Looking out across the field and yard behind the church, what was once ripe with vegetables, leaves and flowers, the bare trees offer up an open sky and the land lays fallow. Even the ground is cleared of fallen leaves. The garden has been harvested, cleared out, and tilled, so it can rest until planting begins next spring. The grass, still green is heading into its dormant season. I find myself spending less time outside, more inclined to sit by the fire or read in doors than take a walk or ride my bike. Fall is heading straight into winter, and snow is in the forecast.
Personally I delight in the changing seasons. I love that the darkness of night comes early. I feel compelled to bake cookies, drink hot tea, and curl up with a book or a new knitting project. This time of year fills me with anticipation as I wonder what the winter will be like. How many heavy snow storms will we have? How cold will it get? How long will it last. This anticipation comes to me anew every winter with equal parts excitement for the first snow and dread, knowing that the cold and snow always over stay their welcome. Winter is a quiet season when the earth lies still, just waiting to burst forth again with new life.
And, like the seasons of the calendar year, we have seasons of the church, the liturgical year. Today marks the first Sunday of the church year and the season of Advent has begun. Advent is a season of waiting, of the deep darkness of night, a season that holds the promise of new life and hope. This is a season of candle light and the fragrant scent of pine. The color of Advent is sometimes purple, attaching it in a similar way to Lent, as if it were also a penitential season. But more often, it is blue season, blue for the dark night sky. Advent is a season that ushers in a time of waiting, expectantly, for the birth of Christ, for the Word made flesh, for God who comes as a human baby, it is a season of anticipation. A season of darkness like a womb anticipating new life. A season of darkness, like soil nurturing the roots of trees, digging deeper into the earth. Advent invites us to ponder how and where, in the year ahead, we might see signs of new life, signs of the Christ child in our lives and the world around us. Advent invites us to wait expectantly like a heavy with child, waits to give birth. Like Mary, the mother of God, anticipating new life.
Advent launches the new liturgical year for the church and brings with it a new Gospel which will focus our reflections on God in a particular way for the year ahead. Last year we heard the story of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. The Matthean community wrestled with the reality that Jesus, as the Messiah, is the fulfillment of the Law of Moses. And, therefore what it means for a Christian to Love God, Love self, and Love others. The Gospel of Mark will point us in a similar direction – but with distinctive differences.
The Gospel of Mark is believed to be the oldest of the four gospels. Scholars think it was written in Rome, in a Jewish community addressing a mostly Gentile region, sometime around the late ‘60’s – or about 30 years after the death of Jesus. Given the content in this Gospel, scholars believe this text was written before the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem but during a time of mounting persecution of Jews by the Roman government.
Reflecting the experience of persecution today’s reading has a tone of terror and fear. It comes toward the end of the Gospel, chapter 13 out of 16 chapters. It points the reader toward the crucifixion, toward the end, and is apocalyptic in tone. This reading like the gospel itself intend for us to understand how , like winter leads to spring, dying leads to new life/ Suffering is a birth process that enables that new life to come forth.
As the earliest gospel put into written text the Gospel according to Mark may have been created simply to have a record of the oral tradition in order that the stories would not be lost. The Markan gospel may have been written to counter a number of heresies – false teachings – that were cropping up about Jesus and his life and ministry. It very well may have been written to counter the tragedy of the crucifixion and argue for a theology that reconciles that violent death with the intentions of God – how the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is a success story not a tragedy ending in a violent crucified death. But most likely it was written in order to show how God is active, for our sake, in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. (From Westminster Bible S Companion, Douglas A, Hare) (and, from Karoline Lewis at working preacher) Mark's theology, is a theology that first and foremost asks, “Where do we find God?”
The primary point of this Gospel, in asking us, “Where do we find God,” is to then ask us to consider the question of discipleship and ask ourselves, as followers of Jesus, “What must I do?”
Our theme this year, the theme that has focused our conversations on Stewardship and prodded me in my reflections in the newsletter, is, “Discipleship, What does that mean?” This theme comes in part from the reality that all of the Gospels are calling us to be followers of Jesus, and that through Jesus we will come to know God in a particular way, and are therefore called to act. Pondering discipleship in the Gospel of Matthew pointed us to consider how we were living the greatest commandment to love God, self, and others. Discipleship in the Gospel according Mark uses a particular word that means discipleship but also means “learner” or an “apprentice.” This year, as we ponder this Gospel we will consider what it means to be a learner, an apprentice of Jesus.
The gospel will call us to reflect on how - following Jesus, as a disciple, a learner, an apprentice, means – feeding, healing, praying, and, caring for others. How discipleship is ordinary work, framed through the lens of understanding that this is what God is doing in and through the life of Jesus. It’s the ordinary work of compassion, which God asks of us, as well.