When I wrote in this space on Christmas Eve I spoke of my morning walk that day. I told you then that my Monday-Friday wake-up time had me awake anyway that Saturday morning so I took my usual walk in spite of hoping I might sleep in a little. To tell you the truth though, that was only part of the reason I headed out at my usual time that morning. I also wanted to see the Christmas Countdown Clock one more time.
For you see, every morning in December as I made my way down Somonauk Street in Sycamore I would come upon it. It is a plastic snowman holding a digital clock, standing next to the manger scene on a neighbor’s front yard. In the early morning darkness you could just make out the wooden cutouts of the Peanuts Gang heralding the Christmas tree on the other side of the sidewalk, but this snowman was clearly placed next to the manger scene for a reason. The countdown was to this: this birth which would change the world.
And so it was that I watched it countdown through December…. From 25 days to 18 to 7 to 1 and on Christmas Eve somehow I didn’t want to miss seeing it count down to zero (with some 18 or 19 hours left to be sure.) And sure enough as I came upon it there it was as I expected it. And this is the truth: I couldn’t help myself. Even at the age of 50 I felt a deep sense of gladness and anticipation to see those numbers wane.
And yet I wondered then what would happen next . I wasn’t standing vigil as the calendar turned from the 24th to the 25th so I didn’t see all the numbers go to zero. Perhaps the owners of the house, of the plastic snowman and its Christmas Countdown clock, stood outside in the December chill at midnight a week ago to watch, I don’t know. But I wondered if they would unplug it then, take it down, put it away for another season only to be brought out another year to entertain passersby like me. I got my answer a few days later when I took that walk again.
For there it was in the dark of early morning. The Peanuts Gang was still heralding the Christmas tree. The baby Jesus still lay in the manger with plastic sheep and ox and Mary and Joseph standing nearby. And the snowman holding its clock still stood there, too. And it was still plugged in. And the numbers now were flashing red 00.00.00.00!!! as they had clearly been doing for several days. It was as if it was telling me to pay attention. To not forget. To remember that even though this stretch of waiting had now passed, the story is not over yet.
And so it is now that we come to the Baptism of our Lord. It falls for us here at the very beginning of Mark’s Gospel — as if the writer, too, is reminding us to pay attention: that what is said first matters. And this is what is ours to hear…
Jesus is the One who was foretold. God’s people had been watching and waiting for a Savior for as long as anyone could remember. And we get hints of this right here for we hear, of course, about John the Baptist pointing the way to Jesus as One of power unlike anyone who’s been experienced before. To be sure, we know John is a prophet by his wardrobe and his choice of diet for that alone parallels that of the prophet Elijah (see 1 Kings 1:8). We know it even more so by the message he shares: calling people to account as prophets have always done. Pointing to another way that God intends. Only while other such prophets may have spoken of One who would one day surely come, today John finds himself in the very presence of that One.
So the writer of Mark’s Gospel is telling us to pay attention here as he puts this story first. And John is surely telling us to pay attention to what comes next. And then, we’re told, that the whole universe is telling us to sit up and take notice, too. For while we hear that only Jesus saw and heard it, the story goes that the very heavens were ripped open and that God’s voice was heard to say, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
Like a flashing red Christmas Countdown clock I’m reminded to pay attention. This is the One who was waited for for generations. This is the One sent from God. This is the one who is God’s own much loved Son. This is the One. Pay attention. The story didn’t end at midnight Christmas Eve. It continues for all of us and for all the world. Pay attention. Amen.
- What stands out for you in this familiar story. Why?
- What are the details of the Christmas Story that still stay with you these weeks later? What is it about the Gift of Christmas that matters now in January? To what are you still called to ‘pay attention?’
- Why is it that we only countdown to Christmas? What might it look like if we were to pay more attention to other important markers or moments in the life of Jesus?