Advent 1 December 3, 2017 Mark 13 : 24-37
The first Sunday of Advent, now we can really get ready for Christmas! Forget the fact that the stores have had the Christmas decorations up for awhile and the secular Christmas carols have been piped in as well, now it is official, the first Sunday of Advent, now we can get ready for Christmas.
Now I don’t know about you but I would have liked to rework the lectionary because we are off to a lousy start. Was it Ebenezer Scrooge who chose the texts? What a downer…in two of the texts, we have End times and God’s judgement. When we read the papers on our tablets, or listen to the news, there is enough doom and gloom, not to mention the dark days of November, we could use a bit of a pick me upper! Not unlike those sun lamps that people use to compensate for the lack of light, maybe the lectionary could have given us some light!
Well …maybe it did!
In doing my research on the gospel & apocalyptic literature, which is what we call those passages like today’s that talk about the end of times, I was reminded that that type of literature comes when people have been going through a very long period of hard times where it had become difficult to believe in God’s plan, God’s providence. In the context of Israel in the beginning of the first century of the Common era, they had been occupied by the Roman forces for a very long time. It had become near impossible to believe that they were God’s chosen people.
I remember reading a Jewish comic say once ‘If we are God’s chosen people, maybe it is time God chooses someone else for a while’
Apocalyptic literature is actually a much more serious attempt to deal with the obvious contradiction of reality with the biblical belief of being God’s chosen people. It became necessary to imagine God would eventually set things right. In Jesus day, there was a strong belief in the coming of the Son of man where God would punish the evil and glorify the faithful. Jesus was part of his time and believed that God was going to set things right in glory. He was an apocalyptic preacher. He believed God would set things right.
In an aside, some scholars, who worked on the Jesus seminar, had rejected that apocalyptic side of Jesus, possibly in reaction to fundamentalist Christians that tend to emphasize it. They had painted a more liberal, social justice Jesus. One I could, and they no doubt could, relate to.
I believe though, that Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher, but with a very different idea of what the Messiah would be. He would also have a very strong social justice side to him.
Now, what about us? What are we to believe? Although, in our creeds we refer to believing in the return of Christ, we have been saying that for 2000 years, and we are still waiting. What are we to believe?
Although, we are not living, by any stretch of the imagination, as difficult times as the Jewish people were in the first century, we too, as a human race, face some serious challenges that actually can lead us to get pretty pessimistic. The further proliferation of nuclear arms by North Korea, an unstable political situation south of our border, global warming with apocalyptic consequences for the planet and all living creatures, the list can go on and the future can look pretty bleak. Hollywood movies frequently reflect the fear of a worsening world.
For that reason, I believe, like Jesus, it is good for us to continue to hold on to that vision that God will set things right. Why? Because, it gives us hope & it reminds us that the world is not what it is meant to be. It gives us a vision of what the world is meant to be. We begin Advent, when in our hemisphere we are heading into the darkest time of year, being reminded that God will act to set things right and this gives us hope and a vision of a better world.
Now our gospel passage today is interesting because it actually carries two streams of thought. One scholar separated verses in the chapter that talk about the imminence of God’s intervention, the more end times type, and then those that emphasized we don’t know when, and to stay faithful. Both streams stand together independently.
The Gospel writer of Mark wrote after 70 C.E., 40 years after Jesus. He was dealing with a different situation then Jesus. It had gotten worse. In response to a rebellion, the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 C.E. That is what Mark is referring to. The destruction of the Temple triggered a major political, social, and economic crisis. Mark is taking Jesus apocalyptic teachings and dealing now with this crisis. Not only did God not intervene like Jesus thought God would, but it got worse. Mark now adds from the other stream, that cautions, we don’t know when God will act, nobody does, but God will act. In the meantime, keep watch!
I believe, we too need to continue to keep watch for the signs that God is working. We too are to keep watch to see signs of God preparing things.
Despite the doom and gloom that I listed earlier, there are very positive signs. On the political side we see a tendency for populations in democratic countries changing the old guard for younger people, hoping for positive changes. It started in Canada with Trudeau, and the same is true in France with Macron, and it has been repeated in several European countries. Locally, we have just elected a rather young woman as mayor of Montreal. Regardless of our political allegiances, and I can be rather skeptical of politics in general, we can see in these movements, signs of hope. This week, Prime minister Trudeau, on behalf of the country, offered apologies to all those in the LGBTQ communities of the past who had experienced rejection, persecution and loss of jobs because of who they were as queer people. That is a powerful sign of hope that God is working out his purpose where all are treated with respect and equality.
We are to keep our eyes open so we can see the signs around us that God is working his purpose out.
On this first Sunday of Advent, despite the darkness around, we are reminded that God will act to set things right and this gives us hope.
In the meantime, we are to keep our eyes open so we can see the signs that God is already working his purpose out.
So we have hope and we keep watch!
But that is not all, we are to keep working! The parable that Jesus gave of the owner of the house who goes away and leaves his slaves in charge refers to keeping awake but, it is inferred, they keep working! They don’t lazy around till they see that the owner is coming back and get back to work. They continue on with their daily jobs as they await his return!
My friends, the same is true for us. We are called to keep working. We continue to do what we can to bring light to the darkness. Last week after the many announcements, I mentioned how those parish activities are signs of the faithfulness of the Church. We need to continue to work at the ministries that are part of being a people who are seeking to be signs of the coming Kingdom of God. Despite the darkness, we keep working!
Sisters and brothers of the faith, sisters and brothers on the journey, on this first Sunday of Advent, despite the darkness around, we are reminded that
God will act to set things right and this gives us hope.
In the meantime, we keep our eyes open to the signs that God is already working his purpose out.
Finally, let’s not sit on our tuffs while we wait for God to set things right, we have work to do, since we will be the signs that God is working his purpose out.