CHRISTMAS ACCORDING TO MARK

MARK 1:1-4

DECEMBER 7, 2014

 

            At the moment we were born, three remarkable things happened, almost not quite, but almost simultaneously . And no one not our doctor, midwife, nurse, dad, or mom had anything to do with them.

            First, as we emerged into the world, we stopped receiving oxygen from our mothers placenta.  As a result, carbon dioxide levels immediately began to rise in our bloodstream.  That triggered aBreathe! signal to our respiratory center  And just like that, we took our very first breath.

            Second, as our lungs began to work on their own, it became absolutely urgent as in, right now that our cardiovascular system kick in, as well.  Almost instantaneously, a small passage in our fetal heart closed, never to open again. For the first time our very own blood surged into our lungs, beginning the downloading of the oxygen from that first breath.

            Third, a Road Closed sign was posted on the circulatory bypass system. For months our mothers blood had lavishly nourished our body, but our liver and lungs had received only enough blood to keep perking. Then, in that amazing moment of birth, the bypass shunt closed forever.  Now we were on our own.

            In the space of a few seconds our physiology fundamentally changed, and just like that, our body switched from liquid to air. A doctor called three almost instantaneous events a remarkable feat of biological engineering.[1]

            Funny, given all the miraculous things that happen at birth let alone the birth of the Son of God that the Gospel writer Mark did not seem interested in sharing the story of Jesus birth. 

            We are in the middle of our Advent Sermon series "Called Christmas According To ..." wherein we are examining what the Gospel writers have to say about the birth of Jesus.  Last Sunday, Ed talked about Christmas According to Matthew.  This week our subject is Christmas According to Mark, however, as we tackle it we encounter a major problem.  Mark says nothing nada zip about Jesus birth, and on this second Sunday of Advent I cant help but ask why?

            Was it because Mark was a man in a hurry? After all, his favorite word seemed to be immediately.  He uses the word four times in the first chapter alone.  Look with me at verse 12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out of the wilderness and at verse 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him and at verse 20 Immediately he called them and verse 42 Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. 

            The word immediately occurs no less than forty times in Marks Gospel, leading  someone to nickname his Gospel, The Gospel of Immediacy.[2]  Its also the shortest of all the Gospels, twelve chapters shorter than Matthew, eight chapters shorter than Luke, and five chapters shorter than John. In addition it's the first one written and to a person scholars believe that all the other gospel writers had Marks Gospel in front of them when they penned their gospels, the other gospels writers say a little about the birth of Jesus, especially Matthew and Luke, but not Mark.

            Why was that? Did he feel an urgency to get the story of Jesus out?  Did he fear if he did not it might be forgotten?  And in getting the story out did he think the Christmas story wasnt all that critical to the life and ministry of Jesus?

            Imagine no Christmas in the Jesus story!  Of course, its easier for us to imagine the opposite.  Its easier for us to imagine no Jesus in the Christmas story than to imagine no Christmas in the Jesus story because its getting more and more like that in our world.  Let me remind you of the words of that renowned theologian, Kermit the Frog.  In his song The Christmas Wish he expressed this sentiment,

 

            I dont know if you believe in Christmas
           
Or if you have presents underneath the Christmas tree,
           
But if you believe in love,
           
That will be more than enough
           
For you to come and celebrate with me.

 

            Love is good enough.  You dont have to embrace any of this Son of God, born of a virgin Mary stuff.  Just love will do it.  When it comes to taking Jesus out of Christmas, I do know a lot has changed since I was a boy growing up in the 1950s.  I recall singing Christmas Carols, particularly Away in a Manger in our third grade Christmas Pageant at school.  Nowadays, we have Holiday Pageants and sing less Christocentric songs like Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and Santa Claus is Coming to Town. 

