Beware, keep alert. (Mark 13.24-37)
Advent. Waiting. We get that. But waiting for what? The Lutherans in America, in the 1920s, after a rise in “End of the World” preachers, with all the sort of threats and fears associated with that, directed their clergy not to preach about the Second Coming. You can see why they might have done that. But if you take away what the biblical scholars call the “eschatological” element of the bible, if you ignore the “what next” and only focus on the here and now, building heaven on earth as it were, you flatten the Christian faith. We end up saying that this is all there is. There is no “beyond,” there is no “more than” what we can see. Christianity, if it takes that too much to heart, becomes the liturgical, aesthetic, ethical branch of social services.
We hear today from Mark 13. This is sometimes called the “Little Apocalypse.” Mark takes the opposite tack from the Lutherans. Rather than not thinking about the coming of the Lord because we don’t know the day or the hour, Mark thinks about it all the time. It is his frame of reference. Jesus only makes sense if he is the one who is to come. We will discover, this year, that Mark is utterly passionate about his readers making their own decision about Jesus.
We are neither Lutherans from the 1920s nor Mark. Our perspective is different. It is worth noting that Matthew, who used about 95% of Mark in his own gospel, is not consumed about Jesus coming with power and great glory any time soon. Which is not to say that Mark has nothing to say to us, only that we do not imagine that Mark’s insights are the only ones available.
On Advent Sunday, given all that, are there things we might take to heart from Mark? Here are a few.
An emotional response. We read this gospel and feel what? Excited? Repelled? Confused? What I suggest is that we should feel all of the above. Faith is an emotional response to the Lord as well as an intellectual one. If on Advent Sunday, we do not already feel a stirring of hope and expectation in our hearts, this passage should set our hearts on fire.
A deepened sense of confidence in the Lord. Yes, there is talk about the future, at a time and in a way we cannot anticipate. Mark wants us to know, however, that there is a future because God is our Father. Have courage, he is saying, despite what the world around looks like.
There is more to do. Mark is clear that we should not retreat into passivity, waiting on God to do everything for us. Specifically, he notes that we are gatekeepers, and our role is to open the door of faith so others can step in. Mark is nothing if not clear that we are to be evangelists.
Advent. Keep alert.