The First Reading from Isaiah 64:1-9
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— 2as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! 3When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. 4From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. 5You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. 6We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. 7There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. 8Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. 9Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.
The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark 13:24-37
24“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
26Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27Then 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. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31Heaven 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. 33Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34It 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. 35Therefore, 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, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
Advent I or the “Origin Story” of Jesus
by Mother Beth
Lately there has been a new interest in superheroes. As a kid I watched the cartoons but, now many of the comics have been made into movies and television shows and they attract large audiences. There is something exciting about watching that larger than life character who acts on the behalf of those of us who are just ordinary humans. Someone who has ability beyond our own who seeks out justice and who delivers the world from whatever kind of evil. This kind of intervention offers hope in extreme situations.
And if we think about it we will realize that the superhero is often a type of Christ figure – the character who is willing to risk his own life and happiness for the welfare of others. Sometimes these characters live according to a higher moral code and they always want to “save the world” from whatever destruction is heading this way.
So as we start Advent and we hear the reading from the gospel of Mark which sounds very much like an end of the world reading, I assure you that Jesus is proclaiming hope in the face of destruction.
We hear the extreme language of the end of time – but if this is the beginning of a new year, why do we start at the end? Isn’t this a little like reading the end of the book first? But that is, in a sense, the point… No matter how bad things get to be here on earth – no matter what the signs of the weather say – Jesus will return.
Let’s face it we all want to know that in the most adverse circumstances someone is going to be looking out for us and Jesus is the one for the job!
Just as the coming of Christ into the world – a baby in a manger – brought hope to a world suffering under the extreme military power and excesses of the Roman empire, so does the second coming of the Son of Man. Early Christians suffering persecution and torture at the hand of their oppressors wanted to know that there would be an end to their suffering that Christ would return to set them free – to bring justice.
The end of this world is a message of hope and to be assured of that end – to know who wins – to realize that God is bigger than any of the problems that this world offers – is true hope indeed.
This language of end times is also a reminder that God is not to be tamed –we so often want to make Advent and Christmas a Hallmark moment – a Christmas card portrait – a gentle little smiling baby in a crib.
But God surprises us with shaking the mountains and coming down to earth – with things we do not expect.
So during this time of watching and waiting… Where are we looking for God? A vulnerable baby born into a harsh world is not the answer that the people are expecting and yet it is the very thing that upsets the political and religious and social powers of that day.
But to think that Christ’s return will come in the same way and prepare ourselves for another baby we would be to deceive ourselves.
If we try to read the signs and know for sure when it will happen – we are fooling ourselves and we will be wasting our own time.
The beauty of the hope that Christ offers us is that we can be assured that he will deliver is in God’s time and that we do not have to concern ourselves with the how or the when that will happen.
We have a glimpse of the end and we know that God is the victor – in the meantime we await his coming not by idly standing around and counting the hours but by redeeming the time.
If we really believe that our time on this earth is finite – that we only have so much time – then there are important things to accomplish – and although the world would like us to believe that the only way to make a mark on this earth is to leave a legacy of a business or notoriety or fame – the truth is that God is all about relationship.
So it seems fitting as we enter Advent that we refocus our priorities about God and our neighbors. Let us use this reminder about the end of the world as a wake-up call – a reminder that time is indeed limited – and as the busyness of Christmas gifts, concerts and events encroaches on us – what will we prioritize? What are those things that we have meant to say but keep putting off? What are those things that we have been meaning to do – not for our own accomplishment but rather for the betterment of our relationships? Who is it that we need to spend time with? How can the way that we worship God and love others tell the true story of Christmas this year?
What little or big differences can we make in the way that we relate to each other?
Many times we are dismayed at the lack of Christ in the Christmas celebrations around us – at the mall or in the community. I challenge you to think about this… Whose story is the story of Christ? Who is responsible to tell the story? Is it the responsibility of the shopping mall or the local school? Is it the responsibility of Hallmark or the toy manufacturers? No. It is our story to tell. It is the story of those of us who have been grafted into the story. It is a great story and it is our story to tell. Instead of us being frustrated or dismayed at how others seem to overlook the gift of Christ in Christmas, let us enjoy the great privilege of telling our story – THE story of how we received the greatest gift at Christmas.
In Kindergarten I clearly playing on the jungle gym with another little girl – her name was Christine. I remember being so excited about the true story of Christmas that I said to her, “You may think that Christmas is about Santa Claus but Christmas is really about the birth of Jesus.” Now honestly, I’m not sure that I had the greatest approach. I’m not sure that I handled the whole thing very well but, in my joy and excitement, I could not help but tell someone the good news.
The hope of advent is not just the reminder of the good news of Christ being born into this world over 2000 years ago but that we watch and wait in hopeful expectation that he has plans to return and to redeem all that has gone wrong in this world.
Our actions towards God and towards each other will reveal whether or not we believe this to be so. The more seriously we believe it – the more faithfully we will live it. Are we willing to be daring and vulnerable? Are we willing to put into word and action the things that we know that we should do?
The desperate language of the end of time that we hear in the gospel calls for a radical response – Wake up! Do not wait for tomorrow! Be vigilant! Be ready! Don’t hold back – love those around you with all that is in you.
There is no need to fear rejection or disappointment – the things of this world are coming to an end – Take heart – Christ the Messiah will return and He is the Savior of the World. Amen.