Reading 1 Corinthians 1.3-9
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way – in all your speaking and in all your knowledge – because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.
Gospel Mark 13.24-37
Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.
When the Gospel is announced the reader says
Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.
All Glory to you, O Lord.
Jesus said: “In those days,
“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
“At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.
“Now learn this lesson from the fig-tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
“No-one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the cock crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”
This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.
Let me ask you – what are the signs of the coming season? Christmas, I mean. And when do you start seeing them?
When I was in retail, we planning Christmas Stationery from the beginning of May. It opened on September 7. Many people thought that was too early. But there were queues on the first day. Some folks just lived for Christmas. Others had to catch the last posting date to new Zealand, which was surprisingly early.
What other signs are there? TV ads for gifts from October. Christmas lights from mid November. Christmas markets. Santa hats everywhere. Increasing panic – like the man who rushed in as the shop was closing on Christmas Eve and bought his wife a vacuum cleaner. Bet he had a good festive season.
Cards in the post. Happy Holidays for the politically correct. All those tedious annual descriptions of the children’s achievements.
Today is Advent Sunday. It signals a period of waiting for the coming of Jesus.
Mark describes the drama of the Son of Man played out in 3 acts.
Act 1 starts on Palm Sunday. Jesus enters Jerusalem and is hailed Son of David. He moves in and out of the Temple, and is challenged by the authorities, both religious and secular. Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, scribes.
Act 3 is the Passion narrative. It starts at the Last Supper and ends as the body of Jesus is taken down from the cross and buried before sundown.
That leaves Act 2. Chapter 13 of Mark’s gospel. Today we read the last few verses. Jesus teaches his disciples the truth of God’s presence. They ask when the end of time will come. Jesus tells them the signs to look out for, but warns them only the Father knows the time of the apocalypse.
This reading inaugurates the Advent season for us. All around us we hear silver bells. Ho ho-ing Santas. Jollity. Christmas carols. The faces of smiling children.
The church, on the other hand, offers us this text:
“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken”
What chance does that have against Santa Claus is coming to town? What relevance do all these cosmic signs and dire warnings have for the Advent season?
Well, one could be forgiven for thinking a secular Christmas is a lot more fun, but as we know, so many of its signs and portents are empty ones. About a third of the whole year’s profit in department stores comes at Christmas. But what does it signify? What is Christmas really all about? Sweaters you would not buy for yourself. Toys that break down before Boxing Day? Kids who prefer to play with the wrapping than what was inside?
What is inside Advent? What presents are we offered? The incredible promise within this passage is that which expresses the very heart of what we preach in Advent. "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away" (13:31).
Amidst the chaos of this time of year, we hear a promise that transcends the cultural focus of our time. The transitory frenzy of our preparations for this grand secular event offer nothing truly meaningful. But this is where our word of the coming of the Messiah should, and does mean so much more. It is permanent and will not let us down. It will not disappoint. It will keep on, even when the decorations come down and once proudly lit up trees wait collection lying on the pavement.
During Advent, we are commanded to remain alert. Keep awake. We are told this three times, in case we were not alert enough to hear it once. What are we waiting for? Well, the coming of Jesus, naturally.
At the end of Advent, Jesus comes as a child in Bethlehem. But he comes also, not as a baby, but as the Son of Man. He comes as the Messiah. He comes in the evening. He comes at midnight. He comes at cock crow. He comes at dawn. All these times are given us in Mark 14 and 15. The cross is present during the Advent season, because of the coming of the Son of Man. This is as important as the coming of Jesus as a baby, born in Bethlehem. The two are inseparable. This is the real Advent message, which remains permanent and vital as the emblems and icons of secular Happy Holiday wishes die away, and reality intrudes on our consciousness.
Hear the closing promise of Jesus, the Son of Man, in light of all that has been said in this marvellous Advent text: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (13:31). Likewise, the final word of our Advent text is a word of urgency and watchfulness: “And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake” (13:37).