Mark's Christmas Story: from joy to suffering

Look at John: clothed in camel’s hair and a leather belt; eating nothing but locusts and honey.  Yet, he proclaimed to those who listened: “You may think I’m something special, but one is coming soon who is my superior.  I am not even worthy to untie his sandal like a slave.  No, I’ve dunked you in the Jordan’s waters, but he will saturate you in the essence of God.

Not much later Jesus showed up from Nazareth in Galilee and John plunged him into the Jordan too.  But as Jesus re-emerged from the water the sky split open, a dove landed on him, and a voice thundered from the heavens: “My son!  My beloved son! O’ the joy you are bringing me!
Mark 1:6-11 (My own paraphrase)
This is Mark’s Christmas story . . . allow me to explain:
Matthew and Luke’s Christmas stories are about God finally making good on a promise: to send a deliverer to his people.  Those stories revolve around the arrival of God’s chosen deliverer.[1]  In Mark, this baptism signals the beginning of God’s work. Jesus shows up at the Jordan River, a place rich with the imagery of God making a way for his people, and he does what everyone else came to John for: he gets baptized.  He, along with them, was denouncing every other avenue of deliverance.[2] He was declaring his full allegiance to God’s way of solving problems. And bang, his faithfulness thrusts God into history; the wait is over. The arrival of God’s deliverance is at hand.[3]  And this heavenly voice, like the angels in Luke, proclaims that God’s avenue of deliverance is embodied in his own son.  But not just a son, this is his precious son who thoroughly pleases him.  His son, who makes his joy complete. 

For me too, my joy equals my boys.  How I love to watch their eyes take in the world around them.  Or to witness the unfolding of their personalities; or the coming together of my toddler’s creations; or the way they warm their mother’s soul.  Their smiles prick at an emotional chord I had not known existed until I met them.  Joy, it seems to me, most closely names this deeply mysterious and unique experience.  They are my beloved sons and they fill me with joy.   And so I thoroughly empathize with this joyous moment—a Father moved to declare his pride and joy because of his son’s faithfulness. 

But do you know what happens next? 

“And immediately, God’s Spirit threw Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan . . .”
Mark 1:12-13a (Again, my paraphrase)[4]

Who knew doves have such strong talons.

His joy in his Son was not to be kept to himself.  No, this son was to be a gift who would bring good news of great joy for the entire world. The road, through which this great news would be shared, however, was the road of suffering: suffering the humility of an impoverished beginning, a lowly stable-cradle, the anguish of temptation, the ache of an empty stomach, the frustration with the injustice of religion that prioritizes ideology over people, the devastating weight of sin, the bitterness of the Father’s cup, the life-pilfering trauma of iron nails, and the aloneness of the humiliating cross.[5]
God’s deliverance that was promised would require his son of joy to become a son of suffering. [6]  God lets go of his great joy, his beloved son, so that joy might pass to us.  The Son suffers so that his joy might find us within our present suffering.  His suffering makes a way for our joy.  I can honestly say, I would not let my beloved sons suffer for you—they may choose to do so on their own someday, but I will not choose it for them.  So look not to me for your deliverance, I do not have what it takes to bring you joy.  Instead, this season let us look to his suffering and see his joy pass to us.

[1] Advent means arrival.
[2] Can you think of a better definition for sin, than a reliance on something completely incapable of producing what you need?   Isn’t that the essence of the forbidden fruit in the Garden?  God’s says the fruit will kill them, but serpent claims it will do the opposite, making them their own gods.
[3] “Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:14-15, NKJV).
[4] Although, traditional translations don’t put it much more mildly.
[5] “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2b, NIV).  I’m not totally sure how to weave this in to this reflection.  It seems like the joy set before him could be, his exaltation to the right hand of God, his resurrection and all it symbolizes, or us, the ones his cross would gather into his fold.  Perhaps all of the above.  Regardless, even though his human experience was marked by suffering, it was all for the sake of eventual joy.
[6] Consider this from Isaiah 53, which Christians have long connected to Jesus—Jews typically consider it to be a passage about Israel as a nation. “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”


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