First Sunday of Advent
November 27, 2005
The Gospel: Mark 13: 24-37
Sermon: "Preparing to Love"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
Jesus said, "But 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 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. 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. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."
Mark 13: 24-37
Preparing to Love
First Sunday of Advent - November 27, 2005
Over the last few months there has been a renewed interest in the second corning of Christ. This interest has been bubbling up from many different sources. Some people's interest has been from a new interest in the book of Revelation. In fact, several new commentaries have recently been printed on the text. Others have found interest in the second coming due to all of the natural disasters. In the last year we have seen a tsunami, severe earthquakes, major hurricanes, and tornadoes. It is not just that these forces have occurred. The number of these natural disasters and the intensity of them have sparked questions concerning the end times. Finally, we have the many wars and conflicts in our world. We witness the hurt and pain of these conflicts and we begin to wonder. We begin to wonder if all of these events taken together are not the beginning of the end times. We wonder if the day of judgment is near and if it is what do we do. .
The Gospel of Mark today doesn't help allay our fears. If anything it seems to heighten our nervousness. The lesson is so counter cultural. I mean here we are at the beginning of the Advent season. The stores around us are full of Christmas lights and ornaments. Ads in the papers are loaded with Christmas specials already. Radio stations are already playing Christmas music about the birth of the baby Jesus. Yet, here we are in the church reading a lesson about the end times.
In this lesson we read about cosmic disasters where the sun is darkened and the stars are falling from the heavens. The cosmic powers in heaven will shake on this day and The Son of Man will come. He will come in the clouds with great power and glory. The elect will be chosen and gathered from the whole earth. We are warned by Jesus to be alert, awake for we will not know the hour. We dare not fall asleep for we don't want to be caught napping when the time comes. Does this warning frighten you? After all, Jesus is the one giving the warning. Jesus is the one who appears to be coming back. It is fairly obvious that this day is sometime off. It would be easy to become complacent and not be awake and ready. What does he mean when he says be awake and ready anyway? Do we have to be doing something special? Do we dare not rest? What does it mean?
Some of the answer to those questions is found in the parable contained in the lesson. In addition, there is good news to be found in other aspects of this lesson as well. First, let's look at the good news in some of the other aspects. The first aspect of good news is that The Son of man will return. The return of Jesus is good news. Think about it for just a minute. The world we live in can be a really difficult place. Not all the time, but some of the time it is really hard. Think about those who were impacted by Katrina, or the earthquakes in Pakistan and Japan, or the recent tornadoes. Life can be really hard. We read constantly about humanity's inhumanity. We see people fighting, stealing, and lying. We know people who are ill with very little hope of recovery.
When Jesus comes again all of that hurt and pain is over. The suffering will cease. The killing will stop. The disasters will end because creation will change. We don't know how. We don't know in what manner. We do know that life will change and we will have the opportunity to live in the grace of God, the peace of God, the love of God. We will be in an existence where pain and suffering will be no more. Instead peace and joy will rule the days and the nights. When true peace and true joy are present within us and around us, we are experiencing good news. Even today, when we are surrounded by true peace and joy, we are receiving a glimpse of what is to come.
A second place where we find good news is the ingathering. Now, I'm not talking here about the rapture. In fact, we have been studying Revelation for some time and we haven't seen any evidence of a rapture as described by popular writers yet. This ingathering is caused by God. The angels of heaven go out and bring in God's people. They are brought from every tribe and nation on the face of the earth. We are talking about all kinds of people, all shapes, and all creeds. We don't choose who comes, God does. These words imply that all people have the opportunity. There is no quota. There is plenty of room. Every single person is welcome to be a part of God's kingdom. We all have the same opportunity. These words place all of us on the same footing. There is no difference due to birthright or status. There is no order as in business where there is a boss and employees. All people are equal before God and the gathering can be anyone or all of us.
Finally, the good news continues in the story about slaves placed in charge of the master's house. If we look at the story, Jesus says each slave has his or her own work. Each slave in the house has his or her own task to perform even while the master is away. The doorkeeper watches the door and greets people. The cook prepares the meals. The house cleaner keeps the rooms clean. The groundskeeper keeps the yard looking neat. Each of them has their tasks. The task they have is theirs and theirs alone. No one else bears their particular task. The only problem would be to fail to have done that particular task when the master comes home. When the master comes home, the master expects to be greeted at the door and the food to be prepared. The master expects the yard and rooms to be clean. Each task done by each person is to be completed to the best of their ability.
This story is full of good news. We only have to do what God asks of us. We are to do the work God has given us to do with the individual abilities we have each been given. What is the task? The task is to share the love of God. The task is to let the world know that God loves it. The task is to be prepared in heart, body and mind by loving God, loving others and loving ourselves. The task is for us individually and corporately to be a shining light of love to a world that often refuses to believe that God even exists. The beautiful part of it all is that we don't have to compare ourselves to anyone else. We don't have to be a Billy Graham, a Desmund Tutu, a Mother Teresa, to accomplish this task. We only have to be what God wanted us to be from the very beginning. We have all been asked to be loving children of a loving and compassionate God. Each of us carries out that task in our own way. Some will be listeners. Some will be teachers. Some will be cry when others cry and laugh when others laugh.
The best part of all is that if we love in this manner then we don't have to worry about the end times. By using our gift of love when we can we will be watchful. We will be awake. We will be alert. To use the gift we have to be aware of what is happening around us. Perhaps this Advent is a time for us to look into our hearts, our minds and our spirits. As we look, we try to determine how God wants us to love. Perhaps we can identify one way, one gift, that God has shared with us to offer to the world around us. Then, we do the one thing the world might not expect. We offer our gift from God through word and action to the world.
Advent is a time of preparation. It is a time to prepare ourselves to love more fully, more deeply, than we have ever loved before. After all, Advent leads to Christmas. Christmas is the day when God loved us so much that God sent the Son out of love to a broken, hurting world. We are called to follow that Son and prepare ourselves to follow his path of love.
And all of God's people say, AMEN.