Tag Archive: Mark 13:24-37

Awake in Advent

Last Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, I preached on Mark 13:24-37 at Community Lutheran Church:

If you’re anything like me, the past few days have been spent in a sort of hibernation mode. Packing in delicious food, watching T.V. and meditating on the wonders of comfortable pajamas and sleeping in. I am slightly ashamed that I really didn’t do a whole lot that was productive in that time. Yet, at the same time, I know that it was needed. Valuable time to rest and recharge. Precious time to spend with Jeff, the dog, and my family and friends. And I hope that you were able to have some of that time as well.

Each year, it seems that the Christmas season starts earlier and earlier. Now, emerging from a turkey coma, the world is going full steam ahead into Christmas, with decorations, shopping, parties, cookie baking, Christmas carols and the hustle and bustle of the holidays. With this flurry of activity and stress, it can be really easy to lose sight of God.

Meanwhile, we in the church enter into a time of expectant and hopeful waiting, yearning for the coming, or Advent, of Christ. As a result, the four weeks of Advent are kind of an odd time because we know that Christ has already come 2,000 years ago, yet we’re awaiting Christmas and Christ’s second coming where he will reign in the fullness of his kingdom. Holy and anticipatory waiting contrasted with the busy-ness and often chaos of the month of December.

And then we get these fiery passages about God tearing open the heavens, suffering in the world, the sun being darkened, the moon’s light giving out, falling stars and the very powers of the heavens shaking. Ummmm… yikes! I definitely feel the draw of watching the Grinch, making snowmen, eating gingerbread and laughing at ridiculous hip-shaking dancing Santas!

When we hear texts about the end of the world and the second coming of Christ, I think we have one of two tendencies. We may get nervous and try to figure out when it’s happening and how to read the signs of the times. It makes sense that we would try to figure it out given what we hear in Scripture, but Jesus also tells us, “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Not even Jesus knows when all of this is going to occur! I think our second tendency is to say, “I don’t know when this is going to happen, so I’m not going to think or worry about it.”

Both tendencies, however, miss what we are being called to. And that is faithfulness. We’re being called to keep our eyes peeled – to be like watchmen, waiting with our senses on high alert, prepared for whatever will come next. That’s why we hear this Gospel text in Advent – in the season of waiting, preparation, anticipation, and hope for the things to come.

But what do we do while we’re waiting? We keep watch and keep alert for the ways God is active in the world. And we keep watch and keep alert for the places and ways in which we can actively participate in God’s kingdom, whether that’s listening to those who are hurting, cooking for and serving the hungry, praying for and encouraging others in the faith, or repairing and building homes for others. We use this season to prepare our hearts to receive Christ at Christmas and every day through worship, prayer, fellowship and service. We live out our baptisms and are fed by the Word of God, and at the Lord’s Supper. We use this time to allow God to continue shaping us and helping us to recognize Christ in our neighbor.

I’ve been struggling over the past week, and maybe many of you have been, too. I’ve been listening to conflicting reports from Ferguson, Missouri, reading articles, opinion pieces, and listening to interviews… I’ve been trying to figure out what happened there. I’ve been disturbed by the violence, not only of Michael Brown’s shooting, but also of some of the protestors. I’ve been upset by the hate and the vitriol I’ve heard and read. I’ve been saddened by families torn apart, by the hurt, frustration and the brokenness of the situation in Ferguson that is rippling across the country. And I’ve been wondering how I, as a follower of Christ and a white woman in Virginia, can or should respond. I know that by virtue of my skin color, where I’ve been born, and my circumstances in life, I have been lucky – I have not had to worry about the affects of racism. So when an event occurs that highlights the racial divide, the poverty and lack of opportunity for people of color in our country, I struggle to find what to say or do.

I know, however, that the temptation is to hear about these events, acknowledge them, and then just continue with my life. To hit the snooze button rather than keeping awake for the places God might be calling me to use my voice, my role, or my gifts for the sake of my brothers and sisters. But the truth is, while we await the fullness of Christ’s loving, merciful, and just reign, we are invited to be a part of God’s kingdom work. To keep alert and attuned to how God is tugging at our hearts.

