The Fifth Day of Christmas: Christmas According to Mark

After dwelling on it for a while, I think this is the most fitting thing to write regarding Christmas according to Mark:

Christmas according to John was challenging, since there is no Christmas story in John. But Christmas according to Mark–that’s impossible. Not only is there no Christmas story, but neither is there anything close to John’s “the Word became flesh.” So, in a way, to try to comment on Christmas according to Mark is to try to comment on nothing. So, if you’d like, feel free to call it a day with the wordless paragraph above, and then we’ll wrap up our exploration of the four gospels tomorrow.

But–if you’re curious–here’s a question that’s nagging me: is it possible that the total absence of Christmas in Mark’s gospel speaks volumes? Could it be that Mark’s no-Christmas might lead us into some really good questions for our effort to let these twelve days be as full of meaning as possible?

Mark begins the rapid-fire style of his gospel with these words: "The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” and then he immediately introduces the story of Jesus’ baptism, when Jesus was about thirty years old. Yet if most of us were given the task of writing a summary of Jesus’ life in three points, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that those three would be 1) his birth in Bethlehem, 2) his death on the cross, and 3) his resurrection on Easter Sunday. Yet Mark describes Jesus’ death, his account of the resurrection is–well–a bit sketchy (read Mark 16 and pay attention to the notes in your Bible translation), and he never mentions the birth. So, there’s no birth, and very little resurrection, but Christians from the earliest generations have still considered this book to be authentically “the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God."

Part of listening attentively to someone includes listening to what they don’t say. So if I’m somewhere close to correct that the three most common elements of the typical summaries of Jesus’ life would consist of Bethlehem–Golgotha–Easter Sunday, what is it that we’re not including? Almost the entirety of Jesus’ life. Implicit in a Bethlehem–Golgotha–Easter Sunday summary of the story of Jesus is that his teaching, his relationships, his miracles, his lifestyle, etc. are really a kind of filler to connect some dots between the main, really important, points of the story.

But Mark doesn’t give us that option. If we were to summarize his account of Jesus in three points, it might be: 1) his baptism, 2) his life, and 3) his death/resurrection. If we listen both to what Mark is saying and isn’t saying, we have to conclude that Jesus' lifestyle, his teaching, his miracles, his relationships, and all of his life are indispensable in any of our efforts to understand who this is that we are paying so much attention to during these twelve days of Christmas.

In other words, Mark helps me approach Christmas differently by helping me realize that I can’t skip from the manger to the cross if my life is to be devoted to this Messiah, but that any adoration of this king will include learning from and entering into his baptism–life–death/resurrection. Christmas according to Mark isn’t about all of the scenes that come to mind with the images of the nativity, but instead is about incarnation–simply about “the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God."

Beginning tomorrow, we’ll turn a corner in these reflections on the twelve days of Christmas.  We'll seek to go a bit further in our adoration of our king as we take a look at some of the implications of that central word for Christmas: incarnation. What does it really mean in relation to our lives as we live them today?

Almighty God, you have poured upon us the new light of your incarnate Word: Grant that this light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.