“In the Middle”
Advent 2, December 6, 2020
In the Middle
Text: Mark 1:1–8
OK. No secret I was a Radio, TV, Film major in college. I have mentioned that to you before. I have taken the classes necessary that I could be the next Roger Ebert. I can throw terms around like “Key Grip,” “Aspect Ratio,” and “Mise En Scene.”
And there are things I notice that maybe you miss. I notice that streets are often sprayed with water to make them shiny in night shoots, and yet the cars on the street are dry. I have noticed how often in shows and movies you will see a shot of someone driving a car when SUDDENLY, they get hit by another car from the side. And have you noticed how often episodes of TV shows begin with something going on and you are all confused, and then the screen will say: “24 hours earlier” or some such thing?
So many stories and scripts start with a dramatic technique called (from the classical Latin) IN MEDIAS RES, meaning simply “into the middle of things.” You start in the middle of the story, and the roller coaster ride begins. As a matter of fact, one of the most famous stories that is popular 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 an even more famous holiday 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 that now famous moment on a bridge on Christmas Eve. And then everything that happens afterward.
Now, that is not how we normally think of time. We think of our lives—and all of history, really—in narrative terms: beginning, middle, end. That’s how we make sense of time and our place in it. All the stories, movies and episodes that start “in the middle of things” mess with our sense of how a story should go. This is why that technique works. It gets us thinking.
Now why are we talking about this today? Here is why. The exact same thing is true of the beginning of the Gospel of Mark, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (v 1). The Gospel of Mark begins in the middle of Jesus’ life story. For one thing, it starts with a sentence fragment, almost as if we came in somewhere in the middle of a conversation.
Another way we see the IN MEDIAS RES is that Mark doesn’t have any of our favorite stories for this time of year. No nativity (that’s Luke). No Wise Men (that’s Matthew). No big speech about the Word made flesh (that’s John). Mark simply begins in the middle of a sentence, and then immediately flashes back 600 hundred years to a prophet named Isaiah. Only to zoom forward again, when Jesus is 30 years old, to land us in the wilderness with this other prophet named John. Preaching repentance. 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.
Now why would Mark do this, drop us into the middle of the story only to leave us hanging? Part of it, I’m sure, is to get us interested. Mark wants us to be so filled with anticipation that we can’t help but read it all the way through to the end. 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 plenty of 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 it, this Jesus seems to have come to us from out of nowhere, born in a little place called Bethlehem, coming out of a nowhere town called Nazareth, from a nowhere region called Galilee. Jesus came to Bethlehem, in the middle of things. The way Mark tells it, this Jesus seems to come to us from out of nowhere. The way Mark tells it, we never would have noticed Him, except that there is this prophet named John, prophesied by another prophet named Isaiah, preparing the way.
Well, this is exactly how Jesus Christ, the Son of God, comes into our own lives. Jesus comes in medias res, in the middle of things. One of the things our conversation here reminds us of is that Jesus comes here, now, into the hustle and bustle of a holiday season where folks often don’t even remember the “reason for the season.” He comes to us 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. We are also reminded that Jesus comes into all the brokenness and failure—all those things “we have done . . . and left undone”—that we want to gloss over with an ugly Christmas sweater and a smile. (All those things we want to forget, all of those things that put hurt and pain and anguish in here.) Jesus Comes into the Middle of Our Lives to Stir Up Our Hearts to the Life That Only He Can Give.
Well, John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus to enter our lives by proclaiming “repentance for the forgiveness of sin” (v 4). We will be talking about this guy more next week. 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 in this life, in this hustle and bustle that will never slow down, and to turn to what really matters. 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 feet. John is calling us to turn to The One who speaks comfort to all his people (Is 40:1–2). John is calling us to turn to The One who is patient toward us. John is calling us to turn to The One who would eventually give His all, His life into death on the cross and then back to life and resurrection, so that we would have eternal life.
But there is more to this. The Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, does not end in chapter 16 of Mark. There is more. I am talking about the LAST time He comes. This part of the Book isn’t written yet. When that day does come, we will finally see 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 in Bethlehem, and just as He comes to us today in His Word and Sacraments, He will come again. (3 Advents) And He will come then just as He came two thousand years ago and just as He comes to us now: in medias res, in the middle of things. We don’t know when. We don’t know how, exactly. But He will come into the messiness of this world, into the messiness of the lives of the people who are here then. And He will come again to bring us/the saints into the “new heavens and a new earth” (2 Pet 3:9, 13). I don’t know about you, but I can hardly wait to see what happens next, what happens then. Because we know that this story, you and me, this story is going to have a happy ending.
In the Name of Jesus.