13:24 “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,
13:25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
13:26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.
13:27 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.
13:28 “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.
13:29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.
13:30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.
13:31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
13:32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
13:33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.
13:34 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.
13:35 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,
13:36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.
13:37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Before I preach, I want to say thank you to all those who helped prepare and serve at Room in the Inn last night. Your hospitality, good cooking, and ministry presence made for a great evening demonstrating what the reign of God looks like. This morning when I was driving the guys back to the Campus For Human Development, several remarks were made about how good the food was. In addition, the guys remarked that they really appreciated how you took time to have conversation with them last evening. They say this because not every church they go to will congregants engage them in establishing a relationship. Sometimes food is served and congregants keep their distance from the guests. That’s not the case here and it’s so meaningful to provide the guys with the dignity of a conversation among equals.
I’m incredibly proud to be your pastor and it made my heart sing to see so many of you here last night to share relationships with our guests. Keep up that good work!
Today we mark the start of the Christian year, the first Sunday in Advent, the season of becoming expectant that the reign of God comes into the world in the Christ child. Our worship life will culminate later this month in Christmas eve services on that Sunday morning at 10:30am and then at 10:45pm that night with our well-known bluegrass Christmas band. If you’re in town, it’s surely a service you want to attend, inviting family and friends to attend with you.
For lectionary preachers and churches that follow the three year cycle of readings, we have a dose of apocalyptic readings on the first Sunday of Advent every year. And by apocalyptic texts or literature, I mean stories like the Revelation of John, the Book of Daniel, and some teachings of Jesus in which, hearers and readers are given a glimpse of the reign of God and the culmination of God’s judgment of creation. Apocalyptic literature discloses or reveals that which is normally hidden. The imagery is often a bit harsher than what we’re accustomed to hearing in Jesus’ teachings or Old Testament stories about the Israelites on the move. And that’s often because the authoring community is trying to make sense of a cataclysmic event that has marked the end of their world as they know it.
How does a storyteller make meaning for folks who have been trampled underfoot by an oppressive regime? How does a teacher make meaning for her students when they share a collective communal grief? How does a community look past its own present suffering that functions like blinders on a horse? In all of these situations, stories, metaphors, and imagery help us look to a future or to an existence that is different than the one we currently have.
We have to remember that the gospel storytellers live under Roman rule-and this is generally not a welcome thing, except for the few who profit from collusion with Rome. This experience of foreign occupation was not new to the Jews living in Jerusalem during Jesus’ life. Several decades before, Greek occupiers had ruled over the region of Judea. Antiochus Ephiphanes outlawed Jewish cultural and religious observances, even erecting a statue of Zeus in the Second Temple of Jerusalem where pigs could be sacrificed. In the book of Daniel, this event is seen as the abomination of desolation. Nothing more unholy could have been conducted in the House of God for the Jewish people. That event is the catalyst for the Maccabean Revolt.
Violent or harsh imagery in which the order of the world is made right once it has been disrupted is how oppressed people hold out or act toward a new reality. So this is where we find ourself with this morning’s gospel reading, the little apocalypse of Mark as the 13th chapter is known. The gospel storyteller places this apocalyptic language into the mouth of Jesus to give a vision and hope to the people living in the wake of the Temple’s destruction. Rome destroys Jerusalem in 70 A.D., roughly 40 years after Jesus’ ministry and crucifixion. Mark is helping his folks make meaning of the Temple’s destruction by Rome by offering anticipatory urgency for the coming of the Son of Man. Keep alert, keep awake, and look for the presence of God breaking in through the thin places (even as suffering is rife).
This is not an end time text predicting a rapture, earthquakes, an anti-Christ, and the like. This is a soothing story for a community heartbroken, oppressed, and severely lacking hope having seen the house of God on Earth brought down into a pile of rubble. If you keep holding on and searching, the reign of God will come soon enough. And when it does, all will be made well. That’s a hopeful word to a hope hungry world.
I’m not sure that our present communal life here together has any experiences that are remotely close to the textured history in which Rome sacks the religious and cultural center of ancient Judaism. Our world has not come to an end as we know it-our communal existence in middle Tennessee is fairly stable, free, and lacking in the destruction that buries folks physically and spiritually with trauma. If we pause, look, and consider, we will easily find folks who on this first Sunday of Advent are praying something like this ancient prayer: Come Lord Jesus. Their world has been torn to pieces this year, maybe even just this past week. Their life will never be the same, the way forward doesn’t seem like a way at all, and their wounds are so deep that even shallow breathing is crushing.
A family has received news of that dreaded ‘c’ word. The foundations of the earth shook. A mosque was bombed in Egypt leaving hundreds dead on Friday. The clouds were torn apart and God wept. Refugees this morning in places of employment, in apartment living rooms, and in worshipping communities of faith wonder in the back of their mind, can we ever go back home? Is there even a home back there anymore among the rubble? Even the sun and the moon ceased to shine anymore. Faith communities victimized by gunmen now journey into Advent praying all the more fervently, Come Lord Jesus. Then the son of Man came in glory gathering together his people from all corners of heaven and earth.
Yes, absolutely yes, on this first Sunday of Advent, we pray as so many others do and have done. Come Lord Jesus. We’re not so different than when we prayed like this last year on this day. We still yearn deeply that the presence of God will come in its fullness right before us, giving us a hope-filled future. I venture that in just one year, we will pray fervently again, Come Lord Jesus, because somewhere, someone will feel like their world has crumbled apart and they need a hope filled future. We will need to hear anew the promises that the mighty reign of God brought into human form as an infant will bring us into a restored existence. We need the transforming grace of God to show up as much this day as we have ever needed it before. And we need to have senses alert enough, honed enough, to know when the presence of God is in our midst.
I hope we’re alert enough to see the reign of God coming ever closer like standing at the door watching a honored guest venture up the drive. Or maybe we won’t be paying attention very well at all and we’ll stumble into it as if we were walking around in the dark. At worst, maybe we could miss it because we stopped looking or didn’t know what we were looking for in the first place.
But by the looks of Room in the Inn last night, you already know fairly well what the reigning presence of God looks like and can do for the broken hearted, the ones who are homeless, and the ones whose worlds have seemingly fallen apart.
The Christ is coming because God chooses to act decisively to bring a redeeming transformed future to us. God chooses us. God chooses us every day. God chooses you and brings you in from the ends of heaven and earth. Even if your world is crumbling or has already been torn apart at every seam this year, the coming of the Son of Man in glory this Advent season might just be the hope filled good news that’ll bring you newness of life.
So here’s to an Advent, full of expectancy, heightened anticipation, and hope for redemption that knows no end. Come Lord Jesus. Yes, absolutely yes, we pray with the saints and all the company of heaven, Come Lord Jesus. Amen.