Seeing the End from the Beginning
This week’s Daily Readings have been written by Meghan Matthews, who began a one-year internship with The Well in October 2021. Meghan is working on her Masters of Divinity with a specialization in Biblical Studies at McMaster University. She is passionate about spiritual formation and building healthy church culture. Meghan attends the Vaughan site but is looking forward to spending time at Bolton and King over the coming months.
This week we find ourselves at the end of the Gospel of Mark, maybe not what you’d expect for the week leading up to Christmas…but, stick with us. If we think about Christmas as a beginning in the story of the bible, then we can also see the end of the gospel of Mark as a conclusion in some ways. Living today, in the twenty-first century, means that we know why Jesus came to earth and why it is such a big deal. This week you’ll begin to see that there are narrative threads that connect the beginning and end of the gospel. We want to encourage you to read all the way through these 3 chapters, but here in your Daily Readings you’ll find some reflections that may act as signposts to help you to see the end of the story as seasonally appropriate as the first few chapters in the gospel.
DAY 1—GIFTS FOR A KING
READ: Mark 14:1-9
A favourite part of the Christmas story is the arrival of the wise men, or magi, and the gifts they bring for the Christ child. Gold, frankincense, and myrrh stir up thoughts of comfort and luxury (especially when contrasted with the manger setting!) but they also have some spiritual meaning; gold as a symbol of kingship, frankincense (an incense) as a symbol of deity, and myrrh (an embalming oil) as a symbol of death.
In this section of scripture, we are reminded of these three important elements of Jesus’ life. The woman arrives with an alabaster jar filled with expensive perfumed oil, in verse 8 Jesus praises the woman for preparing his body for burial. But we can also see Jesus’ divinity represented here, he has spent time with the disciples revealing his true identity to them (the Son of God), and those present would have known that anointing oil marked the high priest as holy and set apart to the Lord (Exodus 25:6; Leviticus 8:30; Numbers 4:16). The expense of the perfume (a year’s wages!) may be a nod to kingship, but more importantly, the woman poured oil on Jesus’ head. This action was symbolic of being the God-ordained king (1 Sam 10:1; 16:13).
The woman used what she had in order to recognize Jesus as he truly was, nearing death, yet still King and certainly divine.
- Which of the gifts of the magi do you most associate with Jesus? How do you think about him? Does that change at different points in the year?
- How might you recognize Jesus for who he is in your daily life? Can you try today?
DAY 2—CHRISTMAS FEAST
READ: Mark 14: 12-26
This story starts with an (almost) unbelievable task from Jesus. He asks two of the disciples to go into the city, find and follow a specific man, and then ask that man for a space to celebrate Passover. (vv.12-15) If anyone other than Jesus asked this, it would have been laughable— how were they expected to find someone like that? But because it was Jesus, things went exactly the way he said they would.
The Greek word used to describe where Jesus and the disciples celebrate Passover is katalyma, this same word is used for the place where Mary and Joseph are turned away just prior to Jesus’ birth. How fitting that on this visit to Jerusalem, with his departure looming, that Jesus would be able to find a guest room to prepare not only the Passover meal, but his disciples who would soon need ways to remember him.
Of course, we then hear Jesus offer the bread and cup that will represent his sacrifice, to those he leaves behind (which we still use today). But, it feels vital to remember that the meal happened because the disciples had faith that what Jesus said would come to pass, that when Jesus spoke it was worth listening.
As we approach Christmas time, where we will have special meals and will celebrate with various traditions, accept this invitation to start each activity, each day with wonder and belief, it may lead you to something important.
- How can you remember Jesus in some of your traditions this holiday season? Are there any activities that you could add specifically to remember Jesus?
- When was the last time you experienced wonder? How can you recapture that feeling this holiday season? Consider praying that you’ll encounter Jesus with this sensation this season.
DAY 3—THE GREAT “I AM”
READ: Mark 14:53-62
Do you remember God’s answer when Moses asked for his name? (Exodus 3:13) God responded that he was Yahweh, or in English I am.
