My sermon from November 27th, 2011 based on Mark 13:24-37.
Today is the first Sunday of the season of Advent. The word Advent comes from a latin word, adventus, that means “coming.” As Christians we celebrate Advent as a time of waiting or preparation for the coming of Christ. I like to think of Advent as this cool time of year when we are making preparations for the coming of Christ following two different paths, paths that are in many ways parallel, but that are distinct from one another. And while they are distinct from one another, I find that often our focus is placed more on one than on the other.
On the one hand Advent is a season that allows us to prepare for the coming of Christ that we celebrate on Christmas, the birth of a child born some 2,000 years ago. It is in this way that I think we most often focus our Advent energy in our preparations and our celebrations. We decorate, we bake, we reflect on the stories of that first Christmas and of other Christmases since. We focus our energy towards remembering and celebrating the birth of Christ as a historical reality of the past.
While this is not at all an inaccurate understanding of Advent, it is incomplete. While we make preparations during Advent to celebrate and remember the birth of Christ that has happened, the season of Advent also offers us the opportunity to make preparations for the time when Christ will come again. These preparations aren’t about shopping and wrapping and baking, they are about reflecting and praying and sharing. These, ironically, are the preparations that are often neglected during the craziness of this season.
As we gather together for worship this Advent we are going to be focusing our conversation around what it might mean for us to prepare for the coming of Christ that will be in our hearts and souls, in our lives, and in the world around us. Today we turn to the 13th chapter of Mark to see how we might begin to make these preparations.
Mark’s Gospel is the shortest of the four and the 13th chapter actually comes quite near the end during the earlier part of what we would refer to as Holy Week, the last week of Jesus’ life here on earth. Chapter 11 records the story of what we refer to as Palm Sunday and chapter 12 records a variety of parables that Jesus uses to teach and to challenge in Jerusalem. The 13th chapter then tells the story of a conversation that Jesus and his disciples have as the disciples are trying to wrap their minds around the things Jesus is saying and about which he is hinting. I want you to hear again these words that Jesus speaks as they are recorded in chapter 13…
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.’
Jesus uses an analogy here about a master going on a journey and leaving slaves at home with responsibilities to tend to while the master is away. I think the point of the analogy that Jesus is making is great, but my fear would be that we struggle to hear it because of some discomfort that exists (and rightfully so) around imagery of masters and slaves. And so I want to try to illustrate this in a way that might be a bit more accessible in the context of our 21st century lives.
Forget about a master and slaves, and let’s talk about parents and children. I want to tell you this story about the Smith family. One Summer, Sam and Sally Smith decided that they were going to take a little vacation, that they were going to go on a road trip. Now Sam and Sally have two college aged kids kids, Stewart and Suzie. Stewart and Suzie are both home from college for the summer staying with mom and dad, but they’re both working summer jobs and don’t have the free time to go with Sam and Sally on the vacation. Stewart and Suzie, the college aged Smith siblings are going to stay home while their mom and dad, Sam and Sally go on a road trip.
In preparing for their trip Sam and Sally develop a list of expectations and responsibilities for their children. While mom and dad are away Stewart and Suzie are expected to keep up with some routine cleaning, dishes, dusting, vacuuming, etc. Additionally, they are expected to complete some special projects. Stewart is supposed to sand and stain the deck. Suzie is supposed to scrub the tile in and repaint the kitchen.
And while it is clear what their expectations are of their children while they’re gone, Sam and Sally really don’t know how long they’ll be gone. They have the whole summer to travel and are excited about seeing some of the country they haven’t seen before. Sally and Sam could be gone for a few days, for a couple of weeks, or heck for even a month and a half. They don’t know their plans. Their kids surely can’t know their plans.
There will be a time when Suzie and Stewart’s parents return home. When Suzie and Stewart’s parents return home they expect to find things a certain way. Now, if you’re Suzie and Stewart, is this really how you most want to make use of mom and dad’s house while they’re gone…? Suzie and Stewart don’t know when it is that there parents will return and have no way of being certain, but they do know what is expected of them, even if it’s not always what they most want to do.
