1 Advent , Year B ’17 *
Mark 13: 24-37
3 December 2017
Take my lips, oh Lord, and speak through them; take our minds and think with them. Take our hearts and set them on fire, through Jesus Christ our Lord, amen.
It is Advent. The altar and pulpit are hung with purple hangings. The Advent wreath is ready and we will say a special prayer each week as we light the candles one by one. This season is one of expectant waiting, of getting ready. It’s a time of searching our minds, preparing our hearts, and learning to understand more deeply that Christ is always with us in all our days, in all our times. The word “advent” means coming and for us that means the coming of Christ in the past, in the present and in the future. Surely you have had that experience of waiting, or even searching, for something? Maybe it was waiting for something as simple as a table in a crowded restaurant or searching for something as simple as your car keys. Of course, when you’re hungry and have to wait, or are in a hurry and need those keys, those little things seem like a big deal. At the same time, probably you have searched for something more important or waited for something more momentous. Most of us for instance have waited for a diagnosis, perhaps for something we dread, like an illness, or something we deeply hope for, signs of healing perhaps. Most of us have waited for a big day, a wedding or the day a loved one will return. Most of us have searched for a job that gives a sense of purpose and well-being. What are you searching for today, what are you waiting for? Hold that thought while I move on to the lessons. The book of Isaiah is a complex one. It was written over something like two hundred years and, clearly, the gathered material comes from the work of more than one prophet. It’s commonly divided into three sections. Still, the three sections taken as a whole, do give us a moving vision of the assurance, the hope, we can hold as God’s people in a world whose times are always and forever in God’s hands. Did you hear that note of waiting in the first part of our reading for today? “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down…” The prophet prays that God will be revealed as in days of old. The prophet knows that we, on our own, cannot really approach God. That prophet also holds the knowledge that God will come to us. His hope is based on the past history of his people with God, and so he prays that God will have compassion and come to us again. Well, we are in Advent, this season of searching and of waiting, of preparing ourselves for Christ’s coming. Did you hear it in our collect this morning? Why not take the lessons home this week? Pray the collect each morning, read the lesson, let them shape your first week of Advent. What I’ve noticed, and maybe you have too, is that the perfect something, the perfect someone, is always just beyond what we experience in this life. More than one spiritual writer has made the point that what we are all searching for, ultimately, is God. Spiritual writers and guides make the point that this life, while often beautiful and deeply good, is transient. And the one place we can find real joy, real fulfillment, real peace, is in the presence of God. The prophet got it just right. “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down…” I can just hear the longing in that ancient voice. It echoes something in my heart, does it echo something in yours as well? Even so, that prophet is an ancient one, dating back something like 500 years before Jesus’ birth. What about Jesus then? What does he have to say to us? In this morning’s gospel lesson Jesus tells us to “keep awake.” Perhaps some background would be helpful here. We are hearing Jesus’ voice as presented by the Gospel According to Mark. In particular, be aware that today we are reading from the very end of Mark 13, a chapter known as the little apocalypse. It is closely related to the Revelation to John and other scripture that addresses the end times. Understand, our reading today borrows heavily from Old Testament writers and makes clear that the end of time is coming and in that moment the Son of Man will come. That event is certain without any doubt. Thing is that no one, not the angels, not even Jesus, knows when that day will come. Only God knows the day and hour. Meanwhile we are to be watchful, we are to stand ready in our waiting. Beyond that Jesus makes it clear that we are to wait with hope. We are to watch with the assurance that Jesus, our Christ, will come again in glory. We are given that hope, that assurance to sustain us no matter what goes on in our lives in the here and now. The bottom line is this. We are all looking for something, and that something is God. It may look to us as though other things or other people will better fill our longing. Maybe it’s a bigger television, or another doctor who will hold out the hope of a better treatment. Maybe it’s a book that will offer perfect wisdom or a better teacher who will give us just what we need to interpret the book. You know what it is for you. And I will say, all those things are good. All those things are helpful in their way. The thing is, they will, each and every one of them, let us down at some point. Maybe in the end they will even break our hearts or our spirits. Why? Because in the end only God can ever really meet our desires, can ever entirely fill us. So, Jesus tells us to keep awake, to look for the coming of the one true and living God. And here is the Good News in it all. Jesus has a deeper message for us as well when we look beyond just this one reading. The person of Jesus, born once long ago in Bethlehem, crucified and risen again to new life, tells us plainly that God is also searching for us. God is reaching out to us. God is coming to us. So here’s one more thing to understand about Advent. Advent is an invitation from our gracious God to turn away from our futile searching and wait with eager, expectant hope. Advent is an invitation to hold ourselves ready be found by God who came to us once in the holy child at Bethlehem, and came again into our lives more fully at our baptisms, and who will come again in our every future. Remember this, it is in all our waiting, in all our searching, in the daily living of our lives that we have already been found, and loved, by our God who is always with us even to the end of time. Amen.