Introducing Advent 2017:

The Gospel of Mark.  Many think it is the original Gospel to be written down and that Matthew and Luke knew of it and made use of it in composing their own Gospel accounts.  After all, with the exception of just 30 verses (out of Mark’s total of 661 verses), all of Mark can be found in Matthew, Luke, or both.  For Advent 2017 the first two Sundays take texts from Mark—one from near the very end and one from the very beginning.  One thing we preachers know about Mark is that his writing style is very spare—Mark wastes no words and, particularly in the first part of the Gospel, events take off with lightning swiftness, motored along by Mark’s favorite Greek adverb of euthus: immediately!

Mark was in a hurry to get the story of Jesus across.  And if Mark’s Gospel begins very suddenly with Jesus just emerging from out of nowhere to be baptized by John, it ends with equal suddenness in Mark 16:8 as the terrified women flee the empty tomb, hurtling out into history like projectiles emanating from a terrific explosion.  Mark ends in the silence of the women but the story could never have been told had they stayed silent.  We know they spoke, we know they witnessed eventually.  So must we all, Mark is telling us, so must we all.

Mark is also the Gospel that is clotted with misunderstanding about who Jesus is.  No one understood him, no one got Jesus’ identity and nature right, and even Jesus himself is constantly asking for silence every time someone is ready to identify him publicly as God’s Christ.  Jesus knew that only his death on the cross would unlock his true identity and so once he dies and then is raised again, the angel tells the women to go to Galilee to see Jesus.  But as Donald Juel and Thomas G. Long remind us, that final instruction is also a cue to us readers: we, too, need to go back to Galilee, back to Mark 1 and then re-read the Gospel.  Once we have been to the cross and come to understand the true nature of Jesus as Messiah, then we can re-read the whole story through new eyes.

As we use Mark for the first half of Advent 2017, therefore, we know that Mark wants us preachers to get things right, too.  We cannot rush in and glom onto Jesus with too much haste and we cannot allow preconceptions as to who Jesus is cloud our ability to come to understand who he really is.  Mark does not bother with any account of Jesus’ birth—the urgency of the Gospel and the speed of Mark’s narrative demanded that we jump right to the chase of Jesus’ actual ministry.  You can understand Jesus without his birth in a Bethlehem stall, Mark is saying, but you cannot understand him unless you go all the way to the cross.  It goes without saying, then, that Mark would have no patience whatsoever with all things Christmasy if that means Hallmark-like sentimentality or all twinkling lights with no heavy sense for the dark seriousness that brought God’s Son to this world in flesh in the first place.

Mark would have no patience with that.  Neither should we.

Advent & Christmas from past issues of Reformed Worship magazine:

On the Reformed Worship website, go to this page to select from a wide range of past articles, sermon ideas, worship service plans, and more.

Remember that because we are in the year B cycle of the Revised Common Lectionary, Reformed Worship articles that will correspond with year B lections will be in the years 2017, 2014, 2011, 2008, 2005, 2002, 1999, 1996, 1993. Current articles are only available to subscribers.