It’s Hard to Be Alert for 2000 Years

By Rev. Mike Oldham

“And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”  Mark 13:37

Advent reminds us that Jesus, the Son of God, has already come. In a culture that can hardly wait until after Halloween to put up Christmas decorations, it is hard to talk about a season of preparation, a season of waiting.

Most of us like the story of Christ’s birth. I am one of the worst. I used to drive my sons crazy because I would start playing Christmas music the day after Thanksgiving. Christmas Eve is one of my favorite services of the year. For me, it is about new life, good news, family, going home, and joy.

Advent, however, is serious. No Bing Crosby singing White Christmas here. If you don’t believe me, just read the Gospel lesson for this First Sunday of Advent.

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. (NRSV Mark 13:24-25)

 

The Gospel Lesson this year is the Little Apocalypse from Mark’s Gospel, Mark 13:24–37. It is the warning to be alert, to be constantly vigilant. It is very similar in tone to the fifth chapter of Amos.

History provides us some of the context for this warning. As the Gospel writer is remembering the stories and teachings of Jesus, this one must have seemed particularly important to share with his community. The Roman empire was growing increasingly dissatisfied with the Jews in Jerusalem. This eventually led to the destruction of Jerusalem about 70 A.D. The church was losing more and more early believers who were dying of natural causes. The question had to have been raised, “What is taking Jesus so long?” These words in the Gospel of Mark provide that early church with words of comfort, caution, and hope.

How do we read it almost 2000 years later?

This Advent, we don’t claim to know when Jesus will return. We do, however, proclaim that we believe that not only did Jesus come 2000 years ago, we also believe that Jesus we return. We confess that too often, we are not watchful. We confess that at times (more often than not??), we are distracted by the dark clouds that still overshadow our world.

In this season of waiting and preparation, we watch. Let us also enter a time of self-examination and repentance. Perhaps it needs to be a time of self-examination and repentance by the community of believers (the local church).

Can we make this an active waiting? While we watch, let us stay busy doing the things that Jesus did.

       “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

       because he has anointed me

       to bring good news to the poor.

       He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

       and recovery of sight to the blind,

       to let the oppressed go free,

       to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)

When we see injustice, can we stand with the poor and oppressed? I believe this is truly what it means to keep watch. To not grow tired of doing good. To not grow cynical and passive. Let us not rationalize the world by saying, “That is the way the world is, what can we do.” Amos writes, “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)

Prayer: Lord, we have been waiting for a while now. As we prepare for the celebration of Christmas this year, may we also keep an eye towards your return. Remind us of the hope and good news of your return. Give us eyes to see the captives, blind, and oppressed in this world. More importantly, give us the courage to speak your words of hope. Give us the courage to seek justice for those who need justice.

 

Mike Oldham

Ministry and Mission Coach

NFR, SE/NM

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