I wonder if Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland, was a fan of the Gospel of Mark. These words, that are spoken by the King of Hearts, seem to be the working agenda of the author of Mark’s Gospel. It begins, maybe at a beginning, and it ends with an abrupt stop.
In the three-year Lectionary cycle, we hear the opening verses of only half of the Gospels. The Episcopal Church has modified the Revised Common Lectionary such that every Christmas I we hear the prologue of John, which begins, famously, with “In the beginning.” Mark’s prologue, which we hear read on Advent 2 in Year B, starts with a sentence that has no verb and then immediately (a word you will hear a lot this year) jumps past any genealogies, annunciations, visitations, birth narratives, and early Temple visits, to the voice of John the Baptist, crying out in the wilderness “Prepare the way of the Lord.”
It is a strange beginning. The ending, which we will deal with in the Spring, is stranger yet. I can’t help but wonder, as I wrestle with several sermons in my brain, why Mark decided to begin the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, with this particular beginning. Why start the story 30 years after it began? Why begin with hodge-podge of Old Testament verses cited as Isaiah? Why commence the Good News of Jesus Christ with the voice of John the Baptist? Is there something to notice about how we are dropped into this story as it already begun to unfold?
I think there might be. I think that maybe we are invited to jump into this story with our whole selves, and the only way to really do that is to be thoroughly discombobulated. In our confusion, we have to spend some intentional time getting are bearings. Who are these characters? What is the Isaiah quote telling us? How does John’s appearance affect the story? What about this one who is to come?
The beginning of the Gospel of Mark isn’t much of a place to begin, but it is all we’ve got, and so, we start here, with the beginning of the Good News, and we wait to see what comes next.