December 8, 2023

December 3, 2023, The First Sunday in Advent

December 3, 2023, The First Sunday in Advent

GOSPEL: Mark 13:24-37

Jesus encourages his followers to look forward to the day when he returns in power and glory to end all suffering.

[Jesus said:] In those days, after that suffering,

 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.

Then they will see the Son of Man coming in cloudswith 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.

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. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

 ”But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 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. 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, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”


The Jewish people had been waiting so long for the messiah to come, And the messiah came – as a tiny baby, a man who walked with nobodies, healed the sick and ate with sinners – not what they were expecting.  Mark was writing his gospel AFTER Jesus had come, and during or just after the disastrous revolt against Roman imperial occupation in Palestine.   The result of this revolt was Roman’s destroying the Jewish Temple – the very center of Jewish religion and life.

“The message of Mark’s Gospel is a message of hope proclaimed in the midst of catastrophe. To really hear it, we have to listen from a position of desolation, chaos, and bewilderment; we have to listen alongside the grieving victim, the traumatized soldier, the displaced refugee, the heartbroken addict, the exhausted nurse, the mourning spouse. This is where Mark lives. These are the depths from which he proclaims his good news.”[1]

The  truly frightening stuff found in Mark was not a prediction to frighten future generations, but words of comfort that used this vivid language, the language of nightmare mixed with literal retellings of the kind of betrayal and threats that the Christian Community was facing at that time – descriptive rather than prescriptive.  On top of the destruction of the temple there was serious problems and persecution, false prophets and false teachers leading this small Christian community astray.

Yes, there is serious pain in the world, in your community, in your home.  There are wars and rumors of wars.  There’s strife within families, and even with in the family of faith- those that are called to be one in Christ.  And God’s name is profaned, used as a political prop to assert power over the powerless – an abomination to that for whom God’s name is the name of one who feeds the hungry, lifts up the lowly, frees the prisoner.  The first readers of the Gospel of Mark know that as well or better than we do.  And the gospel would have brought a certain comfort – when you see all these bad things happening – don’t think it’s a sign that the kingdom of God Jesus has promised is late in coming or has been derailed.

But the very idea that there will be an end to all this is threatening to those of us who have pretty good lives and good plans for the future.   However, for those of us who experience life as a roller coaster of ups and downs, on the other hand, or those who experience life as mostly downs, the Idea of “an end to it all” maybe comforting.

Because the idea of God tearing open the heavens to come down may sound terrifying, but if the earth and its people are already torn up – what’s a few more tears?   Stars falling from heaven is a starkly apocalyptic nightmare – but God’s beloved people have been falling through the cracks of unjust systems for a long time.

Praying for an end to it all also means praying for the beginning of something else.   In the immortal words of the band, Semisonic,and their prophetic masterpiece, “Closing Time” –  “every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”

The Advent children’s book I am reading with Vivian tells the story of a different animal in winter each day, and the way “each creature makes ready to wait until the earth wakes again.”   “Waiting in the cold dark will be hard but each creature knows “The dark is not an end.  It’s a door.  It’s the way a new beginning comes.”  [2] The darkness we see around us is not the end.

As a transitional interim pastor, I’ve walked with congregations through that door.  The endings and the beginnings.  The stars falling from the sky and the people falling through the cracks.  The cold darkness of waiting with uncertainty, right alongside the warming brightness of hopeful faith and Christ’s faithfulness.

St. Paul writes to the people at Corinth (1 Cor 1:4-7)  “I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, for 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.”

You have everything you need as you wait, he tells the congregation.  Just keep your eyes open, look at the gifts around you, the knowledge, and the witness to Christ – it’s here.   There will be endings and beginnings in abundance this next year, and God will be faithful to you in those times, as you wait for the revealing, the uncovering of what is next.

Eyes open in the meantime.  The darkness is not an end, but a door.  As we mark these four weeks of Advent, we are not only preparing for the birth of Christ, but for the second coming.  For his promised return.  The King shall come.  Come, Lord Jesus, quickly come.   Amen.

Pastor Erin


[2] Boss, Gayle  All Creation Waits  Children’s Edition: The Advent Mystery of New Beginnings for Children



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