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Skipping Christmas

We may skip Christmas but we dare not skip Christ.


“Always winter, but never Christmas.” That memorable line comes to us from C. S. Lewis’ beloved children’s classic The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. For me, there are no words that better describe this season in our world’s history than those. “Always winter, but never Christmas.”

It was just last winter in China that the White Witch first cast her spell that still has us in its grip. Under gray skies she introduced a microscopic virus into our atmosphere that spread around the globe as rapidly as fingers of frost across a January window pane. Before long, people the world over were confined indoors, schools closed, and economies froze.

Even after the calendar’s pages flipped from spring to summer, there was still a chill in our nation’s air from social unrest, wildfires, hurricanes, and a rancorous presidential race. Summer gave way to fall. The leaves turned. They now wait in trash bags at the curb to be hauled off by our municipalities’ sanitation trucks. The year-end holidays are again upon us, but it doesn’t seem very much like Christmas.

“Let’s skip Christmas this year.” That’s the title of a song by Rodney Crowell that came out a couple years ago. Listen to these lyrics. They sound almost prophetic now:

We’ll tell our family and friends

That we still love them a ton.

But we've just taken ill,

And we won't be much fun.

We're contagious, we fear.

Can't you imagine their sneer

If we skip Christmas this year?

New York Times best-selling author John Grisham once wrote a little book titled Skipping Christmas. It was later made into a movie called “Christmas with the Kranks,” starring Tim Allen as Luther, and Jamie Lee Curtis as his wife Nora. After dropping off their daughter Paige at the airport the Sunday after Thanksgiving for a year-long Peace Corps assignment, Luther and Nora trudged back home. Nora was nostalgic over Christmases past, while Luther was fuming over all the hustle-and-bustle and costs and demands of their annual Christmas rituals. Then he had an idea. Luther proposed that they just skip Christmas and go on a cruise instead. It takes a while, but Nora gradually warms up to the idea.

Their neighbors, though, don’t take kindly to the Kranks’ decision not to decorate their house that year, as it will likely cost them the prize for the best decorated block in the city. Their local charities aren’t happy. The local Boy Scout troop is upset over the Kranks’ refusal to purchase a Christmas tree; the police are angered when they won’t buy a calendar; the firemen are mad that they won’t be buying a fruitcake; and the guy who sells them their stationery is upset when he loses their annual order of engraved greeting cards. Poor Luther and Nora find themselves the objects of everyone’s derision and can’t wait to get out of town.

John Mark, who wrote the second book in our New Testament, could have identified with how the Kranks felt. His decision not to include the story of Jesus’ birth in his Gospel cost him dearly. It may partially explain why so few complete manuscripts of his work survive from the first eight centuries. His omission is certainly the reason his Gospel is rarely read this time of the year. Some folks wonder whether Mark was aware of the events surrounding Jesus’ birth. Skeptics take his silence on the subject as evidence that he didn’t believe in Jesus’ miraculous conception.

Let’s take a walk around Mark’s block. Let’s think about his decision to skip the very first Christmas. And let’s see what we might learn from it.

Mark’s Bare Front Lawn

The New Testament is made up of five blocks of books—the Gospels, Acts, Paul’s letters, the General letters, and Revelation. There are four books on the Gospels block, four houses if you will. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are close neighbors who live on one side of the street. John lives on the other.

Strolling down this block, you can’t help but notice Mark’s bare front lawn. Listen to how his Gospel opens: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” That’s it. Nothing more. And when Jesus makes his first appearance in verse 9, he’s already a full-grown adult!

Now, look to the left of Mark’s Gospel. There sits Matthew. His front lawn is a Christmas wonderland! Down by the road, there’s an elaborate genealogy that presents Jesus as a descendant of King David and Abraham, among other famous and a couple notorious figures of Jewish history. Already Matthew is preparing us for when we step inside his Gospel and he’ll present Jesus as a better king than David and a better teacher than Moses.

Further up in the yard, we spot a bewildered Joseph, trying to make sense of his fiancé’s bizarre pregnancy and his subsequent angelic dream. Beyond him, we see wise men coming to worship and carrying gifts fit for a king. There’s Herod acting badly, a hasty flight to Egypt, and a final resettling in Nazareth. Over loudspeakers placed all around the yard, Matthew plays not music but spoken-word tracks. The words come from the Old Testament. They remind us that everything we’re seeing unfold was done in fulfillment of prophecy. It’s all so official-looking, orchestrated, and royal—sort of like watching Buckingham Palace prepare for the arrival of her newborn prince. You can’t help but be impressed!

