Sunday, November 30, 2014

Sermon; Advent 1B; Mark 13:24-37

Are you ready?  For the past several weeks we have heard stories about the end days, final judgment and preparation.  We heard of the five foolish and five wise bridesmaids.  We heard the parable of the talents.  We heard about sheep and goats.  And today we hear Jesus speaking of the end times.  We have been told over and over to keep awake, to watch and to be prepared.

Keep awake.  Be watchful.  Be prepared.  For what are we to be awake, watchful  and prepared?  The obvious answer for us is Christ.  As Christians, we believe Christ has come and that Christ will come again.  We believe that Jesus came as a baby born to Mary and Joseph in the town of Bethlehem.  And we believe that he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.  When said like that it all sounds so easy.

But it's only easy when we put the awesome power of God into terms and images we understand.  The reality is that God is doing remarkable new things.  And while God does these new things, we should be actively waiting.

Gabriel announced to Mary that she would give birth – and Mary and Joseph waited and prepared for that event.  We also need to wait and prepare.  In the same way we can't celebrate Easter without Good Friday, we can't celebrate Christmas without Advent.  Like Mary and Joseph waited and prepared for the birth of their son, we must wait and prepare to celebrate that birth.

For us, however, the celebration of Christ’s birth should have a deeper meaning.  For starters, we need to constantly fight the battle that the Christmas season doesn't begin on October 12, but on December 25.  More importantly is how we deal with the onslaught of Christmas commercialism.  The perfect example of this is the description of Black Friday as the day we fight each other for things we think we need the day after giving thanks for all we have.  This is a good time to ask ourselves which Christmas spirit are we following?

The readings we have heard over the past several weeks, and today's in particular, remind us to be awake, watchful and prepared because God is coming soon.  God is coming soon is the overarching theme of Advent.  Today Jesus says this generation will not pass away until the Son of Man comes.  The next two weeks give us John the Baptist in preparation for the arrival of Christ.  And Advent 4 gives us the Annunciation.  Stay awake.  Be watchful and be prepared because God is coming soon.  These are the last days.

But be warned – these are not the last days predicted by the Millerites of October 22, 1844, and again of April, July and October, 1845.  Nor are they the last days predicted by Harold Camping of September 6, 1994, May 21, 2011 or October 21, 2011.  Nor are they any of the many last days predicted by Hal Lindsey of 1988, the 1990's or the 2000's.  And they certainly aren't the last days of any of the many Left Behind books.

But what is happening is that these are the last days of how things have always been.  These are the last days and God is doing a remarkable new thing.  Through the Incarnation, God has come to dwell with us.  In the person of Jesus we see a new way to relate to God and with others.  In Jesus we know both what it means to challenge the status quo and what it means to be forgiven.  But we still have a long way to go.

In these last days where God is trying to do something new, we are still forced to confront systems that protect themselves.  We still have to deal with white police officers shooting and killing unarmed black boys and young men.  We still have to contend with systems that protect abusers and rapists because “she deserved it,” or, “it wasn't that bad,” or, “boys will be boys.”  We still have to deal with inequality on a variety of levels because some people don't meet the expectations or criteria of the majority.  We have a long way to go.

We have been told over and over that the kingdom of God has come into our midst.  In that respect, the coming of the kingdom of God can be seen as coming soon.  And even though the kingdom of God is in our midst, we must still wait for its fulfillment.

Advent is a time of anticipation and waiting.  But it should not be a time of idle waiting.  Advent is not the time when we hear the message, “I am coming soon,” and then sit back and wait for the sound of heavenly trumpets.

Advent is the time of actively waiting.  It is also the time of watchfulness and preparation.  The baby is coming soon.  God will be with us soon.  The kingdom is in our midst.  The goal of all these Advent, end-time stories isn't to give us a specific time-line of events, or to get us to focus on some far off event that is to happen soon, but to get us to realize the kingdom of God is here and to challenge our complacency.

In Advent, let us keep awake and watchful for those times and systems that continue to create inequality.  In Advent, let us be prepared to proclaim God's love for all people.  In Advent, let us be willing to live into the last days of the way things have always been by being prepared to live into the fist days of the kingdom realized.



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