And God is tugging at each of our hearts a little differently. Jesus says in his parable, “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.” Each of us has our own work. We have a voice and we have opportunities to get involved in our world. We are invited to be a part of the conversations and reconciliation needed in so many different issues at hand, whether that’s poverty, education, working for peace, caring for the sick, comforting the dying or grieved. You have been invited by God to speak to and live out the hope and love you have been given in Christ Jesus. To keep awake – to be alive and fully present instead of asleep, complacent or missing out of the life into which God is inviting you. Where do you feel like God has awakened you to a need in our world? How might you use the gifts God has blessed you with to make a difference?

There is one other time this phrase “keep awake” or “keep watch” is used in the Gospel of Mark. It’s in the Garden of Gethsemane when Jesus urges his disciples to stay awake with him and keep watch as he prays about his upcoming trial and then crucifixion. The disciples, as you may recall, fall asleep not once, but twice, nodding off at one of the moments of Christ’s greatest need.   As we begin the season of Advent, we are reminded not to ignore those in need around us, or to ignore God in favor of perfectly decked halls or the most expensive or decadent gifts. We are reminded to slow down a bit and to savor this time, watching with the eyes of faith for opportunities to experience Christ in others and to share Christ with others.

There is an Aramaic word that appears only once in the New Testament, but I think it helps to paint a wonderful picture of Advent. The word is “Maranatha.” Say that with me: “Maranatha.” It can either mean “Our Lord has come” or it can be read as a plea or command: “Our Lord, come!” This word is the prayer of Advent. It is stating with hope and confidence that our Lord has come. Although things may be difficult, God is in our midst and is working in and through us to bring about the kingdom. We know this because we know Christ has come, has died and was raised from the dead. We know that we have a God who brings about healing and forgiveness in even the darkest situations – even from the cross.

And yet this prayer expresses the eager longing of people tired with the way things are. It cries out and asks God not to delay in bringing about the fullness of the kingdom where all are seen as children of God, where justice abounds for rich and poor, black and white, young and old, and where love is the currency people spend freely.   Maranatha. Our Lord has come. Come, O Lord. Amen.

© 2014. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

“Keep Awake!”

I have a confession to make.  I have already started listening to Christmas music.  I had songs stuck in my head and I gave in to the temptation sometime before Thanksgiving.  Shame on me!  And since I’ve gone down this slippery slope, now you’re going to hear about a Christmas carol!  I was driving a few days ago and I heard “Little Drummer Boy” come on the radio.  It’s my dad’s favorite carol since he’s a drummer, so I was grinning and singing along, but then I realized that this song was a perfect way to kick off our first Sunday of Advent and the Advent Conspiracy.

The song tells the story of a little boy who comes with a group to see the infant Jesus.  While others have fine gifts to give the King to honor or worship him, this poor, little boy has nothing to offer him.  And so, he humbly asks,

“Shall I play for you, pa rum pum pum pum,
On my drum?

Mary nodded, pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum,
rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum,

Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum.”

 Besides being a catchy tune with a fun beat, this is a great story about worshiping God with all you’ve got.

As you may recall, this Advent, we are participating in Advent Conspiracy, a program which is encouraging congregations to reclaim Advent as a time of worship, of spending less on material items, giving more of our time to family, friends and helping those in need, and loving all as Christ loves us.  This Sunday’s theme and, really a theme of Advent as a whole, is “worship fully.”

The church season of Advent and the shopping season for Christmas fall at the same time.  In the church we are in an odd in-between time.  We are preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus on Christmas, while already recognizing that it has happened.  At the same time, we are preparing our hearts for Christ’s return.  It’s a confusing time for sure!  But maybe this time – these four weeks – can help us understand something much bigger: how we live our lives as Christians in the world each and every day.

Our Gospel reading for this morning does not seem to match up with the joy and merriment people often associate with the Advent season or Christmas time.  “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 in the heavens will be shaken.”  It doesn’t sound good!  But in an instant, the next verses bring hope: Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 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.”

Jesus will return and will gather up his people.  There’s the good news!  With so much suffering, injustice, chaos and stress in the world, this is refreshing news.  But when is this going to happen?  “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”  Hmph.  If you’re a planner like I am, this might be frustrating.  What on earth are we supposed to be doing in the meantime?

