Preparing to be Jesus in the World
Nov 29, 2020
First Sunday of Advent
Text: Mark 13:24-37
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
Stay awake! Put on your mask! Stay awake! Keep your distance! Stay awake! Wash your hands! Stay awake! Stay at home! Stay awake! For you do not know when Covid 19 will come; stay awake!
OK…that’s a bit extreme. I’m really not comparing the recent pandemic to Jesus’ return. When to quote today’s Gospel lesson, “the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” It has just felt that way at times and has certainly been a lesson in not knowing what is around the corner. So be prepared to not be surprised.
We will get back to that, but first, let’s take a look at the context for today’s Gospel. At the beginning of Mark 13, the disciples are fascinated by the size and beauty of the Jerusalem Temple, which they point out to Jesus. It is not a stretch to say that Jesus has other things on his mind, since the crucifixion is near; maybe that is why he responds by teaching them about the Temple’s coming destruction. Some scholars say this infers that God is not found in the glory of the Temple, but on the cross; not in the city proper, but outside the city walls.
Naturally, the disciples ask what will be the signs that the destruction of the Temple is about to occur, and when will it happen? In his response, Jesus shifts his focus away from the destruction of the Temple (which does occur in 70 AD) to his return and the end of the world as we know it, which also initiates God’s eternal kingdom. This is an event we Lutherans tend to avoid, but as Seminary professor Dr. Mark Allen Powell points out, it is not simply a doctrine we believe, but one that should have a positive impact on our lives.
On the one hand, we are alert and prepare for Jesus’ anytime arrival. On the other hand, we strive to be faithful and prepare for the long haul. The Gospel of Mark refers to both points of view, and both inform how we live.
I like what Dr. Powell has to say about this; I’ll quote him: “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.’ (The Gospel of) Mark draws the opposite conclusion: since the timing is unknown, we should think about it all the time. Or, modern Christians often think, ‘Since the time is unknown, it could be hundreds, or thousands, or millions of years from now.’ (The Gospel of) Mark draws a very different conclusion: since the timing is unknown, it could be today! Maybe this evening, or at midnight, or when dawn breaks.”
Dr. Powell asks the question if anyone actually constantly wonders when someone long gone might return? Who does that? His response is that people who are in love do that. (As many a Hallmark movie or romance novel illustrates.) Perhaps that is why elsewhere in Mark’s Gospel, the time of waiting for Jesus’ return is compared to a newlywed waiting for the return of the bridegroom who has been inexplicably taken away (Mark 2:20) (1)
Do we feel that kind of longing anticipation as we wait for Jesus to return? I’ll admit that I do not, and I’m guessing that’s true of many of the faithful. Yet, it is a beautiful image for which to strive this Advent.
Advent is a time of alertness and preparation. While we are preparing to meet Jesus as a baby born in Bethlehem, we are also preparing to welcome Jesus as he returns in glory and preparing to be Jesus in the world. We not only stay awake, as I read on a blog of St. Julian of Norwich Church in Austin, Texas, but we also prepare ourselves, we bolster our courage, we increase our wisdom, we strengthen our prayer lives, “that we might be prepared the very next time we are given the opportunity to stand up … to stand with, in love and for loves’ sake … those who are hurting or are being harmed. For in doing so, Jesus is made manifestly present, for we are his heart and his hands.” (2)
In order to be Jesus’ heart and hands, we must stay awake and ready for all opportunities to show up. Commentator Scott Hoezee wrote that he always wondered if there was a connection between the rooster’s crow as an indicator of the time in Mark 14:35 (“will the master come in the evening , or at midnight or at cockcrow, or at dawn”) and the rooster’s crow that caused Peter to realize he had betrayed Jesus three times just as Jesus had predicted he would do.
While pondering that, Pastor Hoezee recalled a story preaching professor Fred Craddock told in a sermon. It goes like this: Pastor Craddock was driving cross-country when he stopped at a small diner somewhere in the south to refresh himself with breakfast and some coffee. He had been driving through the night, and it was getting close to dawn. So, before he got too sleepy, he stopped for a while.
As he waited for his breakfast order to come, the Pastor watched a black man who had entered the diner and sat on a stool at the counter. The diner’s manager then began to treat that customer with a contempt that was clearly born of racism. The manager was rude, insulting, and demeaning toward him. Pastor Craddock said that as he sat in his booth a little ways away from the counter, he wrestled with saying something to chide this manager for his shameful conduct. Eventually, the black man quickly slurped down his coffee and fled the diner.
Pastor Craddock, meanwhile, remained silent. Quoting him, “I didn’t say anything. I quietly paid my bill. Left the diner and headed back to my car. But as I walked through the parking lot, somewhere in the distance, I heard a rooster crow.” (3)
Was that crowing a reminder of betrayal, of failing to be the heart and hands of Jesus in the world? Stay awake! During Advent, we are alert, preparing for the imminent return of Jesus. We strive to be faithful, preparing for a long wait until that glorious day. This year the pandemic has helped us grasp the realities of facing the unexpected while at the same time waiting and waiting and waiting some more. We should be well-prepared for meeting Jesus as a baby born in Bethlehem, welcoming Jesus as he returns in glory and being Jesus in the world. Stay awake! AMEN
(1) Commentary of Mark 13:24-37 by Mark Allen Powell, First Sunday of Advent, www.workingpreacher.org
(2) “I Say to All: Keep Awake”: A Sermon for Advent 1, Mark 13:24-37, www.stjuliansautin.org
(3) Advent 1B, Mark 13:24-37 by Scott Hoezee, www.cep.calvinseminary.edu