returns he can enter the house; the return of Elijah will signal the arrival of Messiah and a new messianic age. If Elijah's here, so is the age.)
5. Jesus is baptized by John and the Spirit descends to identify him.
6. Jesus is immediately tempted in the wilderness w/o food and water--just like Elijah.
7. John is arrested.
8. Jesus takes up the prophetic mantle and returns to Galilee calling people to repentance and to believe in the good news that the kingdom of God has come near.
The kingdom of God is Mark's Christmas. The kingdom of God is what Jesus proclaimed. It was the hallmark of his ministry. Today it seems like a present that we have never unwrapped.
What are we waiting for?
I hear people on radio and TV talking about "the Christmas season". They universally refer to the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas when they talk about the Christmas season. But wait, doesn't the season of Christmas begin after Christmas?
What do we have before Christmas? We have Advent, a time of waiting, a time of preparing, a time of living in the kingdom of God. Followers of Christ in the time of Mark referred to their core beliefs and the life they led them to lead as "The Way".
Maybe we should wait to celebrate Christmas until we have actually experienced Advent. Maybe we should wait to celebrate Christmas or even speak the word until we have lived Advent, until we have figured out what The Way and the kingdom of God are.
Mark's gospel has no traditional birth narrative. But it does have Easter. It does have the kingdom of God. Should we have any trouble figuring out the implications of relative importance from that?
Happy journeying on The Way! Awesome Advent to you and yours! It won't be Christmas until we figure out what the kingdom of God is--another 34 days or as long as it takes in the Zal Ozhidaniya.


Beth said...

Nice blog. Thanks for sharing the real meaning of Christmas according to Mark. It was nice going through it.

Pastor Roger: said...

Thanks, Beth. I love the style and imagery of John, but Mark's gospel pares it down to bare essentials. It's the emergency survival kit we need to take with us if called to leave everything else behind. When Jesus proclaims the nearness of the kingdom of God (KOG) BEFORE any of his parables, miracles, Good Friday and Easter, it's worth our while to spend time pondering. What was/is the KOG, and why is it such good news?