Preparing for the Unknown

“Preparing for the Unknown” 
Mark 13: 24-37
Sunday, December 3, 2017
Rev. Mark M. Vickers
St. Timothy’s UMC
First Sunday in Advent


Mark 13:24-37New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The Coming of the Son of Man

24 “But 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.

The Lesson of the Fig Tree

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[a] 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.

The Necessity for Watchfulness

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;[b] 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.”


     (Alarm Clock Sounds) 

I’m guessing that most of us in this congregation do not like to be awakened abruptly!  We want to ease in to the day, the morning with a gentle roll-over in bed, a cup of coffee, waking up with your children or animals, either choice, a nice easy move into the newness of the day. 

We don’t get this in our 1st Advent Gospel text this morning. A text that takes us eventually to the birth of the Christ child, but begins by a journey through the cosmos.  One commentator puts it this way, “Those who assigned the lectionary texts for Advent for this year seem to have been following the advice of epic movie director Cecil B. De Mille when he said, ‘Start with an earthquake, then build to a climax’.  We get the alarm, we get the command to “keep awake,” don't even rest. Be on the lookout for, in this case, Jesus’ return. 

This is not the traditional Advent passage that most of us want to hear. We would rather be leisurely brought into the Advent season with the anticipation and the glamour of a new born baby. The soft cuddly type that was wrapped in swaddling clothes. Even though born in a manger stall, the essence of a new born baby brings excitement and joy into our lives. This is the message of Advent, but the Gospel writer of Mark challenges us with an understanding that Advent truly has two parts; Jesus’ birth and Jesus’ second coming, his return to gather the saints.  

I always hold a bit of fear and trepidation when we approach Advent. The beginning of the new church year, the winding up of the fiscal year. One friend of mine says that the church has sped up the rhythm of the world, with programs now in full gear, from youth groups to adult studies and festive events, and now the sudden rush of Advent.” However, let us be clear that while the world’s busyness may seem to be pointed toward Christmas, it is seldom pointed toward the coming Christ child. This, my friends, as the church we must take seriously.  

For many of us, this is not “the most wonderful time of the year.” Grief may overwhelm us at times, loneliness, the change of traditions, the change of venues all affect the way in which we understand the season. In the Gospel of Mark this morning we have anything but a “wonderful time” Advent passage. Yet, in the midst of this passage it speaks well to what we need to do during our hurried and busy Advent season. It’s interesting that in the text this morning we are told to really “keep alert,” to be “busy about Jesus.” For Mark and his Gospel the message resounds that Christians have no time to relax or better yet, “let their guard down,” especially during both Advents!  

We typically spend a great deal of time “waiting” during the Advent season. Waiting is not bad, but we must understand that the biblical interpretation of ‘waiting’ is not sitting in the recliner watching your favorite Christmas movie, and simply waiting passively on December 25th! For Mark and most of the Gospel writers, ‘waiting’ is an active movement that we are told to engage in. We are told to “be aware” during the Advent.  When was the last time you watched “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and were aware?  

I watched the other night and I was quite aware that this is a very entertaining Christmas program and in the midst of it, comes the powerful message of Christ Jesus being born! If you watch it closely and pay attention, you will notice that when Linus steps forward to explain the meaning of Christmas to Charlie Brown, at the moment he proclaims the word “Savior” and he drops his blanket!  It is the only time in Peanuts history that he is seen to have let go of his blanket. It was Charles Shultz, the creator of Peanuts, that demanded this story be placed in the show. I think Charles Shultz knew what it meant to “be aware.”  

In the midst of our busyness in “the church” we have to be aware. It’s not like we aren’t busy enough, but Mark in his gospel tells us through the parables of the fig tree that we need to be busy for Jesus!  Lilian Daniel, in her commentary on Mark reminds us “that during the holidays, secularly and sacredly, nobody needs to tell us to “keep awake.’” She says, “it strikes me this may instead be the season to pass out the sleeping pills or the chamomile tea, to a revved-up, over caffeinated culture of busy-ness.” 

We note that there is a time of passive and active waiting. For Mark it is the time of active waiting. It is a time that we become keenly aware of expecting Jesus the Christ to be present here in our own messed up lives, right now.  

In contrast of “working through Advent” there is a huge road block for us as 21st Century Christians.  What are we waiting on? We know that Christmas will come on December 25th, so what is the real purpose of Advent? 

I put before you this morning that the real purpose of Advent as played out in Mark’s Gospel is to be in active participation with a world that has forgotten the real “reason for the season” so to speak. To engage with a world that has put up Christmas decorations since the day after Halloween, played Christmas Carols since the week prior to Thanksgiving and is totally “out of whack” when it comes to waiting on the birth of Jesus.  

Even in the references to Jesus’ second coming (The Second Advent) in Mark’s Gospel, the inference of focus on waiting for Jesus is highly emphasized.  If we take this notion and put it “in play” for our Advent of Christ’s birth, how would it work?  Sure, we know that Christmas Day will be December 25th, but what if we put this to the side and focused simply on “the coming of Christ” for the next four weeks. New Testament professor Mark Allan Powell suggests this; “In today’s church, many Christians seem to think, ‘Since the time of Jesus’ coming cannot be known, we need not think much about it.’  Mark draws the opposite conclusion: since the timing is unknown, we should think about it all the time!”  

Let me put this before you this morning as we begin our Advent journey, think about Jesus’ coming “all the time!” Think about His birth, “all the time.”  For I guarantee you, if you do, December 25th will be a new day for you.