A sermon preached Dec 27, 2015
It feels a little weird, doesn’t it, to jump from a baby in a manger to a grown man being baptized in the Jordan by John and calling his disciples?
I don’t know. I guess sometimes life feels like that. My children are no longer small babies in footie jammies, awake at 5 am to see what Santa brought, but it sometimes feels like it was just 3 days ago when they were.
Just 3 days ago, we gathered here in candlelight to read Luke’s account of the beginning of the Good News of Jesus, proclaimed by angels, shepherds, and pondered in Mary’s heart.
And now we are hearing Mark’s account of the beginning of the Good News of Jesus.
We know the 4 gospels begin their stories differently. Matthew has wise men. Luke has shepherds. John—well, John is a whole different thing—with Jesus at the beginning of time. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. And the Word was God…”
Mark was the first account of Jesus’ life that was written down and in circulation. And we don’t know if he didn’t know of the birth story or if, as I suspect, it just wasn’t pertinent to him.
Mark’s Gospel, which we will be hearing from in the coming season, already knows the ending of the story before he starts writing the beginning. And it is the cross story, not the birth story, that drives Mark’s gospel in its breakneck pace.
In Greek, the word “immediately” is used by Mark 11 times in the first chapter of this gospel, and 30 more occasions throughout the next 14 chapters. The people who translate it into English change a few of them into other words to provide variety, I guess.
As you hear his story, though, you can feel “immediately” beating like a drumbeat, moving the story forward to the conclusion at the cross. Even then, though, the angel’s message at the tomb sends his followers back to Galilee, completing the circle that began with the Beginning of the Good News
we just heard today.
For Mark, once you know the ending of the story, you realize it is only the beginning and you want to, you have to, go back to the beginning and pay attention with new eyes, with new understanding, to the beginning of the story.
In Mark’s account, we begin with John the Baptist, gathering large crowds and baptizing a baptism of repentance. Jesus, too, is baptized by John, with the heavens parting, and the Divine voice proclaiming “you are my son, the beloved. With you I am well pleased”. I’m not sure we can ever hear that voice enough.
And maybe, especially, at Christmas, we need that reminder that we are God’s beloveds, and with us, God is well pleased. Isn’t that the lesson of Christmas? God chose to become one of us, to be one with us.
And after John is arrested, we’re told Jesus picks up the preaching.
‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.’
The Christmas story in Mark’s gospel is acknowledging the time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of God has come near, and the work of Christmas needs to begin.
So Jesus calls his disciples. Immediately. And immediately they leave their nets and their lives and their families and they follow.
Howard Thurman was an African American pastor, born in the segregated South at the dawn of the 20th century, and was a mentor to Martin Luther King, jr and other leaders of the Civil Rights movement. Here is something he said that speaks to the call of the disciples in light of Christmas:
“When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among people,
To make music in the heart.”
The disciples encountered Jesus, not as a baby in a manger as the shepherds had, but as a grown man calling them to join in the work of Christmas, announcing the fulfillment of time, the arrival of the Kingdom of God.
I’ve been wondering what our nativity scenes would be like if we put the disciples in them.
They didn’t encounter the baby, but by the way they answered his call later, I could see them running to the manger too, eager to get started.
We sit here, a few days after Christmas, with one foot in both places. We still have nativity scenes and Christmas trees in our homes, AND we hear the call of Jesus to get busy with the work of Christmas.
Answering that call can seem daunting. But I offer the disciples as a point of encouragement.
Because what did Jesus really know of their qualifications for ministry when he picked them? They were not-very-well-educated fishermen from Galilee. Jesus hadn’t seen their Theology test scores. He didn’t know anything about their public speaking skills or ask if any of them could fix a computer or play praise songs on a guitar.
He just called them.
It appears their best qualification to join in with the work of Christmas happened to be that they answered the call when God walked by. The birth of God in Bethlehem is a reminder that God is loose in the world.
Are you willing to answer if he walks past you while you’re in the midst of the work your life?
If you are certain that you don’t have what it takes to answer this call from Jesus, it’s okay.
Because God will give you what you need, but not before you need it. The disciples left behind their nets, their boats, the tools with which they surrounded themselves, and began the work of Christmas. And God provided. As we listen to the stories in the coming weeks, pay attention to how this random band of people become the Disciples of the Lord.
And as you enjoy the rest of this holiday season, remember the work of Christmas. And remember that you are God’s beloveds. With you, God is well pleased.