Sunday 10 December
Year B: Second Sunday of Advent
Liturgical Colour: Purple (or Blue)
- Psalm 85: 1-2, 8-13
- Isaiah 40: 1-11
- 2 Peter 3: 8-15a
- Mark 1: 1-8
Today, if following the lectionary is your tradition, you will hear ‘The beginning of the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God’ (Mark 1.1) and will work through Mark’s gospel on Sundays over the coming church year.
Mark is almost certainly the first gospel to be written (65-70CE or some argue even earlier). Tradition suggests it was written by John Mark, who having heard a first-hand account of Jesus’ life and ministry from the apostle Peter in Rome, felt compelled to record it. This isn’t verifiable of course, but it would explain why the story is told so vividly, moves quickly through events in chronological order and includes asides giving explanations about Jewish customs, Aramaic terms and Palestinian geography.
The gospel is urgent and dramatic. If the date of writing is accurate this would reflect the context, i.e. Nero’s persecution of Christians (64CE) and the Jewish revolt against Imperial Rome (67-70CE).
As well as the oldest gospel, Mark is also the shortest. Almost all of it appears in Matthew and/or Luke, who then include other material, notably from a source aptly named Q, and additional content to suit their particular audiences and theological message. This makes them much longer.
However, Mark also has its own unique features and themes, not least, secrecy and surprise, suffering, miracles emerging from faith and what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.
Of course, Mark’s gospel doesn’t include any mention of Jesus’ birth or early years, but rather, bursts into life when he meets John the Baptist (who we will return to next week) at the age of around 30 (Luke 3:23). That might be considered a bit inconvenient for Advent, but it is nevertheless very much concerned with the coming of the kingdom of God. The opening lines link it with the passage from Isaiah; although they are actually a composite of Malachi 3.1, Exodus 23.20 and Isaiah 40.3.
Isaiah was the prophet who forecast a time when the heavens would be opened (Isaiah 64.1), the Spirit poured out in a new way (Isaiah 61.1), good news from God would be proclaimed (40.9-10) and God himself would come to power (Isaiah 40.10).
Mark describes these very things happening in the opening to the gospel: the heavens are torn asunder (Mark 1.10), the Spirit descends upon Jesus (Mark 1.10), the good news is proclaimed (Mark 1.14) and the kingdom of God is ushered in (Mark 1.15). This sets the scene for the rest of the gospel, which is about how these things are made manifest through Jesus.
You don’t have to wait to hear Mark’s gospel read bit by bit each Sunday. It is only sixteen chapters long and might be read relatively quickly or perhaps better still, listened to in less than two hours.
I think as part of my personal Advent discipline I will find time to do that. It will give me a good overview for the coming year as well as being a great preparation for Christmas. Perhaps you might like to do the same? You won’t be disappointed.
As Mark Oakley says in his introduction to David Suchet’s reading of Mark at St Paul’s Cathedral:
‘Mark is dramatic, fast-paced, in places startling…it feels almost raw; almost like frontline reporting…the first story of a man who changed the world. And this is an extraordinary opportunity…to go back to the beginning and hear it as people would have when it was new; not in little bits or on the page, but as one whole astonishing story, read aloud. If we have ears to hear, then let us hear.’
(You can find the recording here. The reading begins in the 8th minute. Other YouTube videos are available!)