When I began this series “Christmas According to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John,” I invited the congregation to read through the story of Christmas as found in Mark. I could tell by some smiles that quite a number knew that there is no story of Christmas in Mark, no angels, no shepherds, no wise men, no manger scene, and of course no mention of all the traditions we tend to associate with Christmas. That a Gospel writer would miss entirely the Christmas story can be a good reminder to us that Christmas was not celebrated by the earliest of Christians with the same intensity we do today, much of how and when we celebrate being a matter of tradition rather than of obedience to the Bible. It also serves as a reminder that we ought not to think of the Gospels as “biographies.” A biography will often leave us inspired by a person while at the same time satisfying our curiosity by filling in the details of that person’s life. The Gospel writers will have failed in their quest if we find ourselves only inspired by Jesus, they instead want us to be committed to Jesus, and details can be irrelevant to that purpose. So Mark, likely the earliest written and definitely the shortest of the Gospels spares us the details and leads us straight to “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (Mark 1:1 NRSV).
So does this mean that Christmas itself is not in Mark’s Gospel? Consider the following (I have included the passage below for easy reference):
- Mark 1:2 points us to Malachi 3:1 which refers to the coming not so much of a Messiah figure but actually God Himself. That’s a very Christmasy thought!
- Mark 1:3 points us to Isaiah 40:3, where again the way is to be prepared for God Himself to come. Again, here is the essence of Christmas, that this Jesus is “God with Us.”
- Mark 1:4-5 makes reference to a lot of people involved in confession and repentance. If you knew that God was to be on your doorstop tomorrow in all His glory, how would you prepare? It takes neither a Bible scholar nor a rocket scientist to figure out that confession and repentance is best and most natural response to the news of God’s arrival. We see people doing that right at the beginning in Mark’s account and again you can hear that echo of Christmas: “God is coming to us!”
- Mark 1:7 lets us in on the what John the baptizer knows – He is unworthy of the One who is to come. There is an incomparable greatness in the One who is coming which makes perfect sense if God Himself is that One.
- Mark 1:8 has John saying that while he can only baptize with water, the One to come will baptize with the Holy Spirit. Who can do that but God Himself? Again, God Himself is coming to us.
- Mark 1:9,10 points to Isaiah 64:1 where Isaiah prays “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down” (NRSV). Isaiah’s prayer is answered through the miracle of Christmas.
So is Christmas found in Mark? Yes, right at the beginning of his account where you would expect it! Mind you, if you read through the Gospel in one sitting you will have the sense that Mark would rather have us focus on Easter. While the earliest of Christians in New Testament times did not celebrate Christmas, or even Easter the same way we do today, they did celebrate Christmas and Easter – every Lord’s Day. Every Sunday is a special celebration! So Merry Christmas and Happy Lord’s Day!
Mark 1:1-11 NRSV
1. The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. 2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; 3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'” 4 John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” 9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”