Mark 13:24-37 – November 30, 2014
by Rev. Sarah Colwill, (Communications Coordinator)
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.
27Then 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. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31Heaven 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. 33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34It 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. 35Therefore, 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, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.’
Week One Advent this year falls on the dreaded Sunday after Thanksgiving, a common frustration for American pastors. Not only can you not take the Sunday off (wait – you did?), but many of your congregants are skipping out, too. Nonetheless, there is a strong word to preach in this Mark passage, and at least some of your over-fed parishioners will be there Sunday to hear the Good News.
Lest we fall into the temptation of sentimentalizing this crucial, salvific, mind-boggling holiday we call Christmas, this lectionary text grabs us by the shoulders and shakes us awake from thinking that the four weeks leading up to Christmas are all about sanctuary decorations, error-free bulletins, and choral cantatas.
(Besides, we all know, the most important part of the Advent and Christmas Season is writing the perfect sermon. The staff at the Presbytery office is rooting for your success, and we hope these weekly Advent reflections on the upcoming gospel lectionary reading will spark a glimmer of the Holy Spirit in you as you prepare. Besides, we know it’s Friday, and you’re getting desperate.)
It has never bothered me that people shop a lot for Christmas. I don’t even care that stores are open on Thanksgiving. Go ahead! Shop your brains out! Buy me something while you’re at it! Something as trivial and superficial as buying more stuff that no one really needs is not threatening at all to the core of the Christmas message. Capitalism has nothing on the incarnation. This week’s lectionary passage is case in point.
This text in Mark comes across as daunting. If you read it like I do, there are loud exclamation points throughout the text.Beware! Keep alert! Like the Elf on the Shelf that taunts little children into being good, this passage reads like a warning label on our faith journey; a cautionary tale to keep us on our toes. How curious that the rest of our Advent readings have a different refrain – angels time and again telling us to not be afraid. Why so much fear here? Is Jesus just trying to get a rise out of us?
The sun and moon are darkened, stars are falling from heaven. The order of Creation is coming undone. “The earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep…” (Genesis 1:2a) We are returning to the chaos. Our world is disrupted at its core, and our sense and order of things is falling apart. Nothing is for sure anymore and our expectations are all going unmet. Our lives are falling apart and we don’t even know who we are anymore. What happened to order? Justice? Stability?
This description in verses 24-25 is not a far-off, apocalyptic tale akin to sci-fi books and fantasy sagas. This is a reality that most of us have faced; a reality that some people in your pews are facing right now. We don’t need low-grade action films to describe this scene in gory detail; we’ve experienced the awfulness of it first-hand. I’m not wasting words with examples, because you already have at least three in your mind. At least.
Now, for the Good News. God finds those awful, heart-broken places in our lives and chooses that place for the incarnation. God searches out the darkness in our souls that we cover up with high-profile professions and helping everyone else out, and lights the hope of Christ there. “Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory.” (v.27)
Then, then, when our world is disrupted at its core, then there is room for Christ to define and declare the sacred landscape of our lives. When our lives are shaken and the earth stops spinning, then we find that our only stability is God’s faithfulness.
This passage is not threatening; it’s hope in its most stripped down, naked form.
Into this Silent Night (Ann Weems)
Into this silent night as we make our weary way we know not where, just when the night becomes its darkest and we cannot see our path, just then is when the angels rush in, their hands full of stars.
Blessings as you preach the word that we all urgently need to hear.