Isaiah 64:1-9 Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 Mark 13:24-37
Happy New Year! Today is the first day of our new church year and our Sunday Gospel readings this year will come primarily from Mark, the shortest of the four gospels and the one that begins with John the Baptist proclaiming to be the messenger that prepares the way for the messiah, and the gospel then jumps right into Jesus’ baptism, temptation in the wilderness, and the beginning of his ministry – all within the first 14 verses. Thus, I have been known to refer to the Gospel of Mark as the Readers’ Digest version of the gospels. It is short and to the point and does not mess around with any miraculous birth narratives.
So, although we follow a three-year lectionary for our Sunday readings using Matthew, then Mark, then Luke as our primary gospels, we don’t use them exclusively. John and the others gospels are used to include certain stories at specific times on of our church calendars. Thus, as we get closer to Christmas, and as we celebrate Christmas, we will read from the other gospels that do tell of Joseph and Mary and the birth of Jesus.
Today, on the first Sunday of Advent, you will note that the gospel is a warning that we need to be ready for the coming of the Son of Man, a term used often by Jesus without a clear definition as to its meaning. Many suggest he is referring to his humanity, but in today’s Gospel it should be understood that he is speaking of himself when he says, “Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 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.”
Jesus is talking about his eventual return and the importance of being prepared. Jesus warns that we will not know when he will return, so we are to “Keep awake.” At this point in the gospel of Mark, Judas is talking with Jewish authorities and is preparing to betray Jesus. Jesus has already foretold the suffering and persecution his disciples will face, and Jesus is preparing them for what is about to happen in Jerusalem. It is not a pretty picture, but even though he paints an ugly picture concerning the immediate future, we should not overlook the fact that he says the Son of Man will return – HE will return.
This, my friends, is what Advent is about. It is about seeing the world as it is, full of hate, full of oppression, and in need of redemption – and Jesus promises that redemption. But, he has not left us to face our challenges alone.
I recently heard a preacher refer “this wicked world,” and although there is evil, and there is hate, and there is oppression, I do not believe the world is wicked. This world was created by God and God has not, and will not desert us. Jesus came to live among us because God loves us – not to throw us a life line and rescue us from a sinking ship. No, I do not believe this ship we are on is sinking, but I do know we need Christ’s help.
I also believe that this passage in which Jesus talks about coming again is not to be taken so literally that we assume he is not with us. Jesus may talk about the “Son of Man coming in the clouds, with great power and glory,” but this is poetry. Listeners might recognize this image from the old testiment stories of Daniel and understand the subsequent verse where the angels gather up the elect, as the promises God made in the Old Testament that one day make all things will be made right. This is presented as a day of judgement, but it is not that day that is important – it is the promise to make things rights.
So, rather than think we need to sit patiently and wait for the day Christ will come to save us from this wicked world, we can read this passage as Jesus promising to use his authority on earth to make things right. And what is his authority on earth? I understand his authority as love – love for all of creation, love for us, love for our neighbors, and love for God.
Keep awake, for me, means I am to be present with those in need of the love of God, I need to be ready to share God’s love with others – the poor, the hungry . . .. For as Jesus said, when we feed the hungry we are feeding him. When we refuse to help those in need, we are refusing to help him. Keep Awake! Jesus is here and is in need of our help!
In 1st Corinthians, Paul writes, “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus.” He then says we have been “enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind.” We have been strengthened by learning about Christ “– so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift.”
As I read this letter, I think we have the spiritual gifts we need to celebrate God’s creation and what better way for us to do so, than by loving one another. Advent is a time of preparation and a time of anticipation. We may not know when God will make everything right, but that is, in part, due to us. I believe God is making things right – through each of us. So if we just sit around waiting for his return, we fail to see that God is with us and has given us the spiritual gifts we need to be strong in our faith and to act courageously by doing God’s will and making things right. Thus, preparing for Jesus is about preparing for God’s kingdom by doing our part to make this a better world.
Let us pray.
Loving and gracious God, we give thanks for all the gifts you have given us. Help us to use these gifts to support one another on our journey of faith and use us, we pray, to make this a better world. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.