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A Season of Hope: Advent Themes through the Four Gospels Part 2

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The Gospel of Mark does not begin with the story of a baby or the coming of visitors with gifts, but with a voice crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord!” (Mark 1:3) Prepare for God’s arrival!

The voice “crying out in the wilderness” (an image from Isaiah 40:3) belongs to John the Baptist, who is a peculiar character. He is consistently declaring to all that would hear, of the need for repentance, for the greater one is coming. In Mark, Jesus arrives quite suddenly on the scene, fully grown, seemingly out of nowhere.

Jesus’ ministry begins in the context of the “wilderness,” the vast, unpopulated desert of Judea, a place that symbolizes loneliness, the unknown, and proximity to death, all of which are features of Mark’s telling of Jesus’ story. The wilderness reminds us of the period of time in which Israel wandered in the desert after the escape from Egypt. Other Old Testament books tell us of how the people of Israel, grumbled against God and were ready to turn away from God, repeatedly as they wandered. They were not ready to be God’s people. Before they could cross the Jordan River and enter the promised land, they had to learn to trust God.

The Gospel of Mark echoes this process announcing the arrival of Jesus the Messiah who has come to show them the way out of the wilderness of sin and into the promised land of a right relationship with God.

Baptism is an outward symbol of an inward surrender to God. Mark says, according some translators, that while people were baptized “in the Jordan,” Jesus was baptized “into the Jordan,” and that he came “up out of the water”. Mark uses this image of Jesus emerging up and out of the waters of baptism and the image of him catching his breath as he came out of the water to announce the arrival of the Holy Spirit in Jesus. As Jesus takes this deep breath coming out of the water, the heavens open and the Spirit descends on Jesus as a dove.

There is nothing subtle about this vision. It is a life-defining moment for Jesus and for those who witnessed it. All would see how completely Jesus immersed himself in God’s will and how clearly God responded.

Jesus, even though he has nothing to confess, surrenders completely to God. He goes into the Jordan and is covered by it. He goes under the surface of the water, as though dying, and comes up renewed, as though resurrected.

Mark illustrates how Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, by depicting him teaching with the full authority of God. Soon after his baptism, Jesus begins to teach and heal powerfully, “as one having authority” (1:21-22). Throughout Jesus’ ministry in this Gospel, we see hints of what some scholars call the “Messianic Secret.” No one recognizes Jesus as the Son of God except the evil spirits and demons, who beg him to leave them alone because they know Jesus represents a danger to them. But the people, do not recognize him. After the crucifixion, when all seems hopeless, the women go to anoint Jesus’ body and discover an empty tomb. But even in this moment of revelation when an angel explains that Jesus has risen from the dead, the women, instead of going and telling as the angel instructed, run away in fear and say nothing.

These fearful women represent all of us: we see the empty tomb but do not understand.

Mark’s gospel is characterized by a sense of great urgency. Why is Mark in such a big hurry? Mark’s urgency is a reflection of his apocalyptic point of view. In the first century, when Jesus’ life and ministry took place, there was a great deal of tension between the Jews and the Romans. Most of Jesus’ followers were Jews. From time to time war broke out as those who were oppressed by the Romans rebelled against the oppression. The Romans retaliated with extreme force to quell any rebellion by decimating the Jewish population – including those who were followers of Jesus.

The Gospel of Mark was written some 40 years after Jesus’ lifetime and earthly ministry – during a particularly volatile time, when the Romans were besieging Jerusalem. It must have felt like the end of the world when the Jewish people witnessed the destruction of the Temple and their way of life being destroyed. 

It was during this time that the Gospel of Mark was written – to give hope to a community outside of Jerusalem and a community of Christians who knew of the suffering and fall of Jerusalem.

Mark shares Jesus’ words as words of hope to a weary and fearful people, encouraging them not to give up hope. His cry to “prepare the way” is reminder of the Advent of the Messiah.

