- Following those hard times, the sun will fade out, moon cloud over, Stars fall out of the sky, cosmic powers tremble. And then they’ll see the Son of Man enter in grand style, his Arrival filling the sky – no one will miss it! He’ll dispatch the angels; they will pull in the chosen from the four winds, from pole to pole. When you see all these things, you know he is at the door. Don’t take this lightly. I’m not just saying this for some future generation, but for this one, too – these things will happen. Sky and earth will wear out; my words won’t wear out. But the exact day and hour? No one knows that, not even heaven’s angels, not even the Son. Only the Father. So keep a sharp lookout, for you don’t know the timetable. It’s like a man who takes a trip, leaving home and putting his servants in charge, each assigned a task, and commanding the gatekeeper to stand watch. So, stay at your post, watching. You have no idea when the homeowner is returning, whether evening, midnight, cockcrow, or morning. You don’t want him showing up unannounced, with you asleep on the job. I say it to you, and I’m saying it to all: Stay at your post. Keep watch.” (Mark 13:24-27)
Today, Christians begin a new liturgical year and celebrate the ancient Season of Advent. For most American Christians, Advent passes virtually unnoticed, because the secular and intensely commercial celebration of “Christmas” begins earlier and earlier each year; this year Black Friday shopping started on Thanksgiving Day.
But in the hustle and bustle of the various holiday celebrations, the time of Advent offers us a time of quiet reflection, hopeful and patient waiting, and thinking about what the birth of Jesus means in our world today.
Advent is an ancient celebration, a four-week celebration ending with the birth of Jesus on Christmas. Advent is the time of waiting with anticipation for the fulfillment of the prophecies of Daniel and Isaiah: that a Messiah will come and gather the people to Him. The Messiah, the great and all-powerful one who brings us life everlasting, is being celebrated in this season as a tiny, helpless baby.
Most people think of Advent as a time to prepare us for Christmas, but Advent is about preparing for the arrival of Christ with new ears and open hearts. However, the story has become so familiar to us that we often take it for granted. We become like people that live next to the train tracks and no longer hear the train when it goes by. We tend to sleep walk our way through the story.
But if we wake up, we can see that the Christmas story is like a soap opera. Jesus is born to an unwed teenage mother. Jesus’ princely throne was a food trough, his princely court consists of some smelly animals and a few wise men. His ambassadors and evangelists are a handful of dirty shepherds just in from the fields.
That is what Advent is all about. We are waiting with hope for our Messiah. We will celebrate his birth by remembering what it felt like to wait for him the first time he came.
In this way, the crèche or manger (where Jesus was born) is very much like the cross (where Jesus died for us). They are both symbols of times when God’s love came into the world.
For the last four years we have lit an Advent wreath each of the four Sundays of Advent. This year we are going to do something a little different. You see a picture of the manger on the wall; notice it is empty, except for the star. Each Sunday, as we move toward the birth of Jesus, we will see more things appear, until we finally see the Baby Jesus in his crib.
Each week we will wait to see what appears. We are in the season of waiting. Waiting for the coming of Jesus, not only to celebrate his birth, but also awaiting his Second Coming.
But we don’t know when Jesus is coming again. There has been a lot of forecasting about when the Second Coming will happen, but those dates have all come and gone. We have no insight into the time. Jesus even warns us:
- No one knows when, not even heaven’s angels, not even the Son. Only the Father. So keep a sharp lookout, for you don’t know the timetable. (Mark 13:32)
Jesus’ coming will be sudden; there will be no time to prepare for him. Jesus says his return will be sudden! If we could see Jesus coming and his coming would take place in a year or so, or even a month from now, we might have time to get ready. But, that is not the case. You are ready now before he comes, or you will never be ready at his coming. So, it’s time to wake up and start watching and waiting.
When Mark’s gospel was written, watching was a bit different than it is today. In the twenty-first century we have cameras everywhere. At every traffic light, on our cell phones, in stores, banks, and down sidewalks and streets, we are all “on camera” all the time, it seems. In 2014 there is no such thing as not being “on watch.”
In Jesus’ time, “keeping watch” was much more “low tech”. “Keeping watch” meant keeping your eyes open and staying wide awake in order to respond quickly to sudden changes and threats.
We must watch and be ready. The coming can happen any time — it may be when we are paying attention, when we are awake and alert. But Jesus cautions that he may come while we are sleeping, while we are not paying any attention; Jesus warns
- “Keep awake.” (Mark 13:37)
But Jesus does not mean that we are never to sleep. He means we must:
- Wait patiently as we go about our daily activities. Waiting is hard; ask any little child waiting for Santa Claus to arrive. But we need to wait, and use that time while we are waiting to learn how to be patient. The best things in life always take time.
Not be distracted by the Christmas Holiday hub-bub. Preparations for Christmas started in some stores in August. We need to not get entangled in all this shopping and commercialization that we forget what is the ‘reason for the season’.
Be ready in our hearts for Jesus’ arrival. We need to remember the lessons Jesus taught us through parables and the Scriptures about how we are to live. We need to try to live the way Jesus taught us.
Strengthen our relationship with God. All things come from God; we should be ready to join the kingdom of God at any moment. We need to remember our prayer life, and daily give thanks for the blessings we have received. But don’t panic – remember we are all loved by God.
This Advent, we wait and watch with hope. We wait and watch, believing that the God who comes—whether as a baby in a manger or a king in glory—has the power to gather all the people around Him and establish the Kingdom of Heaven. May we be awakened from our slumber to wait and watch with for the God who comes yet again to be among us.
Are you watching? Are you ready?
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 30 November 2014