Day 255 | Sunday, 28 November 2020
The assigned Scripture readings for this the first Sunday in Advent are: Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 and Mark 13:24-37.
24 “In those days, after the suffering of that time, the sun will become dark, and the moon won’t give its light. 25 The stars will fall from the sky, and the planets and other heavenly bodies will be shaken. 26 Then they will see the Human One coming in the clouds with great power and splendor. 27 Then he will send the angels and gather together his chosen people from the four corners of the earth, from the end of the earth to the end of heaven.
28 “Learn this parable from the fig tree. After its branch becomes tender and it sprouts new leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 In the same way, when you see these things happening, you know that he’s near, at the door. 30 I assure you that this generation won’t pass away until all these things happen. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will certainly not pass away.
32 “But nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the angels in heaven and not the Son. Only the Father knows. 33 Watch out! Stay alert! You don’t know when the time is coming. 34 It is as if someone took a trip, left the household behind, and put the servants in charge, giving each one a job to do, and told the doorkeeper to stay alert. 35 Therefore, stay alert! You don’t know when the head of the household will come, whether in the evening or at midnight, or when the rooster crows in the early morning or at daybreak. 36 Don’t let him show up when you weren’t expecting and find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to all: Stay alert!”
When we read texts like Mark 13, it’s so important to remember to be on our best reading behavior. First, fearsome as the texts are, we have to remember scripture itself is God’s word to us meant to inspire joy and love, not fear. Second, and most importantly, scripture is always about Jesus, and the church being joined like limbs to a body with him as its head. We see these things about the sun and the moon and the stars being darkened and immediately we’re thinking of natural disasters, signs and wonders, all kinds of natural fireworks. When this passage is spoken by Jesus, in a book, the Bible, that’s all about Jesus, designed to lead us, Jesus’ body, closer to our head, who is also Jesus. If our reading is about when the world will end or scaring some poor hormonal teenager or telling our political enemies they’re going to get it, something has gone very, very wrong. On the other hand, if we read the text with reference to Jesus, even if we get things wrong, we’re still in the right universe.
There’s another key rule for reading scripture that this passage will not let us forget. Scripture is always about Jesus’ return. There’s a relentless, forward-looking posture to Christianity.
We Christians have to admit these sorts of passages have put us on some of our worst behavior. Believing Christ is coming soon, many of us have done foolish things, given up everything, told others they’re off to unpleasant places – neither of which is suggested here. On the other hand we’ve overreacted against that by thinking Jesus isn’t coming at all, growing cold, not minding if we’re arrogant or selfish, but just going on as usual, unconcerned about the poor or God’s coming judgment on our sin. Mark 13 was written for us: “Beware, keep alert, for you do not know when the time will come.” The secret here, it seems to me, is like the secret with good cooking. You have to use heat, or the thing won’t cook. But if you use too much, or don’t stir enough, your food will burn and the feast is ruined. As Christians we have to keep the heat on – Jesus is coming and bringing his judgment, a foolish thing or two is not out of the question. But we can’t keep it on too hot or we’ll burn up, or burn others out. A 2000-year slow boil called church. Who knows when the Lord will decide it’s time for the banquet, at which all have a place, the poor at the end, the haughty at the end?