November 29, 2020 First Sunday in Advent The text is Mark 13:24-37
[Jesus said:] 24 “In those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. 28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Over the last several Sundays we have heard Jesus telling the disciples and the crowds what the coming kingdom of God will be like. And this morning he tells us just what to expect when the time comes. He also makes it a point to affirm that not even he knows when the kingdom will be brought forth.
The parables we have been reading concerning the kingdom metaphors have been from Matthew’s Gospel. With this morning signaling the beginning of the new liturgical year in the church we now encounter Jesus proclaiming the signs of the coming kingdom through Mark’s writings. And Jesus’ bold prediction didn’t simply arise in the midst of casual conversation. We just happen to find ourselves hearing Jesus speak to his inner circle at this particular point in the parable, which is part of a much longer dissertation. In the chapters preceding this morning’s warning from Jesus, he has been confronting the Pharisees, telling other parables, and has just prior come out from the temple; where he had been teaching and preaching. The description of the Second Coming he gives this morning was in answer to a question posed by some of his inner circle of followers. They had been marveling at the grandeur of the temple itself, its enormity and the structure and foundational stability of the huge stones with which it was built. Jesus responds by telling them that as substantial as it seems, that it will all come tumbling down. Then he expands on this with the verses we read this morning, with more explanations detailing all that will transpire before the kingdom is realized.
Now, this proclamation went far beyond the announcement that a large building would be destroyed. The temple in Jerusalem was the center of Jewish faith, culture, tradition and worship. Our Jewish ancestors held the belief that God took up residence in the temple and God’s presence and glory dwelled within its Holy of Holies. The very thought of this loss of the temple ever happening would be the most destructive thing that could befall the ancient Israelites. In fact, when the temple was eventually destroyed by the Romans about 30 years after Jesus’ pronouncement, it was devastating to the Jewish people. This loss of God’s house was the catalyst responsible for the diaspora, the eventual dispersion of the Jewish people from their ancestral homeland. Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of the temple would represent the greatest loss imaginable to his fellow Jews.
Just think, the loss of the building that was central to their faith would have wreaked havoc in their lives. Jesus chose this metaphor to illustrate that the kingdom of heaven wasn’t dependent on the temple, the building that represented God’s earthly abode. But his intent was to impress on his listeners that all would be made well in time, God’s kingdom will prevail. The main issue is, however, that no one knows when that time will be. And that would prove extremely challenging for our ancestors, finding themselves unable to make use of their house of worship. And doesn’t that sound familiar?
Today, temples, mosques, and churches have been rendered underutilized, underoccupied, and in many cases shuttered; due to the impact of the virus. We have been blessed to be able to safely gather together in worship; but if the situation dictates, we too may be forced to abandon our building for a time and worship remotely. And we also would find ourselves waiting for the time when we might gather together again. As it is, a good portion of our worship is quite different from what it once was. The body and blood of Christ are to be found in pre-filled cups, the peace is shared without handshakes or hugs, and perhaps most importantly as Lutherans, we have been denied our beloved coffee hour!
But we remain faithful, we acknowledge what Jesus told the disciples. The difficult times will pass and God will restore the kingdom. But for us, just like our ancestors the waiting is difficult; for we also do not know when things will happen, when we will be able to return to what gives us familiarity and brings us peace. The best we can do is to remain alert, prepared, and actively engaged in the Gospel. I remember a bumper sticker from some years ago; it read, “Jesus is Coming, Look Busy!” I know that this was intended to be humorous and is perhaps a tiny bit inappropriate. But the admonition from Jesus to the disciples, and to us as we wait for the changes to come might be summed up in a small revision to this slogan. How about, “Jesus is Coming, BE Busy “? BE engaged in the work that must be done to ensure that all God’s children are beneficiaries of the love, mercy, and grace that God provides through Christ. BE ambassadors who bring the gospel message to others. BE the strong ones that others may take refuge in. BE people whose lives and actions portray out faith.
This Advent season particularly calls us to adopt an intentional way of waiting. Of waiting with anticipation of the joy that is to come, for the arrival of a newborn baby sleeping in a feeding trough. Of waiting with expectant hearts for the One who is the Savior of the world. Of waiting with a sense of wonder, as we acknowledge that we have been redeemed in spite of our sin; perhaps because of it. Of waiting with confidence because we know how the story ends. Of waiting with a sense of BE-ing the children of God that we are blessed to be. Of waiting in hope; the hope of promises to be fulfilled. Webster defines “hope” as: ‘a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen’. When we combine our hope with our faith and our trust, we are assured that in the short-term and in the unknown, distant future, God’s kingdom will prevail, on earth as it is in heaven.
And as we trust, have faith, and hope, we must remember that we must BE. BE alert, BE awake, BE prepared; for the Christ who is already here is coming soon. And we do not know the time when he will come. But we must BE.
David writes this in Psalm 46, to remind us that God encourages, strengthens, and comforts us. I invite you to close your eyes and hear these words of assurance as we wait:
“Be still and know that I am God”. “Be still and know”. “Be still”. “BE”.
God is Good, all the time. All the time, God is Good. Amen.