Among the Gospels, Mark offers the shortest Advent reflection of all—a mere three verses in his opening:
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the son of God. As it stands written in Isaiah, the prophet: “Look, I am sending my messenger before your face who will prepare your way, (Malachi 3:1), a voice crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’” (Isaiah 40:3)
Mark cites two passages from the Old Testament together—a common way of interpreting Scripture at the time called gezerah sheva—because the words originate from one author—God. But he also learned from Jesus (see Mark 12:35–37) to hear Scripture as a Trinitarian conversation between the Father and Son prior to the Incarnation that the Holy Spirit allowed prophets to hear and record—in this case, Isaiah and Malachi. John communicates some of this mystery when he presents the Word (the son of God) as “beside God” (the Father) before creation (1:1–3).
A Messenger to Prepare the Way
In the first quotation, the Father says to the son, “Look, I am sending my messenger (John the Baptist) before your face . . .” Malachi is the final Old Testament prophet through whom God promised to send Elijah back to the people for a final opportunity to repent after the Babylonian Exile; Mark then portrays the Baptist in Elijah’s dress (1:6); and from this conversation, Jesus can explain to his disciples, “Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased” (9:13), referring to John’s beheading (6:14–29).
The End of Exile
In the second quotation, the Father celebrates the mystery of the Trinity by referring to the son as Lord, the God of Israel, commanding the Baptist and—ultimately the people—through Isaiah: Prepare the way of the Lord. God is about to end the Exile through a new Exodus into a final Paradise and Temple, the crucified yet resurrected body of Christ in whom we are united through repentance and faith.
The Way to Resurrection and Glory
Advent for Mark is the son of God coming in the way of suffering and death before resurrection and glory. There is no glory before the cross. Instead of catering to our disordered will, which led to death and separation from God, Jesus has come to show and make possible through his atoning death and the gift of the Holy Spirit a life ordered according to the will of the Father, a path of repentance and faith that is ideal for Christmas in a Pandemic—when circumstance disallows us from doing what we want. In Christ, we are no longer in Exile but still very much on the way.
John DelHousaye (Ph.D.) serves as Professor of New Testament & Spiritual Formation at Phoenix Seminary. His research and publications focus on Jesus, the gospels, the restorative and reconciling ministry of the Triune God, and great disciples throughout church history. Dr. DelHousaye serves as an Elder at Redemption Alhambra in Phoenix.