The Gospel: Mark 13:24-37
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 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.”
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that you have inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation, and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: Welcome to this first day in the rest of our lives. Now, every day is that right? Every new day gives us the chance to start fresh. Every day is the first day for new experiences and new opportunities. We just have to decide that it is a significant day.
Now in our Christian Liturgical calendar, today, as the beginning of this new week, has special significance because it is also the First Sunday in Advent. As you know Advent begins on the Sunday nearest to November 30 which we celebrate as St. Andrew's Day.
As we know Advent is that celebration that takes place on the four Sundays prior to Christmas. This time of celebration follows the four themes of hope, peace, joy, and love.
This Sunday is also the beginning of our liturgical year. For us as Christians, we understand that this is the weekend of our New Year.
That is a lot to remember so how about we narrow it down to two things for this morning? So, let's focus first on the beginning of the church year. Then we will focus on how we can engage in the celebration of hope on this first Sunday of Advent.
I know for myself I have to stop and remind myself each year that this is actually the beginning of the year. I don't know about you but I have a tendency to think we are gearing up for a major celebration at Christmas. It seems like Christmas brings the year to an end.
Then we follow that up with the annual changing of the calendar into a new year. New Year's Eve rolls around very quickly after Christmas and before we know it we are looking at the end of our secular year and the beginning of the next new year.
I have to take some time to make myself acknowledge that our year, as Christians, is set to a different rhythm and a different pattern. At this time we set aside some of our energy and our enthusiasm, from the demands of the world around us, and we decide to acknowledge our Christian roots and heritage. To slow down and consider how we will live our lives in this new year?
The last two weeks I have reminded us, that as Bishop Anne said in her Bishop's address at Convention, we need to be concerned that we are seeking to draw people to Christ, to Christ Church for their sake not for our sake.
I realized, for myself this year, that it is significant that Advent begins with St Andrews Day. One of the things that we celebrate about Andrew is that he is the one who stopped what he was doing, listening and engaging with Jesus, to go and find his brother, Peter, and bring him to meet Jesus.
We hear this story in the Gospel of John: John 1:35-42. John is standing with two of his disciples, and Jesus walks. John says “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah”."
Andrew could have stayed with Jesus and absorbed all that Jesus had to share. He could have taken the opportunity that he had and soaked it all in for himself. But he chooses to go and find his brother and to bring him to meet Jesus.
I am willing to suggest that Andrew realized that John the Baptist was right when he told his disciples "here is the Lamb of God." Andrew knew that Jesus was the longed-for Messiah whom the people of Israel had been hoping for. He shared that hope with Peter.
And that brings us to the hope that we celebrate on this first Sunday of Advent.
Now, I have to say that these are not easy readings this morning. The God who is described in all our readings this morning is a complex God. There is a lot about God's anger and God's turning away from the people of Israel in the scriptures from Isaiah and in Psalm 80.
Last week we heard about this same God who separated the sheep from the goats and sent the people to an eternity separated from him. A place that none of us wants to talk about, or think about. A place of pain and suffering. We would rather not think about that aspect of who God is. But we need to be willing to consider this concept, whether we like it or not. Middle East scholar Kenneth Bailey examines this concept among others in his book "Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes."
Bailey encourages us to consider whether any of those who are relegated to this place are repentant or seek to change their attitudes. You can read more about that for yourself. Or you could have a conversation with Lorin Swinehart who has studied and researched Bailey's theories.
Now, I have to say, I would much rather talk about the God of grace and love that Jesus has helped us to know and understand. The God of love who is always seeking to reconcile us to himself through the loving-kindness of Jesus.
Paul expresses that hope in I Corinthians this way: "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.
Paul goes on to say: "He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ." Now there is a phrase that has been used for many purposes down through time: "on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Our Gospel reading from Mark this morning brings our attention to that moment in time. And it creates a new dilemma and a new tension for us all. "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."
How can we maintain a sense of anticipation and or preparedness when we don't know when it will happen? I have to say that I don't think we can remain that watchful. I wish I could tell you I know how. But our tendency as human beings is to become caught up in our own lives and the lives of those close to us, our families, and our friends.
To use another sports metaphor like the ones I used last week: "unfortunately, too often we take our eyes off the ball and lose our concentration on the game at hand."
Can I suggest another approach? Can we, by acknowledging the truth of what happens to the people, who have fallen short, from last week's story, use that as a motivation to be concerned for our brothers and sisters who have not yet come to that "knowing" that we have experienced, of Gods love and grace, that is available to everyone.
Can we commit ourselves to seeking to share and care for those around us? Can we keep ourselves awake by seeking to enlighten others, to the truth of the Gospel, that we have come to know?
Isn't part of being a "watchful doorkeeper" as Jesus describes in the Gospel of Mark about being aware of those who are outside the city and need to be drawn into the protection of the city of God. I believe that often we read this passage as though the doorkeeper's job is to keep people out. When I read this passage this year I found myself wanting to say that the doorkeeper knows how people will be protected inside and so he would want as many people as possible to come in and share in the bounty of the city.
How can I keep awake for their sake? How can we shape our ministry and our mission here at Christ Church for the sake of those presently outside God's loving, compassionate fellowship?
Bishops & Father Mike