The audio is available here. Or, read on.
I feel like we were just here. Didn’t I just preach on an apocalyptic text from Jesus? Didn’t he just talk about signs and wars and birthpangs and the destruction of the Temple? Am I having deja vu? Are you?
Well, much as I’d like it to be, this isn’t deja vu. We were just here. Way back in Lectionary Year B, just two short weeks ago, we heard the opening verses of Mark’s take on Jesus’ apocalyptic teaching. Way back then, we were nearing the end of the Church Year, so it only made sense that we would talk about the end of days. Now, we’re at the very beginning of a new Church Year. It is Advent 1, the Christmas season is in full swing, and we are gathered together this morning to hear the story of…
THE END OF DAYS?
Oh, how I love the Lectionary.
Two weeks ago we were in the opening part of Mark’s Little Apocalypse, but this week we find ourselves at the tail end of Luke’s take on the whole thing. The setup is the same in both: it is Holy Week and Jesus has spent the day arguing in the Temple with whoever would engage him. In the encounter with the widow who gave away her everything, the whole group has just seen what can happen when a too powerful religion does more harm than good in the lives of the faithful. As the group makes the short trip up the Mount of Olives, someone takes note of how amazing the Temple structure is, and Jesus proceeds to teach a long, hard lesson, on what life in the Kingdom of God really looks like.
For Jesus and his disciples, the difference between Mark 13 and Luke 21 is just the beginning and the end of a ten minute teaching. For us, the difference is two weeks, and as Keith mentioned in his sermon last week, every time we enter these texts we find ourselves at a different point on the journey. Two weeks after our last encounter with an apocalyptic text, the world has already changed. We’re two weeks closer to the end of the Mayan calendar, we’re two weeks closer to our elected leadership acting like “spoiled children” as America tumbles over the fiscal cliff, Israel and Hamas have entered into yet another, extremely delicate, peace agreement, the Sudanese government, fresh off a supposedly foiled coup attempt, continues to pummel their own people with bombs, Black Friday started at 8pm on Thanksgiving Thursday, and, perhaps most importantly, Gang Nam Style has surpassed the great Justin Bieber as the most watched YouTube video of all time. And yet, despite all the changes that two weeks can bring, we find ourselves gathered again in this holy space, waiting, watching, wondering: what does it all mean.
That, of course, is what this season of Advent is all about: waiting. We wait, with all the patience of a young child Christmas morning, for the coming of the Christ Child and the beginning, once again, of God’s great story of salvation. This morning’s lesson reminds us that we also wait for the second coming of Christ and the ending, once and for all, of God’s great story of redemption. We wait, this Advent season, for the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. We wait, this Advent season, for God to be present in our midst.
As I waited this week for a sermon to appear before me, I was blessed to find in my email a forward from Meg Scott. It was a devotional about Advent from her priest in Michigan, The Reverend Chris Yaw, and I felt compelled to share a part of it with you this morning:
“There are two kinds of waiting.
First, there’s the waiting for things we know are going to happen – like snowfall, death, and the fact that I will be hungry at 6pm tonight.
Then there’s the waiting for things that might happen – like a Tigers World Series crown, a turnaround in the plight of Detroit, and winning the Powerball jackpot.
For the things in the first category, we prepare: we buy snow shovels, make wills, and put food in the refrigerator.
For the things in the second category, not so much.
Sure, we’ll cheer on the Tigers, hope for a Motown comeback, and fantasize about spending our lottery winnings. It’s because these are things that might happen, I’m not banking on it.
Advent’s job is to remind us that faith in God always goes in that first category.”
Faith in God is always faith in something that is certainly going to happen, but I’d place that kind of waiting into a third category, perhaps the hardest kind of waiting, those things that are certain to happen, but we have no idea when. Into this third category, I place things major events like death, a hurricane hitting the central Gulf Coast, my daughters bringing home their first boyfriends, and the second coming of Christ. These things are givens. They will happen. The question is not if, but when. And when that “when” is a unknown distance into the future, making preparations can be difficult.
Take hurricane preparations, for example. We moved to Foley three years after Ivan. The Gulf was all but fully rebuilt by the time we got here. We’ve heard stories of storms, we’ve watched the news reports, but having never lived through one, we’ve been slow to get ourselves prepared. Four years ago, John and Ruth Ward gave us their plywood when they got new window coverings. Three years ago, we made a supply kit. This past summer, a generator was purchased. And just last weekend, my father-in-law finished installing the power transfer switch so that the generator can actually be of some use to us, once I buy oil and gas to get the thing running.. Had any of the half-a-dozen storms that threatened to come our way over the past five years actually done so, we’d have been unprepared.
I think that’s what Jesus is trying to tell his disciples in this morning’s Gospel lesson: don’t find yourself unprepared. By the time there are signs in the sun, moon, and stars, it will be too late. Instead, be about the work of discipleship now so that whenever the time comes, you are fully prepared. His advice to the disciples is actually quite simple; don’t be weighed down by the concerns of today and don’t get all caught up in the material pleasures that this world has to offer. Instead, be about the Kingdom: be about caring for the poor and the oppressed, the prisoner and the outcast, the widow and the orphan. Be about shining the light of Christ, the hope of a world redeemed, into every relationship in your life. Be about sharing the Good News of God’s incarnate love in thought, word, and deed. Be about forgiveness and love, joy and gentleness, compassion and outreach. Be about Jesus and you will be prepared for his return, whether it is today, tomorrow, or whenever. Jesus teaches us that you can be prepared for the end of days without being obsessed with it. You can live for today without ignoring the events that are certain in the future. You can wait and live abundantly, all at the same time. Welcome to Advent, a time to wait for Jesus. Amen.