Do you remember how God guided the Israelites through the desert? He appeared as both a pillar of fire and a pillar of clouds. (Exodus 13:21, 22, 14:19)
If you don’t remember the Exodus story don’t worry (although, it is a pretty good read), the important part here is that in today’s section of scripture Jesus stands before the high priests of Israel who search for evidence to put him to death, and these high priests (collectively called the Sanhedrin) would have known the stories of Israel’s past inside-out, backwards and forwards.
So when Jesus finally answers their question “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” (v. 61) with the answer “I am. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of Heaven.” (v. 62) The high priests would have realized that Jesus was declaring his identity as one and the same as God the Father.
At Christmastime, we recall that Jesus means “the one who will save his people from their sins.” and we call him Emmanuel which means “God with us.” It’s hard to believe that a baby could contain all those truths, yet, here we are, celebrating his birth more than 2000 years later, reading and remembering the details of this important story.
- How do you think about Jesus? What names do you give him, or call out to him in your prayers?
- What details about the Christmas story stand out for you? How might they relate to other areas in the bible, or be used as reflections of your faith?
DAY 4—SILENT NIGHT
READ: Mark 15:1-15
In this section of scripture, we read about the judgement of the high priests— these are the people who are supposed to be spiritual leaders of their people, and yet they are the ones who have made up their minds and taken action against Jesus. Envy—of Jesus’ wisdom, compassion, and yes, his popularity—has closed their minds to any truth that might cause them to rethink their judgement. Yet, Pilate (the Roman who orders the execution of Jesus) knew “it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him.” (Mark 15:10) and it is Pilate who questions the wisdom of the choice.
Incorrect judgements can happen, we may make up our minds because of fear or jealousy and staunchly refuse to move from that position. When that happens, our hearts and minds become set and the course of action we take becomes self-justified.
But look how Jesus responds to his accusers, to Pilates questions… he doesn’t. Jesus stays silent, and Pilate is amazed (v. 5)
When we are open to who Jesus is, it can create some fear in us because sometimes Jesus asks us for things we don’t want to give. How much worse is it though when our hearts and minds become hardened to Jesus? When we are no longer teachable, no longer open to the wonder of who he is, we may find that Jesus becomes silent.
- As we think about the coming of Christ, take stock of your heart. Pray for it to be softened, to be sponge-like in this season so it can absorb the joy, hope, peace, and love that Jesus offers all people.
- Spend time in silence, listening for the prompting of the spirit, the voice of Jesus, or the whisper of God—consider asking what they might Jesus be asking you to do (or not do) this holiday season.
DAY 5—THE END OF THE STORY
READ: Mark 15:21-16:20
Today we read about Jesus’ death, but we are also celebrating his birth. This is a mystery, one of the oddities of being Christian, holding death and life together recognizing that one is nothing without the other.
A big reason for the celebration of Christmas is that it marks God’s arrival on Earth, in human form. We call him Emmanuel which means God with us. But just like those who heralded Jesus’ arrival, and then called for his death, we may forget some of the nuance of this season. Yes, we celebrate. We have been waiting all Advent for this day. But we need to remember that this is not the most important day of Jesus’ life, it’s just the easiest to celebrate. Jesus’ death also isn’t the most important day (although it’s close!). Here in Mark 16 we learn the end of the story, and we see the most important part of Jesus’ life, it isn’t that he was born, or that he died, but that he rose again. Jesus’ resurrection is the action that makes his birth, life, and death important. The resurrection is the fulfilment of God’s great plan and promise to his people (including you and me).
Even as we celebrate this Christmas day—with hope, peace, joy, and love—may we remember the end of the story, may we have confidence in the end of the story, and may we embrace the end of the story as warmly as we embrace the beginning.
- What does it mean to you that God came to earth, to live among us (as the person of Jesus)?
- How does knowing the end of the story affect how you celebrate its beginning?