“And what I say to you, I say to all: Keep Awake.”
For the past several Sundays now, the Gospel lessons from Matthew 24 and 25 have been focused on the Eschaton, the end times; what is commonly referred to as the last judgement and the Second Coming of Christ.It seems appropriate to end the Church Year by talking about the end of time, but today is the beginning of a new Church year and we’re still talking about the end of time. The fact is every First Sunday of Advent starts with one of three versions of the same account found in Matthew 25, Mark 13, or Luke 21, depending where we’re at in the lectionary’s three-year cycle.
We hear in today’s reading from Mark 13about the Son of Man, Jesus the Christ, descending in clouds with great power and glory and the angels gathering the elect from the ends of the earth and to the ends of the heavens at the end of the age. In fact, Mark 13 is a shorter, albeit an earlier version of Matthew 24, 25 and Luke 21in which this discussion about the Son of Man coming in power and glory is set in Holy Week, the day before or the day of Maundy Thursday with Jesus and his disciples in the Temple precincts disciples commenting on the beauty and impressive structure of the Temple to which Jesus replies that not one stone will be left standing on the other. Jesus’s disciples ask, “When will this happen? What will be the signs?”This was an important question for Matthew’s, Mark’s, and Luke’s audience and congregations which primarily consisted of Jewish Christians, because by the time these Gospels are written, the Temple is destroyed, Jerusalem is in ruins and the Church of Jerusalem – the geographic center of early Christianity no longer exists because in 70 CE, the Romans destroyed it all.
And the question that is burning in their minds is “Where was Christ?
Why didn’t he come? Isn’t this the end of the age?Because if there ever was a time for Christ to appear – NOW is that time.”
To answer these concerns these Gospel writers comb through Jesus’s teachings and reframe their congregations’ questions as the disciples’ question and presents “Jesus’s answer” in a context that encourages faith and hope for the long haul.If one reads these accounts thoughtfully, it becomes clear that Jesus is not offering a prophecy about the future, which unfortunately has become the way most Christians think about these particular scripture readings.
Prophecy is nothing more and nothing less than pointing out the ignored obvious that’s happening under our noses, right now, along with a pinch of hope to get us through whatever it is being addressed at the time. As is true of all prophets, Jesus was and is a prophet of the present. He is the one who taught us, “… do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” And this approach can be illustrated by reading Jesus’ response to the disciple’s question of when that was left out of today’s reading.This is Jesus talking:
"When you hear of hear of wars and rumours of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there ill be famines. ...Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you be hated by all because of my name.”
Does any of that sound familiar?It should. It’s almost daily headlines today. Jesus took their concerns and took our concerns for the future and places them squarely in the present.
And here’s the clue that Mark is referencing the destruction of the Temple to his audience in Jesus’s voice:“But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand) then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; someone on the housetop must not go down or enter the house to take anything away; someone in the field must not turn back to get a coat.”
Mark’s original audience understood exactly what Mark meant by “let the reader understand.” The desolating sacrilege was the Roman banners flying where the Holy of Holies once was and the thousands of corpses of those trying to protect the Temple from desecration lay rotting in the open air. This was the experience these early Christian congregations had gone through. This is what they witnessed.Jesus continues:
… And if anyone says to you at that time, “Look! Here is the Messiah!” or “Look! There he is!”—do not believe it. False messiahs and false prophets will appear and produce signs and omens, to lead astray, if possible, the elect.”Let’s be clear about what Jesus is talking about when he talks about false Messiahs: He’s talking about individuals who at the time these gospels were being written and who in every age since that time have claimed: “I along, can save you.”
In essence, Jesus’s answer to the question when will this occur has been through the ages, “NOW!”
What emerges from that moment on is an awareness the Apostle Paul wrote about some ten to twenty years before the destruction of the Temple; that we are called into a relationship that presents Christ to the world as the Body of Christ, the Church.As Paul states in today’s second reading from 1 Corinthians: “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. … God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship (into a relationship) of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” 
It can be speculated that in the two-hundred thousand years that identifiable Homo sapiens (us) have walked the earth, human behavior hasn’t changed much; which explains why the headlines haven’t changed much throughout history, but throughout the course of human history, we have been given a different perspective of who we are and who God is.Beginning with the Hebrew Scriptures, in Genesis, we learn that we are made in the image of God and throughout the Hebrew and Christian scriptures that understanding is deepened until we find ourselves, in Paul’s language, incorporated into the Body of Christ and find our being in the very Being of God.
Advent always begins in Holy Week with Jesus telling us that “the son of Man will come again in power and glory,” but if the story of God’ incarnation in the form of Jesus should tell us anything, it is that God comes among us like a thief in the night or like the midnight arrival of bridegroom.
The imagery of Jesus born in a barn and Angels announcing his birth to lowly shepherds on an isolated country hillside rather than in the palaces of kings or with trumpets blaring in the Temple precincts – should tell us something of how Christ’s coming again is revealed.It is not likely to be seen with eyes that look for power and glory in the form of military might, swelled treasuries, gilded palaces, and lavish displays to underscore it all, but rather through the eyes of faith, because God is faithful, and God, in the form of the Son of Man, comes as one of us because he is one with us – Emmanuel.
So we start this new Church Year, as we start every new Church Year, with a reality check – that the world can indeed be a dark place in need of light, in need of a new perspective that is embedded in our faith of the Christ who came, in our love of the Christ who is, and in our hope of Christ who comes again.
Advent urges us to heed the call of John the Baptist to repent – to turn around and face the marvelous truth that God is with us. For in listening with the ears of our hearts and absorbing the stories of God’s love for us in Christ throughout the ages, we are given a new perspective of who we are in God.So let us keep awake, be present in the moment; be present to the moment, maintaining the perspective of who we are by God’s grace amidst any darkness we encounter by keeping lit the light of hope, faith, and love so that the Christ in us can greet the Christ who comes our way.
Nameste and Amen!
 See Matthew 6:34
 See Mark 13: 1 through 26 for the full context of selected scriptures. All quotations from scripture are in keeping
with the Revised Common Lectionary as found in The New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, the
Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America
© 1989, 1995
 Mark 13: 14 - 17
 Mark 13: 21- 22
 1 Corinthians 1: 7 & 9
 See Acts 17:28
 See Matthew 24:43 and 1 Thessalonians 5:2
 See Matthew 25:6