Over on the other side of Mark’s lot, sits Luke’s. His front lawn is filled with a wide array of characters—both well-known and unknown, rich and poor, the powerful and powerless. At the gate is a sign that reads “for Theophilus.” Just beyond is an old couple who’d given up on having kids, now looking proudly into the face of their newborn son John. There’s a girl in her early teens showing the first signs of a shameful pregnancy.

Further up the sidewalk, we see that same girl again, ready to give birth at any moment. She’s on the back of a beast being led by that same bewildered man from over in Matthew’s Gospel.

Under a tree that’s doubling as a cave, there’s a nativity scene with manger, animals, shepherds, and, of course, Joseph, Mary, and her babe. Over Luke’s loudspeakers, we hear songs. They’re sung by Mary, Zechariah, and an angelic host. The humanity of it all is inescapable, and it is breathtaking!

Speaking of breathtaking, just look across the street to John’s front lawn. How does one even begin to put into words the display that he’s put up? Let’s just call it abstract art at its finest. In it we see traces of Genesis and God’s first creation. There’s light, and there’s life. In the midst of it all, there’s the “Word [that] became flesh and dwelt among us.” No loudspeakers here, but just enough imagery to cause you to want to stand in silent awe to ponder what it all means.

Meanwhile, back across the street, on Mark’s front lawn … crickets. No Mary. No Joseph. No baby Jesus. Nothing.

Inside Mark’s Walls

But let’s step up and peer through Mark’s living room window. Snapshots from Jesus’ ministry taken by his apostle Peter hang everywhere. Here in Mark 1 alone we see pics of John baptizing Jesus in the Jordan River, Jesus being tempted in the wilderness, Jesus preaching his first sermon, Jesus calling his first disciples, Jesus healing a man with an unclean spirit at the synagogue in Capernaum, Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law, Jesus healing the sick and casting out demons from all the people that showed up outside the doors of Peter’s house, Jesus preaching in Galilee, and Jesus healing a leper. It’s Jesus, Jesus, Jesus everywhere! And that’s just in chapter 1!

As you stand and stare at all those snapshots, a certain image of Jesus begins to emerge. It’s the image of a Messiah who was anticipated but not expected.

Before Jesus shows up requesting John’s baptism, John had told everyone who’d listen, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit (vv. 7-8).” Those were hopeful words to every Jew who heard them. They were tired of living under Rome’s boot. They looked forward to the coming of their long-ago promised Messiah, their “anointed one.” A “mighty” Messiah surely sounded good to them!

But what about that part concerning a baptism with the Holy Spirt? Did they catch that? I wonder, were any of them struck by how John’s clothing was nearly identical to that of Elijah as described in 2 Kings 1:8? Did they make the connection between John and Elijah as the Messiah’s herald before the Day of the Lord (Mal. 3:1, 4:5-6)? Did they realize that their Messiah was coming to them first as prophet and priest before returning as their conquering king? I don’t think so. Jesus wasn’t the kind of Messiah that most of them expected. That’s why they called out for his crucifixion three years later.

You can mark it down. God will always keep his promises, sooner or later. You should live in anticipation of those times when he’ll do just that. But be warned, his fulfillments aren’t always what you’d expect. The Jesus that emerges in Mark’s Gospel is anticipated but not expected.

He’s mysterious but not unknowable. When he appears to be baptized in Mark 1, it’s as if he steps out of thin air. When he comes up out of the water, the heavens open, the Spirit descends, and God’s voice is heard. Then, as quickly as Jesus appeared, he disappears into the wilderness—the Spirit driving him to a place where wild animals await and Satan himself lurks ready to tempt. Demons recognized him, but he commanded them to stay silent. He healed folks then told them not to go blabbing about it. He’d go off by himself, leaving his disciples to search for him. He was a mysterious man, but not unknowable. He invited fishermen to leave their nets and become his disciples. Crowds thronged him. He shunned no one, not even an unclean leper.

Personally, I find dogs and children to be pretty good judges of character. I don’t know if dogs followed Jesus, but Mark 10:13-16 pictures him surrounded by children. Yes, Jesus was in many ways a mysterious man, but he wasn’t unknowable then, nor is he unknowable today. Those that come to him, he will by no means cast out (John 6:37).

