Audio Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gcWNXXMScuU
Advent 1 B 30th Nov 14 Mark 13
So here we are at the beginning of Advent. Today we begin the process of getting ready for the incarnation- for God choosing to become flesh, Immanuel, God with us. Now there are lots of traditions centred on Christmas, and there are lots of secular things that go on in this run up to Christmas that look forward to baby Jesus, born in Bethlehem, so many that they actual serve to confuse us and obscure the whole important business of Advent. I think it is hard for us to grasp the important thing about Advent- which is the anticipation of Christ’s second coming. At this time as we wait and watch for the first coming, we wait, watch and get ready for the second coming, as well One of the things that does help us, however, is our tradition of the Advent Wreath and the candles.
Did you listen to the prayer that we prayed right at the beginning of the service, as we lit the first candle?
A candle burns,
the sign of hope.
God of hope,
come to us again this Advent.
May your hope live within us,
burning as a light in our lives.
The first candle is a sign of hope in our darkness. Of course, we miss the symbolism of the candle flame a bit. In the northern hemisphere it is, of course, getting progressively darker and colder. We, in Australia, are moving into blazing heat and light, and what the candle tends to remind us of is bushfires- but that’s as maybe. If you can imagine for a moment that sense of impending darkness being broken by the progressive addition of flames, one each week, you will have a better sense of what it is about. And this first week is a specific reminder of the hope that we share. But
“HOPE” is a word that we don’t necessarily understand very well. We tend to think of hope as either something that is wished for, like the bike I ‘hoped for’ every Christmas, but that was never forthcoming. Or we say that we hope that the sun will shine on a day when the forecast is for rain- something a little futile and unlikely. But the “hope” of the bible, both Old and New testaments is a very different thing. This hope is something sure and definite, but still to come, it is something that we are anticipating with joy. In the case of the hope of the second coming, we are already living in the last days, as we discussed last week, but at the same time we still are waiting. It is the now and not yet, that characterizes our new life in Christ.
Jesus tells us to learn a lesson from the fig tree- as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. You see the new growth and begin to hope for summer. Sometimes, when we are in the depths of winter, it can feel as if summer is never coming again, can’t it? And then, even while it is still freezing and dark, the crocuses and snow drops, jonquils and daffodils begin to poke through and then to bloom. The second coming is like that- all the signs are there, like the coming of spring the promise is in the earth, it is already there we just cannot see it yet, but the earth will turn, and new life will come. The second coming or parousia is on the way but as Jesus tells us we cannot predict when it will come. We have to wait, and we have to stay alert.
So how do we wait? What do we do to stay alert?
The first thing that we need to do is to “abide”, or stay in God. Remember in the long farewell discourse in John how Jesus goes on and on about how he is abiding in the Father and the Father in him? Then he talks about himself as the vine and us as the branches and how we have to abide, or stay attached to him.
Jesus in the passage we read today, which is the parallel passage to the one we had a few weeks ago in Matthew, tells us it is like a man going on a journey who leaves his servants behind and he puts them in charge, each with his work. Now in this version there are no talents or pounds, just work to be going on with. It seems much less exciting but it is the reality for most of us. And while we are working for our master we must keep alert.
The first thing to which we must keep alert is the word of God. We have to keep listening. Jesus says that heaven and earth will pass away but not his words. That is because he is the Word, eternally. He is the first and last word, alpha and omega. He is the word that spoke the creation into being, and what we are called to do is to abide in this word. And the word is teaching us to follow Christ, to be people that don’t just hear the word but people who dwell in the word, people who live out God’s word. But in order to do that we have to keep on hearing it- whether that is in church, being read and preached, or by quiet personal reading of the bible. We also have to hear the word of God, spoken and acted out, all around us, by our fellow Christians.
Another part of being ready is to keep alert to the presence of Jesus within ourselves, prompting us to be Christ to others, his hands and feet, and speaking his words of love. We also have to be alert to the presence of Jesus in our fellow human beings. Remember in last week’s gospel how the Son of Man at the judgement says that the goats have failed because they did not see him in their fellow human beings and treat them accordingly? It is said that as Mother Theresa went about caring for people she always named them as Christ. She would say, “Jesus has new sores on his legs” or, “Jesus seemed to be feeling better today”. Oh, that we could be so aware of Christ in others!
We are to follow Christ and do the things that he calls us to do, and then we will be ready for the judgement, we will be part of the elect that are gathered from the four winds and from the ends of the earth.
Do you notice that here in Mark when Jesus speaks of judgement, there is no wrath, and no damnation mentioned? The Son of Man will send his angels to gather the elect who are waiting for him to come. And maybe that is the judgement, in itself- that some of us will be alert and waiting for the Son of Man and some of us will not, some of us will be found to be asleep.
We are called not to sleep, but to active waiting. Let me read you something written by Father Thomas Ryan in the Sacred Art of Fasting:
Fasting is one of the ways the servants [of Jesus] keep themselves alert in this future-oriented waiting until the bridegroom returns. To what could you liken their discreet mysterious joy as they wait? You could say it is like the quiet humming or whistling of a choir member earlier in the day of a concert. It’s like a mother and father cleaning a house and making up the beds in anticipation of the kids’ coming home at … Christmas. It’s like standing at the airport terminal or train station, waiting for your loved one to appear. It’s like a fiancée patiently addressing the wedding invitations: the long-awaited event is not here yet, but it will come, and this is necessary preparation. In each case the energy is upbeat, forward-looking, and marked by the quiet joy of anticipation.
In this set of lovely images of our hope in Christ of the full coming of the Kingdom, we can begin to grasp the joy and quiet certainty that we live in here and now. The Son of Man is going to come in great power and glory and we have some very simple instructions about how to be ready. Keep alert and keep doing the job that we have been given, and whether it is in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow or at dawn, we will be ready.