Two Views of Advent

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Today’s slice of the bread of life, the Word of God, is Mark 1:1-8:

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God; As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. John did baptize in the wilderness, and preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins. And there went out unto him all the land of Judaea, and they of Jerusalem, and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins. And John was clothed with camel’s hair, and with a girdle of a skin about his loins; and he did eat locusts and wild honey; And preached, saying, There cometh one mightier than I after me, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to stoop down and unloose. I indeed have baptized you with water: but he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost.

The four gospels each have very different ways of introducing the story about Jesus. Matthew begins his gospel with a long genealogy, tracing Jesus’ lineage — “son of David, son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1-16) from the time of Abraham through fourteen generations, through the line of Mary’s husband, Joseph, all the way to Jesus.

Luke’s gospel begins differently, first with stories of the foretelling of the birth of John the Baptist and of Jesus, the more familiar portions of what we think of as the Christmas story, but Luke also gets around to including an even longer genealogy of Jesus than Matthew, starting instead of ending with Jesus, and moving back through the generations, all the way back to Adam, the first human.

But John trumps Matthew and Luke in writing about Jesus’ beginnings, foregoing a genealogy altogether, he moves back to the time before time in his gospel introduction: “In the beginning was the Word…All things came into being through him…And the Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:1-14). John understands Jesus as having been present at the beginnings of the whole created world, before Abraham, before Adam, before generations, at the very edge, the very start of the world, one with God. Now that’s a pedigree!

Mrk foregoes a genealogy. Mark begins his economical little gospel with a quotation from Isaiah, about a voice yelling in the wilderness that it is time to get the Lord’s way ready, and the arrival on the scene of John the Baptist. That’s it. In Mark’s incredible economy of phrase, eight verses sum up all the preparation, and in verse 9 Jesus shows up for his baptism. The church sets aside four weeks each year during Advent to get ready for the arrival of Jesus, Mark sets aside eight sentences.

So when did the Jesus thing really start? It started with a calling: “In the beginning” God called the world into existence; God called the kings of Israel to rule justly; God called the prophets to preach justice and piety; God called John the Baptist to remind the people who they were and who was their God. It really starts with a call to people, to individuals, to leaders, but mainly to those who will listen, those who will listen and respond…

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