Mark shows that God’s love and self-sacrifice can be seen clearly, even in times of desperation, struggle, and suffering, when all seems to be lost and everything is changing. “Prepare a way!” The Lord is coming. There is no need to wander in the wilderness of fear and doubt any longer.

Posted by Ramona Reynolds with

A Season of Hope: Advent Themes through the Four Gospels Part 1

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 Advent is the period in the Christian year when we think about God coming into the world as a human being in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The four Gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) portrayals of Jesus’ origins are told by different writers and introduce us to meaningful challenges for the early church and for us today.

 

The birth narrative in the Gospel of Matthew is the familiar account of a newborn king and his wise visitors from the East who found their way to after a long journey, by following a star. But this gospel also includes the harrowing story of King Herod’s attempt to kill the infant Jesus – the plot that the wise visitors from the East foil.

 

Matthew celebrates the coming of Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” When Matthew says that “God is with us” it is to declare that Jesus is the culmination of a long history of God’s salvific actions on behalf of God’s people (Matt. 1:23). As Jesus is beginning his life, he and his parents are fleeing from a wrathful King Herod, whose paranoid and jealous intent is to murder him as a rival king of the Jews (2:1-20).

 

We usually don’t think of Jesus as a refugee or an exile, but that is what he is in Matthew’s story. Not long after his birth Jesus, Mary and Joseph flee to Egypt to escape King Herod’s men, who are coming to kill all the male infants in Joseph’s hometown of Bethlehem. It is hard to imagine the terror of being a refugee, of fleeing with a newborn child to a strange land where there are no family or friends to support and provide comfort to you.

 

Jesus’ journey as a refugee provides some insight into how and why he ministers with such compassion and understanding among the masses of worried, hungry people; welcoming outcasts, healing infirmities and challenging those who have plenty to share with those who have little. Jesus, knowing what it is to be a refugee, demonstrates how his followers should respond to those who are journeying, homeless, and outcast from their home and now residing among Christian communities

 

The genealogy of Jesus at the beginning of the Gospel of Matthew (1:1-16) traces his lineage through the Davidic dynasty – which includes Abraham, King David – to Joseph “the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born” (1:16). Joseph is not Jesus’ biological father, he is his adopted father. This adoption establishes Jesus as a part of his family, a part of the Davidic line – Son of David and Messiah (1:1; 20-21). The Gospel of Matthew emphasizes Joseph’s role instead of Mary’s (she has more of the focus in the Gospel of Luke). It was important to Matthew that we see the implications of Joseph’s adoption of Jesus and his role in saving Jesus’ life.

 

The story of Jesus’ flight into Egypt and his wandering and homeless years of ministry are not pleasant and cozy seasonal tales, they are appropriate to ponder in the weeks of Advent when Christians are invited to reflect on what it means to each of us that God came into the world as a human being. The Gospel of Matthew may challenge Christians to look directly at violence and suffering and to respond by feeding and comforting the poor and welcome the refugee Jesus into our hearts.

 

Christians are adopted into the family when we are baptized in the name of Jesus the Christ. The family lineage is not ours by birth, we are adopted and become sons and daughters of God. Jesus counted as family many people who were on the margins of traditional society: the prostitutes, tax collectors, and other “sinners” of his time. As we follow Jesus, we are called to minister to the “least of these who are members of my family” (Matt. 25:40).

 

The hope of Advent is that God comes to dwell with us so that we have the strength to dwell with, encourage, and help others in need.

 

As you reflect on the focus of Matthew’s narrative of Jesus’ birth consider:

 

  1. What does Matthew’s take on the birth of Jesus mean to us as Christian’s today?
  2. What is Matthew’s story calling you to? How will you respond to that call as the season of Advent approaches?

 

Listen to the themes from Matthew’s gospel in this traditional Advent hymn:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xPV8PEBTAQ0&list=RDxPV8PEBTAQ0&start_radio=1&t=76

Posted by Ramona Reynolds with

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