“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out 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 say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.
More words of watchfulness. Observe the pleasantness of this figure of speech, following so closely on the alarming pictures Christ has already used. A fig tree renewing its annual period of bearing fruit. A picture of God’s gracious provision. When we notice such things happening, our hearts are lifted, we give thanks for the renewal and look ahead to summer and its promise of bounty. And look at the power of Jesus saying, “heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.” Everything we have been accustomed to --- heaven and earth, all created things --- can be gone in an instant, in the blink of an eye. What is eternal is the Word of God. That remains. That can be counted on. We are to welcome the end like we welcome the coming of summer. Because our Lord is coming to take us home.
The world cannot be counted on. The god of the world is not Jesus. The god of this world brings with him hopelessness, not hope. Satan promotes worry, delights in anxiety, and stimulates chaos. He is the father of lies, as Jesus said. And there’s a lot of that going around! Only God can provide hope through His grace, mercy, and peace that surpasses all our understanding. This is the foundation for our hope.
What is our hope? Hope for Christmas joy, surely; hope for a renewal of our spirits; hope for peace to come to our homes, our community, our nation, our world. As Oswald Chambers said, a century ago, “Inner peace is impossible unless it is received from Jesus. When Our Lord speaks peace, He makes peace.”
“But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. 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 servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”
So we look to The Lord. With Isaiah in our first lesson we plead with God, “Behold, please look, we are Your people.” We joined with the psalmist to pray, “”Restore us, O God of hosts; let Your face shine, that we may be saved!” Paul greeted the Corinthians with God’s grace and peace as they were waiting for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ --- not the first revealing of that first Christmas Day but for the Second coming, which is where we stand, as well. Just as the Corinthians needed God’s grace and peace in their waiting, so do we!
Are we ready? Ready for Christ to come? Ready for Christmas? Ready for God to act?
The Church year has a different calendar than the world. Today is the beginning of our year. And it is the beginning of one of the periods of the church year called “seasons” --- the Advent Season. Advent is a word meaning “coming”. Christ Jesus is “coming” to us, to the world, on Christmas Day. We prepare by lighting candles in our Advent Wreath --- adding one each Sunday, gathering more light, getting closer and closer to the Day, the event, that changes all of history. We who are separated from God by our sins, our rebellions, our thoughts and words and deeds that are unworthy of a child of God --- we prepare to welcome The Son of God as a newborn babe, come to earth to redeem us, to rescue us from the power of Satan and restore us to that eternal fellowship God planned for us from the beginning. He will live among us, live a fully human life, showing us how to live. And He will suffer a horrible, agonizing death on a Roman cross to remove the guilt of our sins and restore us by His resurrection.
Advent. Christ is coming. We prepare. It’s a waiting time, but not an idle time. And besides, we don’t really LIKE waiting. . . When was the last time you chose to get into the longest line at the grocery store, hmmm? . . . For many, it’s the busiest time of the year. But we do, some of us, like some of our “waiting” activities, our “busy-ness”: baking, buying gifts for those we love, decorating a tree in our home, remembering friends and neighbors with the sending of Christmas greetings. Only when the shopping, the baking, the decorating, the greetings are done are we “ready”. THEN we can celebrate. THEN we can receive Him Who is to come. Let’s return to our Gospel text.
In the Greek, the word “kai” appears with the verb for commanding the doorkeeper to be wakeful. That is, Christ says to the doorkeeper as well as the rest, “Stay awake”. This parable of the doorkeeper is only in Mark. Put together, as it is, with Jesus’ reminder that we all are ignorant of God’s timing, we need to hear His command to “Stay awake” as encouragement. Not as an appeal for fanaticism or an argument for indifference, but for eager anticipation. Like a child who can hardly wait for Christmas. We are each given our work, as servants of God. Each of us is important, as is every watch of the night: evening; midnight; when the rooster crows; and at dawn. The good word of anticipation Jesus gives to us, to share with all: “stay awake”.
Advent. It only makes sense if you need Christ to hold onto. If you need to believe that as wonderful as the sun, the moon, and the stars may be, when they all fall away it will be because a new, brighter, more perfect light has come, and we no longer need those things.
Advent is a special time, when we anticipate our favorite stories of Jesus’ birth. If we do it right, it’s also a time when we look around and feel uneasy. We are not comfortable with so many people starving, and we are moved to be generous in giving. We shouldn’t experience comfort when we stand on the brink of World War III and our own neighbors worship the flag of one aggressor and the oil of an another. They need to hear the Good News of the One worthy of worship.
Advent is a time to wait expectantly for the kind of king who gets born in a stable; who teaches people to trust God and not to worry about things like status or worldly possessions; who gets nailed to a cross for speaking truth, by people who were completely comfortable with the world the way it was.
Cyprian, the famous Bishop of Carthage, said this about Christians:
“In the midst (of this bad world) I have found a quiet and holy people. They have discovered a joy which is a thousand times better than any pleasure of the sinful life. They are despised and persecuted but they care not. They have overcome the world. These people are Christians. . .and I am one of them.”
The joy we seek, the strength we need, is in being convinced that God is in control of this world, as well as the next. And so we wait, awake, for Christ.
And so may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus. AMEN
Rev. Lisa Peterson
First Sunday in Advent
December 3, 2017