Today in worship, we will be reading the opening verses of the Gospel of Mark – beginning with the first verse of the first chapter (Mark 1:1-8). Mark is one of four Gospels – along with Matthew, Luke, and John. These four books are found at the start of the New Testament, and each of them tells the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. And, importantly, each of them tells that story from a very different perspective.
Reading the opening verses of Mark during these weeks leading up to Christmas is an interesting experience because Mark doesn’t tell us anything that we might consider a Christmas story. Mark doesn’t have angels or shepherds or wise men. There’s no journey to Bethlehem. Mary and Joseph (the parents of Jesus) don’t show up in these opening verses – in fact, Joseph isn’t mentioned in Mark at all!
Mark doesn’t tell us anything about the baby Jesus. Instead, he begins his story in the middle of things – as Jesus is being baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. John the Baptist proclaimed the Good News of God’s coming Kingdom – John said that God was sending a savior, and that that savior (also called “the Messiah” or “the Christ”) would set God’s people free.
There are a lot of things that we could say about this passage of Scripture (and I hope you’ll tune into worship today to hear some of them in the sermon!), but here’s one that’s worth remembering: by starting his gospel with a full-grown Jesus (instead of a baby), Mark reminds us that the baby Jesus grew up. It can be really easy to get all sentimental and Hallmark-movie-feeling about Christmas. After all, babies are cute and barnyard animals are cute (at least in nativity scenes – they sometimes smell gross in real life!). Christmas lends itself to really cute depictions. But, the baby Jesus grew up to be the man who challenged political and religious power brokers, who ate with sinners, who formed a community of the outcast and rejected, who preached Good News to the poor, who proclaimed the Kingdom of God, and who caused so much trouble for the powerful that they had him killed. Jesus didn’t stay a cute baby – that baby grew up to be a man who caused quite a lot of (holy) trouble.
And, of course, even from the beginning, Jesus lived on the edge. When Jesus was born, his parents didn’t have anyplace to stay – they were, in a sense, homeless – and his mother had to give birth in a barn. While Jesus was still a toddler, King Herod tried to kill him, because Herod saw Jesus as a threat. When he was a child, prophets who saw him proclaimed that he would turn the world upside down.
This is a season full of sentimentality and warmth. And, that’s OK. We need that sometimes. But Mark reminds us that the story of Jesus is more than that. The story of Jesus has been, from the beginning, a story that turns the world upside down. The baby Jesus grew up to be the man Jesus, and that man was in the business of making all things new. That’s who Jesus is. And, that’s Good News, because that’s exactly what we need.
If you’ve missed any of our previous daily readings, you can find them all archived here. We hope these readings are helping you encounter God this season!