November 27th and Advent is already upon us. As I said at Church on Sunday, you’d think with all the ‘warning’ that comes into the inbox of a clergyperson advertizing this or that resource or product guaranteed to make Advent more meaningful this year, I’d feel more ready than I do. The world “out there” is also heralding the “Holiday Season” with its lights, tinsel, decorations, music, so why the unreadiness, and ambivalence?
This year one of my excuses is the Lectionary. Year B is particularly tough on the preacher who wants to tread gently and softly into the Advent Season. Unlike the years when we get to read Matthew or Luke, this year we have the Gospel of Mark. If you take a look at the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel, you’ll find no angels, no Mary and Joseph, no pregnant trip to Bethlehem, no Wise Men or field-abiding Shepherds. Instead we leap straight into the life and mission of the adult Jesus. How do we do Advent without an infant Jesus?
But take another look at the very first verse of Mark again.
“The beginning of the Gospel (good news) of Jesus Christ, Son of God.” It took my rather curmudgeonly New Testament Professor to make me (and my classmates) slow down enough to take notice of that verse. It seemed so… ordinary, unimaginative, formulaic, unecessary even… rather like saying “Okay, here we go” or “Once upon a time.” But as my professor pointed out, Mark never wastes a word for the rest of his Gospel, so why would he throw in something insignificant at the beginning? Reading through Mark’s Gospel in a sitting (it’s not that long, possible over a grande latte, or a double double), you discover that’s true; it’s a lean, fast paced Gospel that has an even more startling ending….. (clue, the original ending is at 16:8a). And both together help the reader to see what Mark is getting at. The book he wrote about Jesus is just the beginning. The “Good News of Jesus Christ” is still being lived out in those of us who are alive today.
Mark has a mighty strange way of launching us, headfirst into the deep end of Advent. By simply telling us “This is the beginning”, and by implication, the rest is ours to tell.
On Mark’s beginning, welcome to Advent.