Jesus answers us in two short words:  “Keep awake.”  Keep awake.  This is clearly a command not to fall asleep during sermons!!  Sadly, I don’t think that’s what Jesus had in mind when he told this to his disciples.  But keeping awake was important to Jesus.  In this passage, this phrase or similar phrases show up four times.  And the other time this phrase is used in Mark’s gospel is when Jesus tells his disciples to “keep awake” with him in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Keeping awake is crucial.

Now, I’m pretty sure Jesus is not instructing the disciples and us to be insomniacs.  Keeping awake can also mean keeping watch or keeping alert.  It means paying attention.  For the disciples, it meant that they would soon have to be paying attention to what was going on around them because Jesus wouldn’t be with them.  He was going to be crucified and they would have to make their way without his physical presence.  It meant that they would have to be on guard against false teachers who might seek to lead their fledgling community astray after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension.

We walk out of this sanctuary on Sunday mornings and we walk back into the world.  We walk out of an atmosphere of worship into the hustle and bustle of the city streets, humming with people rushing about, getting ready for the holidays.  We walk out of this place and into the whirl of the week.  And sometimes, in the midst of the craziness, we find ourselves dozing off to God’s presence in our lives.

It’s so easy for this to happen.  With to-do lists, shopping to be done, errands to be run, and cleaning, cooking and decorations to be managed, Advent, the season of hope, joy, and light turns into something we hope we make it out of.

Jesus’ command to “keep awake” is an invitation to once more find the joy and light in this time and all seasons.  Jesus invites us to pause and pay attention to where God is appearing and acting in our own lives.  It’s an invitation to notice once again how God is with us.  “Keep awake” is a call to turn from the things that drag us away from Christ and instead to turn once again toward God.  It is a call to be alert and watchful for the things that lead us to Christ.

We hear every year about the so-called “War on Christmas.”  There is a war on Christmas, but it’s not one that involves not being able to say “Merry Christmas” to people.  It’s a war that pits worshiping Jesus and following him against buying into consumerism and materialism in the name of Christ.

During this major shopping season, advertising would have us turn our hearts toward things and gadgets.  But we follow and worship a living, breathing God.   A God who comes to dwell with us incarnationally – in the flesh!  A God whose second coming we await and for which we yearn.

And this worship is not limited to this building.  In fact, this type of worship should not be contained by any walls.  It should spill over and shape every aspect of our lives.  It is worship we participate in in our homes, our jobs, our schoolwork and our play.  It includes prayer, praise, thanksgiving, hospitality to others, participating in the sacraments.  It also includes serving and forgiving others, and living out our vocations, whether they are jobs or roles as parents, spouses, children or friends.  Evelyn Underhill describes the mood of worship as “loving confidence in the Divine generosity.”  Worship is our response to God’s incredible love and forgiveness.   What does that worship look like for you?

Does it sound like making a joyful noise to the Lord with singing and instruments?  Or maybe it looks like dancing before the Lord like King David?  Does it look like a poem composed to praise God?  Or is it more like tending and caring for creation to honor our Creator?  Or maybe it looks like volunteering at the soup kitchen over the holidays?  Does it look like spending less on gifts and spending more time with family and friends?  Perhaps it is even something as simple as being a calming, gracious presence to those around you in the hectic Christmas rush.

One of the Eucharistic Prayers we use incudes these words: we worship “not as we ought but as we are able.”  Every time I hear this, I have great hope, because it means that on those days when I don’t feel particularly worshipful, what I can give is still welcomed by God.  And through those little offerings, God can transform our hearts into hearts full of worship and praise.

In this season, we wait.  We keep watch.  We keep awake.  We keep awake through the ever-darkening days for Jesus, the Lord of light, to burst onto the scene and illumine our lives and our way.  At the same time, we also celebrate that Jesus has already come and brought forgiveness, hope and love into our lives.   We are reminded by our reading this morning that Jesus continues to call us to keep alert for the ways in which God is present in our lives.

How will you worship God fully – with your whole life – this Advent?   How will this affect your shopping?  Your preparations?  Your stress level?  How will these four weeks help to shape your life as a follower of Christ the rest of the year?  I challenge all of us to think about worship this Advent – not just on Sunday mornings, but every day.  May we think about worship as a way of life, not just as a name for what we do when we gather here.  May we like the little drummer boy worship with all we’ve got.  May we worship fully.  AMEN.

© 2011. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

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