            Listen to these words from a self-avowed secular Christian.  One year ago Wendy Lewis Russell made this confession.  She said,

 

            Christmas is becoming a secular holiday. Not for everyone, of course, but for some. Maybe even for many. Definitely for me. I love Christmas the trees, the lights, the gift giving, all of it but I took the Christ out of my Christmas a long time ago. Other than telling my daughter about the wonderful little legend of Jesus birth in a stable in Bethlehem, my version of Christmas is a season of entirely nonreligious traditions and celebrations. Sure, those celebrations are rooted in my Christian heritage, and I wholly acknowledge that. But do I attach some deeper personal meaning to Christmas? No, not at all. You could say I am a secular Christian in the same way some of my friends are secular Jews or secular Hindus. Theyll probably always celebrate Hanukkah and Diwali, but does that mean they actually believe in God, Brahman, or that dude with the elephant head? Uh, no.[3]

 

            So many in our day may leave Jesus out of Christmas, but why did Mark leave Christmas out of his Jesus narrative?  Was it an oversight?  Was it because he did not think it was that important?  Unfortunately we will never know on this side of heaven. 

            And this leads me to one last question: How critical is the virgin birth?  Is it essential to our faith?  Does one need to affirm a belief in the virgin birth to be a Christian in good standing?  After all, only two of the four gospel writers mention it.  Two of the Gospel writers, Mark and John dont talk about the virgin birth at all. While all four gospel writers stress the resurrection, only two of them stress the virgin birth.

            I think back some 30 years ago or so to a candidate for ministry in the Presbyterian Church.  This woman was being examined for ordination by our presbytery and someone asked her about the virgin birth because she had omitted anything about the virgin birth in her statement of faith. She answered the question by saying, My faith does not hinge on a gynecological wonder.  Was she right?  Can you be a Christian without embracing the virgin birth?

            Adrian Rogers, not the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, but a conservative evangelical pastor does not think so.  He said if there were no virgin birth, there would be no sinless Christ. No sinless Christ ... no atonement. No atonement ... no forgiveness. No forgiveness ... no hope of heaven. No hope of heaven ... we would all die and go to hell. Thank God for the virgin birth. If you take away the virgin birth, the whole house of Christianity collapses like a house of cards.[4]

            Thats what makes someone a Christian and while I affirm the virgin birth, I disagree with Adrian Rogers who said if we take away the virgin birth, the whole house of Christianity collapses like a house of cards.  While I believe strongly in the virgin birth, I do not believe our faith falls on the issue of the virgin birth.  Rather it falls on the issue of the resurrection.  On this point the words of the Apostle Paul ring in my ears … “If there is no resurrection then our faith is futile and we are still in our sins.  Where the rubber meets the road for the Apostle Paul is the resurrection and not the virgin birth.  In fact, Paul is somewhat like Mark in the sense that he says nothing about the virgin birth.  He writes an entire chapter on the resurrection in his letter to the Corinthians, but nothing on the virgin birth.

            Historically three things have made a person a Christian.  Believing in the incarnation (Jesus is God in the flesh), in the Trinity (God three in one), and in the resurrection.  Catholics, Greek and Russian Orthodox and Protestants all hold to these three tenets.  While the overwhelming majority of Christians believe in the virgin birth, historically it has not been one of the big three things that make you a Christian.

            So back to the question can you be a Christian in good standing and not believe in the virgin birth?  Statistics reveal that 10% of all Americans who believe in Christ, do not believe in the virgin birth.  What do we do with these folk?  One might even be sitting next to you this morning a professing Christian who questions the virgin birth.                       

            Heres what I would do.  I would invite them to this table.  I may think they are misinformed, and off base, but that does not keep them from this table.  There are numerous places where Christians of deep faith disagree, and frankly Im tired of Christians splitting up into different groups because we do not see eye to eye on everything. 

            Bottom line ... let's keep Jesus in Christmas and lets give Mark the benefit of the doubt.  Im sure if he had to do it over again, he would say something about Jesus birth right?  Right?  Amen.

 

                          

 



[1]A Morning Devotional from Glenn McDonald at AscensionHealth.org

[2] A.W. Pink Mark: The Gospel of Immediacy jesus.org.           

[3] Wendy Lewis Russell, The Secularization of Christmas Isnt Just Okay Its Great December 2, 2013

[4] Adrian Rogers, Why Did We Need a Virgin Birth in Bethlehem? www.jesus.org