The Holy Gospel according to Mark, the 13th chapter.
Glory to you, O Lord.
24 "But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 Then they will see "the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. 28 "From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32 "But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake--for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today we begin the new church year. We light one Advent candle. We changed our liturgy a little bit, singing some new songs for the new season. The color of our paraments is blue, the color of hope, hope for Christ’s coming.
Our readings this year are primarily from the gospel of Mark.
Today’s Mark’s message for us is about the mystery of faith. We say it routinely every week in the prayer of Thanksgiving at the table. “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”
Mark has twin messages interwoven in today’s gospel lesson as he talks about the mystery of faith. The first is, “Live as if you are going to meet Christ tomorrow.” The second message is, “Prepare to wait a long time.”
Christ has died. This is an important reality for us. He is not with us as he once was. We can’t sit at his feet and ask him questions as the disciples did. We can’t feel the grass under us or appreciate the shade of the trees and the cool breezes as we hear him talk. We can’t witness the miracles for ourselves. We can’t taste the water turned into wine or watch the lame man walk again.
We can’t hear the parables from his lips. We don’t know what his voice sounds like. We can’t hear him laugh with the children as they play around him. We can’t tremble at his anger when he turned over the moneychangers’ tables in the temple. We can’t cry with him as he mourns the death of his friend.
Christ has died. He is not with us as he was with the disciples. But his death was not an ordinary death. He did not die of old age as we all hope for ourselves. He was not even an ordinary martyr, a great teacher who died because of his teachings.
He was executed by the government. Tortured and hung on the cross to die slowly and painfully, like a common criminal. Killed by the soldiers who policed the streets, threatening everyone who got in their way. Killed because the rich and powerful people considered his message too threatening to let him live.
Christ has died.
If that were all of the story, our religion would be a pathetic and sad one indeed.
But Christ is risen.
Our Lord was not bound by human death. He suffered it and endured it. Then he conquered it out of his great love for us and for all creation.
The resurrection of Christ is our greatest hope and the source of all our faith. Our resurrected Christ stayed with his followers here on earth for forty days, teaching them and explaining his message to them. Then he ascended to the Father, opening the gates of heaven for us.
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
The recent news in our world makes us wonder. We hear all about the racial and political divisions in our own country.
We hear all the news and we want to cry out with the prophet Isaiah, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down…so that the nations might tremble at your presence.”
We welcome the idea that the Lord would come down and make the world a better place. We humans sure seem to be messing things up. When we look at our world today, we feel like we could cry until we are drinking bowls of our own tears.
Since Christ is not with us as he once was, the world is behaving as if the Lord is completely absent from us. Experiencing God as absent causes us to transgress.
One of our ELCA bishops has said that when he was a child and he and his brothers were upstairs in their bedroom and they were tempted to misbehave, all his father had to say was, “Don’t make me come up there.”
Just knowing his dad was just downstairs was enough to keep him and his brothers in line. Dad didn’t have to go in there. His nearness was enough.
Mark has twin messages for us. “Live as if you are going to meet Christ tomorrow.” “Prepare to wait a long time.”
“Live as if you are going to meet Christ tomorrow.” This is a message about how to behave today. And that message is not, “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow you will die.”
Mark tells us to keep awake. He says to look out for the signs. Many have tried to predict what the signs might mean. But, no one knows the exact time, only the Father. And we know that God is often seen in people and places we least expect.
So, as things seem to get worse, as the sun shines hotter in the summer, as the snow gets heavier in the winter, as people seem to be fighting more and more, know that in the midst of all these fearful signs, that God is coming.
Christ will come again. But we could have to wait a long time. So in the meantime we will remember that he is near. We will keep awake and watch for the signs of his coming, but while we wait we will behave as children who know that their loving father is nearby.
We will act the way our father wants us to act, because we know he is near to us. We are God’s servants and we have our work to do. We will continue to work for justice and peace. We will continue to serve our neighbors.
We will continue to feed the hungry and speak out for those who have no voice or power in our society. We will continue to care for the earth and all its creatures.
As Luther said, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”
Even when we think we can read the signs, only the Father knows the day or the hour. We must be prepared for it to be tomorrow, and we must be prepared to wait a long time.
Waiting should not be a cause for worry or despair, though, because as Paul tells us, we already have everything we need. We are not lacking in any spiritual gift. We have been enriched in Christ in speech and knowledge of every kind. We have been given all the strength we need so that we will be blameless when Christ comes again.
God is faithful. We have nothing to fear as we proclaim the mystery of faith.
Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.