Something else about Jesus that emerges from these snapshots in Mark 1 is that he’s authoritative but not without sympathy. The crowds marveled at the authority with which he taught. Demons departed and diseases dried up at his command. Peter, Andrew, James, and John, hardened fishermen, immediately and with remarkable meekness obeyed his call to leave family, servants, and nets to follow him. And yet, he took Peter’s mother-in-law gently by the hand and lifted her up. He extended his hand in pity to touch the leper, and he was instantly healed.

Who can read this chapter about Jesus resisting Satan’s temptations, speaking with authority, and acting in mercy without recalling Hebrews 4:15-16? “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

The Pictures on Mark’s Mantle

Studying these pictures on Mark’s living room walls, it’s obvious that he was far more concerned with why Jesus came than how. And yet, there are a couple snapshots on the mantle you shouldn’t overlook. The first one may answer the skeptic who takes Mark’s bare front lawn, his silence on the events surrounding Jesus’ birth, as evidence of either his ignorance of these things or his disbelief.

It’s a picture found in Mark 6:1-3. Jesus is teaching in his hometown’s synagogue. His listeners are astonished by what they’re hearing. They whisper to one another, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” Did you catch it? “The son of Mary.” Why not the son of Joseph? Was it because Joseph was already dead? To call Jesus the son of Mary was highly unusual, to say the least. Perhaps they did say “son of Joseph,” but Mark changed it to “son of Mary” because he knew something they didn’t. Who knows? Who can say for sure?

The second picture is found in Mark 10:45. Jesus is talking to his disciples on his way to Jerusalem where he’ll soon be arrested, tried, scourged, and crucified. He says, speaking of himself in third person, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” This saying follows on the heels of his third Passion Prediction (found in 8:31; 9:31; and 10:33-34). Here Jesus is doing what no one before him had thought to do. He’s fusing the two Old Testament images of Isaiah’s Servant who suffers and Daniel’s Son of Man who reigns. He is teaching that he came first to suffer for our sins but will afterward rise to take his throne.

The only way Jesus could suffer for us was to become one of us. So, while Mark doesn’t go into the details of how Jesus became one of us, he spends a third of his Gospel detailing how he suffered for us. Mark skipped Christmas, but he didn’t skip why Christ came.


A Gallup poll taken back in October asked Americans to predict how much they’ll spend on Christmas gifts this year. The average came out to $805. That’s down from $942 in 2019, down from $885 in 2018, and down from $906 in 2017. You have to go back to 2016 to find a figure lower than $805. It was $785 that year.

You can understand that, can’t you? Most of us probably plan on getting by with less this year. Spending less. Attending less parties. Visiting family less. Doing everything less. It’s just that kind of year—an “all winter but no Christmas” kind of year, but what can you do about it?

You could, like Nora Krank, look wistfully to the past and get nostalgic over all those Christmases from years gone by, making yourself feel guilty and miserable in the process. Or, you could try taking a page from Luther’s playbook and forget about Christmas. Engage in a little escapism, indulge yourself, and don’t worry about anyone but you.

Or, you could go for a walk past Mark’s Gospel with its bare front yard and peer through his windows. There you’ll be reminded again that it really isn’t about how Jesus came or how his birth was received but why he came. When you celebrate Christmas with Mark, he’ll teach you that it’s okay to skip Christmas, but you dare not skip Christ.

You can skip Elizabeth, Zechariah, and their baby John too.

You can skip Mary, Joseph, and the inn-keeper.

You can skip the shepherds, the angels, and the manger.

You can skip the star, the wise men, and wicked King Herod.

You can skip the gold, the frankincense, and the myrrh.

You can skip it all.

You can skip “Silent Night,” “O Holy Night,” and “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.”

You can skip the Christmas cantata, singing Christmas tree, and the Christmas potluck fellowships.

You can skip the traditions, the presents, and the stockings hung by the chimney with care.

You can skip Santa, Rudolph, and Frosty too.

You can skip it all. It wouldn’t be a sin. But you must not, you dare not, skip Christ.

How he came was a miracle. Why he came was mercy.

How he came was under a star. Why he came was to bear our sins.

How he came is a matter of history. Why he came is bound up in prophecy.

It really isn’t so much about how Jesus came but why. Matthew and Luke will gladly tell you how he came. Mark is anxious to tell you why. So go ahead, skip Christmas if you must, but for your soul’s sake, don’t skip Jesus.

Gregory Hollifield is the Associate Dean at Memphis College of Urban and Theological Studies at Union University and Book Reviews Editor for the Journal of the Evangelical Homiletics Society.

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