I don’t know about you, but if I knew Suzie and Stewart, I’d encourage them to stay on top of things, to take care of the big things they needed to do as soon as possible and to stay on top of the little things on an ongoing basis so that when there parents returned they would be ready. I would tell them, just as Jesus tells the disciples in Mark 13, to keep awake!
As Jesus encourages the disciples to be prepared for a time when the Son of Man will come again he encourages them to keep awake! The same encouragement comes to us today from this text. And so it begs the question, what might it look like for us to prepare for the time when Christ will come again? What might it look like for us to keep awake?
In order to really truthfully answer those questions about what it would look like for us to keep awake in preparation for Christ’s return, I believe it is helpful for us to first ask a related question, what are those things that distract us, that keep us from being prepared, that lull us to sleep and keep us from being awake and attentive and prepared?
I know that, at least metaphorically, I am often lulled to sleep by the sheer busyness of this time of year. This season of Advent offers a chance to and really even invites us to reflect, to pray, to study, to prepare for the coming of Christ again to the world. And in this bizarre and unfortunate, heck even ironic twist, this season is also one of the busiest of the year. Think about how many things there are to do in the next 28 days leading up to Christmas… (give people a chance to shout them out)
- There is shopping to be done.
- There are plans to be made with families.
- Time to be spent with families
- Time traveling to be with families
- There are school and community programs to attend.
- There is baking to be done
- Special social functions to attend
This is an incredibly busy time of year and while we are invited to make special preparations in our heart and soul and lives for the coming of Christ, it’s easy to lose sight of that, to be lulled to sleep isn’t it?
An additional reality that I struggle with this time of year is the cold and the darkness. Over the last decade or so medical professionals have begun to talk about the reality that is Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. It has been documented that there are increased incidences of depression during this time of year and that part of it is related to the increased darkness during the shorter days and the increased time inside during the colder days. I don’t know that I have ever really suffered from SAD, but I know that on cold winter mornings it is a lot easier to hit snooze and stay under the warm covers just a bit longer.
A few years ago about this time I preached an Advent sermon on John 10:10 where Jesus says that he came so that we might have life and have it abundantly. I remember working on and preaching that sermon and being really smacked upside the head with the reality that I wasn’t living this abundant life that Jesus had promised. I was working too many hours, sleeping too much, eating terribly, and failing to really connect with family and friends. I remember telling myself then that I was going to begin living differently, that I was going to begin trying to really live that abundant life that Jesus offers.
And so you know what I did that year? I made what I called some Advent Resolutions. I didn’t want to wait until January 1st to make changes in my life for the better, I wanted to begin now. And in making those Advent Resolutions I realized that that made a lot more sense than New Year’s Resolutions. And in making resolutions about how I wanted to live that were tied to my working for the coming of Christ in my life and in the world I managed to take them more seriously than I ever had resolutions based on the turning of the calendar to a new year.
And so as we journey together this Advent I invite you to think about those ways in which you might be struggling to keep awake to the good news of God’s love for you. I invite you to be honest about those things that are distractions or that lull you away from who you believe God might be calling you to be. Maybe making some Advent Resolutions would help you in preparing the way for Christ to come again in the world. Maybe some Advent Resolutions would help you keep awake!
As we journey together this Advent I invite you to consider that worship might be one of those important tools to help you prepare the way and keep awake. Next week we’ll look at some of the practical ways that we might prepare for Christ’s coming in the world through serving, by acts of justice and mercy.
On the 11th we’ll look at Mary’s reaction to the news that she would be playing a unique role in the coming of the Christ child.
The 18th is a very special Sunday as we’ll be exploring the ways in which we might prepare the way for the Christ-child in our midst through song. At 8:30 we will have a special service of lessons and carols, at 9:30 the children will present their Christmas music program and at 10:30 the choir will share God’s word through their Cantata.
Plan to be present for worship during this time of preparation. Plan to invite friends or family to join you for this special season. I invite you to keep awake as we prepare for the coming of the one who offers us life and life abundantly!