Mark 1:1-8, Advent 2 B, December 7, 2014
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
Have you ever heard of Advent Conspiracy? It is an organization that encourages giving to charities instead of to each other at Christmas time. There is a similar organization called “Simple Christmas.” Their YouTube video from 2011 uses bright colors as simple message flashes across the screen. Watch it now:
Isn’t this Simple Christmas message a good one for us? It is a reminder that Christ should be at the center of our Christmas celebrations - not just here in worship but in our gatherings with friends and family too. This is a reminder that our consumer society has tried - and succeeded - in turning a simple Christian holiday into a profit.
There is nothing wrong in giving presents to the ones you love. There is nothing wrong in traveling to be with your family for Christmas. There is nothing wrong in enjoying the good food this season. What is wrong is when we let all of these social expectations overwhelm us. What is wrong is when the stress of the holidays blinds us to the joy of Christ’s birth.
Videos from groups like Advent Conspiracy and Simple Christmas are subversive. They overturn societal expectations and bring us back to the church, to Christ. These videos make it obvious to us how our American consumer culture has abducted the Christmas holiday for its own purposes.
In a similar yet opposite way, the author of Mark took common cultural language from the first century and turned it on its head. Mark took all of the words and phrases used for Caesar and put those words on Christ. Take the first line of the gospel, for instance.
“The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
When we hear this in our modern context, we do not think much of it. Why not start a gospel by saying that it is the beginning of the good news? Jesus Christ is the Son of God, is he not? We use all of this as standard religious language. But for Mark, the first line is a political statement.
You see, Caesar was “the beginning of all things.” He was called Lord. He expected people to worship him, treating him as semi-divine. Caesar was called “son of god.” The term “good news” often referred to political victory. Caesar was emperor, leader, warrior. He was all of this. Caesar was the beginning, the good news, king, and son of god.
Caesar was all of this, and everyone knew it. The entire empire was expected to bow to this mighty ruler. This was the context when Mark wrote his gospel. When he wrote, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” Mark knew that he was committing political blasphemy.
In one short sentence, Mark proclaimed that Jesus is the beginning. Jesus is the good news. Jesus is king. Jesus is the Son of God. Not Caesar. No human could dream of legitimately holding all of these titles. But Jesus isn’t just human.
Jesus is the beginning. Jesus was there for the beginning of the world. Jesus is the beginning of salvation. Jesus is God, the beginning of all things.
Jesus is the good news, yet his victory is non-violent. He did not charge into battle trying to kill as many as possible. Instead, he offered his life in our place.
Jesus is the Christ, the anointed king, chosen and blessed by God to be the savior of the world. Jesus is connected through biology and tradition with the kings from Jewish history, including the mighty King David.
Jesus is the Son of God, literally the begotten child of our Lord, born to Mary and Joseph. Jesus is fully God and fully human, all at once. Jesus is all of this, not Caesar.
Jesus never intended to be like Caesar. Mark attributed all of this violent, victorious language to Jesus. Mark will then spend the rest of the book showing the world how Jesus is still victorious, even if he is nonviolent.
At the end of the gospel according to Mark, the story isn’t finished. Jesus never appears resurrected. Instead, the women run away from the empty tomb, too scared to tell anyone. The entire gospel is just the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ. It is our task to take up the gospel and share it with all who will hear.
Today, we would never proclaim, “Caesar is Lord.” We never would proclaim that anyone other than Christ is the Son of God. Yet, even so, our actions proclaim our beliefs better than our words. This holiday season, don’t spend your time alone in the stores or in your kitchen. Don’t stress yourself out so much that you can barely survive the season.
Instead, spend quality time with your family and those dearest to you. Don’t worry if it doesn’t all get done. Life is too short to stress this Advent and Christmas.
In addition to your family, spend some time with Christ. Come to worship this Advent and on Christmas Eve. Attend the Sunday School Christmas program. Spend time in prayer, guided by the Advent star.
By doing all of this, we all can find Christ in our lives. This season, let Christ shine in you and with you. Amen.