Sunday, December 3, 2017

Hopeful Expectation: Mark 13:24:37 - First Sunday in Advent

[Jesus said:] 24“In those days, after that suffering,
 the sun will be darkened,
  and the moon will not give its light,
25and the stars will be falling from heaven,
  and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27Then 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. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31Heaven 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. 33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34It 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. 35Therefore, 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, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
Slow winters morning by johndal.  Creative commons image on flickr.

Thanks to 8 ½ years working in retail, I despise secular Christmas music

I’d rather listen to a jackhammer or fingernails on a chalkboard than be subjected to songs as Santa Baby; The Man With the Bag; Baby, It’s Cold Outside; and All I Want for Christmas is You.

I felt quite vindicated when I read last week that the constant barrage of Christmas songs can be bad for your mental health, especially if you work in retail!

Nevertheless, the stores are going to play them to put you in the mood for Christmas shopping.  This strategy has proven itself highly effective. 

But what kind of mood does Jesus put you in, as he speaks of his second coming?

After warning his disciples of the destruction of the temple, followed by wars, persecutions, apostasies, and false messiahs, Jesus speaks of cosmic calamities: the darkening of the sun and moon, and stars falling from heavens as they shake… 

His command is to “keep awake,” lest you be caught napping when Jesus returns – for no one knows the hour or the day.

It frightens me that things in our world are going to get much worse than they already are.

Most days, stress rears its ugly head before my feet even the floor.  If I’m not wrapped up in worries about myself and the people I care about, my attention is drawn to the disturbing and horrific headlines on the news—and people suffering all around our neighborhood.  Our church phone rings off the hook with people needing clothes, needing food, needing money to pay the rent and keep the lights on.  Seniors can’t get the medicine they need to stay alive.

Meanwhile, Americans are projected to spend an excess of 656 billion dollars on their “holiday” shopping. 

To me, that is very telling—because for many, the holiday which is supposed to be all about Christ is instead all about me.  What matters is that I have the perfect, white Christmas, “just like the ones I used to know.”  What matters is that I get everything I want, and get everyone what they want, at the best price.  In December, our mad pursuit of winning, security, and control goes into overdrive. 

Meanwhile, for many others, Christmastime is an ordeal to be survived.  When you hurt, you hurt worse at Christmas. 

Either way, the lust for more stuff and the fear for the future can turn you in on yourself—such that Jesus coming would catch you unprepared. 

But know this: Jesus isn’t setting a trap in order to catch you off guard, so that you would be locked out of his kingdom.  Jesus takes a very active role in preparing you.  In fact, Jesus readies you for his coming in the future by coming to you in the present.  Regardless of whether or not you are ready for him, he shows up. Think of it like the stores who play Christmas music in October to get you shopping—except that Jesus works on a much more powerful scale.

The prophet Isaiah describes this beautifully in today’s first reading: Jesus tears open the heavens and comes down—doing awesome deeds you do not expect, to work good for those who wait for him.  The Apostle Paul describes it this way: “in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind—just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you—so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:5-7). 

To understand what Jesus is doing, look no further than the cross: he’s forgiving sins and reconciling sinners.  He’s bearing his cross with the poor and suffering ones. 

Furthermore, he is raising up the Body of the Baptized to herald the coming of his kingdom by enacting his mercy and compassion.  By the Spirit’s power, YOU—together with the Body of Christ—will vanquish the violence, greed, and global battles for power and domination by forgiveness, mercy, peace-making, and through your testimony of Christ’s works in your life.

So many Christians wait for Christ’s coming combing through the Bible, trying to uncover some secret knowledge that will pinpoint the time of his return—even as Jesus says clearly that no one can know the hour or the day.  So many other Christians seek to dominate this country through raw power and force; silencing dissent and forcing all into submission.  But the key to being ready for Jesus’ coming is to start each day knowing that he goes with you into it.  The key to being ready is to be alert to the needs of people all around you—and ready for Jesus to send you to make a difference. 

While the advertisers tell you what to want for Christmas, know what Jesus wants is for God’s children to come together in a community of mutual compassion and belonging.  What Jesus wants is for the hungry to be fed, for the world to be at peace, and to love and be loved by all people.  The key to being ready is to live in hopeful expectation—because what Jesus is tearing open the heavens and coming down to you today.

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