The Gospel lesson serves as our sermon text for this morning.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, let us pray:
Grace, mercy, and peace be yours from God the Father through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
So many of our favorite stories start with a dramatic technique called (from the classical Latin) in medias res, meaning simply “into the middle of things.”
We are dropped into the middle of the story, and the roller coaster ride begins.
As a matter of fact, one of the most beloved stories that we read and watch and hear over and over again this time of year begins exactly like this, in medias res.
It begins with three little words: “Marley was dead.”
And with that, Charles Dickens plunges us into the life of Ebenezer Scrooge, Tiny Tim, and what it means to “keep Christmas well.”
Or perhaps even more famously, in medias res is the opening scene of the black-and-white montage of sights from a town named Bedford Falls where all we hear are the prayers of “a lot of people asking for help for a man named George Bailey.”
The rest of the movie tells us the story of his “wonderful life” and of how he got to this one present moment on a bridge on Christmas Eve.
And then everything that happens afterward.
That’s how we make sense of our world and our place in it.
All these stories that start “in the middle of things” play with our sense of how any story should go.
This is what piques our interest.
Or it drives us crazy.
For the story to work, it often uses flashbacks and interruptions from the past to fill in the blanks of the present and move it forward into the future.
Scrooge never took Marley’s name off the sign of his office.
George Bailey can’t hear in his left ear because he saved his brother out of a frozen lake when he was a boy.
The Gospel of Mark begins in the middle of the story.
For one thing, it starts with a sentence fragment, almost as if we came in somewhere in the middle of a conversation.
Second, Mark doesn’t have any of our favorite stories for this time of year.
No nativity (that’s in the Gospel of Luke).
No Wise Men (that’s found in Matthew’s Gospel).
No big speech about the Word made flesh (John talks about that in his Gospel).
Mark simply begins in the middle of a sentence, and then immediately flashes back hundreds of years to a prophet named Isaiah.
Only to flash forward again to land us in the wilderness with this other prophet named John.
Wearing camel skins and eating locusts.
Preparing the way for the mightier one who will come after him.
And then, fade to black.
Mark leaves us in suspense until the next scene opens.
Maybe next week.
Or maybe the week after that.
Part of it, is perhaps to pique our interest.
Mark wants us to be so filled with eager anticipation that we can’t help but read it all the way through to the end.
And then, like any great story, to turn back to the beginning to see what we missed the first time around.
As a matter of fact, the Gospel of Mark moves so fast that you could do exactly that this afternoon—read all sixteen chapters—with time to spare before dinner.
But the real point is that this is exactly how Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came into the world.
In medias res.
In the middle of things.
Into the middle of human history.
The way Mark tells the story, this Jesus seems to come to us from out of nowhere, out of a nowhere town called Nazareth, from a nowhere place called Galilee.
The way Mark tells the story, it is almost as if we never would have noticed him, except that there is this prophet named John, prophesied by another prophet named Isaiah, preparing the way.
Jesus comes in medias res, in the middle of things.
Into the hustle and bustle of a holiday season that often doesn’t even remember the “reason for the season.”
Into the messiness of our everyday lives.
The stressful job.
Our frantic home life.
The days that turn to weeks that turn to years before we can even blink an eye.
Into all the brokenness and failure
all those things “we have done . . . and left undone”
that we want to gloss over with a red-and-green sweater and a smile.
Jesus Comes into the Middle of Our Lives to Stir Up Our Hearts to the Life That Only He Can Give.
To repent simply means “to turn” from one thing to another.
John is calling us to turn from whatever it is that is distracting us from the life that really matters in the middle of this hustle and bustle that will never slow down.
John is calling us to turn to the One whose shoes we are not worthy to tie, but who nonetheless came to stoop down to wash our feet.
The One who says:
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins.
The One who also says to us:
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
The One who would eventually give his all, his life into death on the cross, so that we might have eternal life.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:8)
But that’s jumping ahead, now isn’t it?
Into the middle of things (In Medias Res), the Lord comes to us.
What about at the end of things?
What about the end of our lives?
What are we to be about?
C.S. Lewis, from his book Mere Christianity, sheds some light on this:
When the author walks on to the stage the play is over.
God is going to invade, all right.
But what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe melting away like a dream and something else—something it never entered your head to conceive—comes crashing in; something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left?
For this time it will be God without disguise; something so overwhelming that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature.
It will be too late then to choose your side.
There is no use saying you choose to lie down when it has become impossible to stand up.
That will not be the time for choosing; it will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen, whether we realized it before or not.
Now, today, this moment, is our chance to choose [with the Spirit’s help] the right side.
God is holding back to give us that chance.
It will not last for ever.
We must [through the power of the Holy Spirit} take it or leave it. (C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity [New York: HarperCollins, 2011], 65)
The next scene in the “beginning of the gospel” according to Mark is about to start.
And I’m not just talking about Christmas morning.
When it does come, we will finally see this one—Jesus Christ, the Son of God—face-to-face.
Our Advent expectations hinge on the certain hope that just as Jesus Christ came into the world, he will come again.
And he will come then just as he came two thousand years ago and just as he comes to us now: in medias res, into the middle of things.
We don’t know when.
We don’t know how.
But he will come into the messiness of this world, into the messiness of our own lives.
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise.” And he will come again to bring forth “new heavens and a new earth” (2 Peter 3:9, 13).
I don’t know about you, but I can hardly wait to see what happens next.
Let us pray:
The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.