Advent I Year B 2008
Theme: Be prepared
Let us pray.
Most holy, Lord God, we watch and wait for your son to usher in your kingdom; let us always be alert and act in ways that you want for us to behave, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Recently, we have been hounded by a constant stream of bad financial news. It has become impossible for anyone to avoid the downturn, and the media has been shouting ‘Crisis! Crisis!’ for months. It seems we never finish one emergency before another one is on the front page. It seems every refuge for the financial world has become another barrier or pitfall instead of a safe place or rescue.
It puts me in mind of a story of the two cowboys who were working cattle one day. One of them discovered he was in trouble when a wild bull, with his head down and nostrils flaring, came charging toward him. The cowboy saw a deep hole in the ground and quickly jumped in it. As soon as the bull passed over him, he jumped out of the hole. The bull, madder than ever, came charging back again, and the cowboy jumped back down into the hole. When the bull passed, the cowboy jumped out of the hole again. He did this several times. Finally, the other cowboy, who was watching it all from a distance yelled out, “Why don't you just stay in the hole?” The cowboy yelled back, “I would, but there’s a bear in the hole!”
The stock market goes into bear and bull cycles, though the bull is the cycle that is desired. This cowboy had received two signs of possible end times for him. I’ll bet he didn’t see those signs when he wandered into the area of the bull and the bear. But the gospel reading is all about the end and the signs of the end.
Jesus and his disciples are hanging around the temple when one of the disciples speaks of his admiration for the beauty of the temple. Jesus replies that one day it will all be rubble. This sparks what has been called the Apocalypse of Mark in chapter 13 of his gospel. Our reading today is from this apocalypse. Apocalypse means the end of something. Jesus seems to refer to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, though some people think it’s about them.
Jesus says that during these times the sun will be dim and the moon will be invisible. I remember what it was like here last summer when the “sun was a bright spot in the nighttime.” My shadow was blue. It was hard to breathe. The Romans set most of Jerusalem on fire. The smoke must have been thick.
The smoke would be so thick that it would be as if the stars fell out of the sky. The invisible heavens would be shaken. It is then that the Son of Man will come in clouds with power and great glory. The angels will gather the chosen ones from all over the earth. These cosmic signs in Mark are borrowed from the prophets of the Old Testament. They signify an important event. After the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and Jews were expelled, guess who moved in? The Christians.
Jesus then offers a short parable of the fig tree. We know that when its buds sprout summer is near. So it will be when these signs appear that he is near. There are some people here who will live to see this. Even though the earth will not last, Jesus’ words will last. So, when will all of this happen? No one knows, not even the angels. Only the Father knows. Since we don’t know when this will happen, we need to live like it could happen at any minute. As our economy gets worse, we are reminded that we should never be complacent. The “good times” never last forever. It is prudent to be always prepared for the bad times.
Jesus gives an example through a parable. It is like when a man takes a trip giving his servants orders and the gatekeepers are to be alert. They don’t know when the man will be back. So, it is prudent to be ready for the boss to show up at any time.
I remember when an executive was coming onto our floor at American Express, the managers would go around telling everyone to look busy. But that was with a warning because otherwise we didn’t act like a company executive would show up at any instant. So we are told to be alert instead of being caught sleeping.
Jesus seems to be speaking about the Roman destruction of the Jewish homeland. But there are times when he is so vague that he could be talking about anyone at anytime. In any case, the lessons are still for us. Are we living our lives as though Jesus would show up at anytime? If we are not, then maybe we should. None of us really knows for sure what will happen tomorrow. If we live like Jesus will come at any time, then we will begin to taste what life will be like with Jesus in eternity.
There is an amusing Hasidic story about a rabbi who crossed a village square every morning on his way to the temple to pray. One morning, a large Russian Cossack soldier, who happened to be in a vile mood, accosted him, saying, “Hey, rabbi, where are you going?”
The rabbi simply said, “I don’t know.”
This infuriated the soldier. “What do you mean, you don’t know? Every morning for twenty-five years you have crossed the village square and gone to the temple to pray. Don’t fool with me. Why are you telling me you don’t know?” He grabbed the old rabbi by the coat and dragged him off to jail.
Just as the Cossack was about to push him into the cell, the rabbi turned to him, and softly said, “You see, I didn’t know.”
Someone asks, when will Christ return and when will history come to a climax and a new world order, an order straight from God, be introduced? The answer is, we don’t know. The early church thought it would be in their lifetime. It’s been 2,000 years. “Why does the Lord tarry?” many ask. We don’t know. We should not be surprised at that. There is much in life that God has not revealed to us. We don’t even know what tomorrow might bring.
In Advent we watch and wait. As we move though the season, we move closer to the birth of the Christ child. When this passage in Mark was written about 65 A.D., Christians were asking, “Where are you God? When are you coming?” Jesus reminds us now as well as then that Jesus will come again. We need not get lost in the details. Better to concentrate on being ready.
We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, give us the gift of loving patience, through which we prepare your creation for your kingdom, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Text: Mark 13:24-37 (NRSV)
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.
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 hee 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.
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;f 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.”
e Or it
f Other ancient authorities add and pray
 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.