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YOU Are My Beloved

Weekly Devotionals

YOU Are My Beloved

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up
out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” 12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Mark 1:9-12

This time of year always tugs at my heart. There is this feeling of anticipation and the pomp and circumstance of advent starts to creep in the moment I dust off the large cardboard box that houses our Christmas tree. In a sense my heart longs for this time of year as it has been trained to fall in line with the rhythms of the church calendar. Forty-six years (my age) of experiencing a tradition is hard to break. I think most people are creatures of habit, and the habit of Christmas is one that is good for the soul. It is so good that even the wider culture adopts some of our celebratory rituals, partially because it knows it needs something larger than itself to provide meaning. Although untethered to Jesus, Christmas in the secular culture sees value around these
ideas of hope, peace, joy, and love. Frankly, that is a good thing, and I can celebrate that my faith tradition might help the wider culture be a little more hopeful, peaceful, joyous, and loving.

I think the story of Jesus’ birth captivates because it reveals our fondness towards stories. The plot lines include mystery, conspiracy, and the miraculous. We know the Christmas story all too well. Matthew and Luke’s versions of the birth of Jesus are so familiar that it is part of western cultural lore, while the Gospel of John trumps all of them by bringing to us Jesus’ beginning before the beginning. However, in Mark we see a vastly different commencement. When was the last time you heard a Christmas sermon on Mark chapter 1? There are no magi, no epic genealogies, no manger, and no frightful enemy. Mark’s gospel does not fit all that neatly into our celebratory rhythms and his absence from the pulpit during most advent seasons is a sure tell sign of that. The Gospel of Mark might not have the type of beginning that we are accustomed to, but his take on Jesus’ origin is a word that we all need to hear. A survey through Mark’s gospel depicts a Jesus who is on the move. Jesus fights Satan, calls his disciples, casts out demons, heals Peter’s mother-in-law, and whole towns of people gather around Jesus to bring to him all who are sick and diseased. Meanwhile, John the Baptist gets arrested and ALL of this occurs before we even approach chapter 2 of Mark’s gospel! Mark’s use of the word immediately adds to the frenetic pace of Jesus’ ministry as he moves from town to town, person to person, preaching God’s good news.

The Church (with a big “C”) has an incredibly special calling, and I would even call our mission to the world, heroic. We are called to be in the business of saving and to be conduits of God’s project of redemption and restoration. Can anyone think of a more pressing time than this period of COVID-19 for the Church to be the Church? However, the sad truth is that depression and burn out are high among pastors, counselors, and those most deeply involved in ministries of compassion towards the poor and oppressed. This is a sober wake up call for anyone who holds to our protestant heritage of being a priesthood of believers. We are
all susceptible to this paradox of feeling like we are in the wilderness among wild animals in our service to the world through the Church. How can something so good and righteous as loving others be so debilitating and dangerous to our own mental, physical, and spiritual health?

Mark reveals to us that Jesus’ acts of love for the world were fueled by the Father’s love for himself. “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” We cannot love unless we understand that WE are loved first, otherwise the reservoir of compassion will dry up in our hearts. Jesus often stepped away from the crowds and embraced a life of prayer. I imagine that is exactly how we can fuel ourselves in stepping into the worthy mission of bringing God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Certainly, Mark’s opening chapter is a story of epic proportions. To a world that is in desperate need for meaning and purpose, may Mark’s story of Jesus’ beginnings be a Christmas story that the world can embrace as well.