But in those days, following that distress, "'the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.' "At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens. "Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. "But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It's like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. "Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back-whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find your sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: 'Watch!'" Mark 13:24-37 (NIV) Read the whole chapter.
So you've probably already started hearing some of the Christmas carols being played on the radio stations. It usually starts right after Halloween. One of the Andy Williams songs that is very popular and done by many artists is that song, "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year." Now I don't know if you've heard that song yet, I've heard it a couple of times. I've thought it, and I think I may even said it out loud once in the car, 'Oh yeah right.' Because this year is anything but wonderful. It's your Thanksgiving celebrations that have been disrupted. Your plans for travel. Your Christmas plans, whatever it is. It's hard to imagine that right now. We're experiencing what we would consider the most wonderful time of the year. And yet it's still Advent. It's still this Christmas season. The decorations are going up. In fact, we decorated the house over the weekend. I have to say it looks and feels nice to have that extra color, that extra light. Those extra things to remind us of the joy of this season. So as it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, we hear those sounds around us.
This was the perfect text to begin this season with right? I mean Jesus after all begins with those words, "In those days, after that suffering. Yay Christmas! Wait a minute, what are we talking about here, suffering? Not only that, it's not just one suffering, he says, "In those days, after that suffering there is going to be more suffering. The sun will be darkened. The moon will not give light. The stars will fall from the heavens and the powers in the heavens will be shaken." Why? Why, Jesus? What are you talking about here?
Now, granted this is a passage in that last week leading up to Jesus' Passion in Mark. So this is a lectionary text that others have selected. But Jesus in that final week is arguing with the Pharisees and the Scribal experts about legal issues. He's being challenged and pushed. He gives this prophetic warning. This prophetic warning is consistent. Isaiah uses these words. Jesus is quoting from Isaiah. Even the prophet Joel talks about all these things happening in the cosmos: of the sun not giving light, the heavens being shaken. So it's a prophetic message of, 'Hey folks, something big is about to happen.'
So maybe this is a good text to begin this season on because as much as we want to see that baby and be reminded again of this gift of love, sometimes we need to be awakened from our slumber. Okay, we might not be asleep, but we need to be roused from our lethargy, from our complacency, from our ambivalence and indifference. We need to have a sense of urgency. We need to be reminded that we as a people, we as a nation, we as a world are in desperate need of a Savior. We need God to intervene. We need God to enter into our world right now and bring that light, that hope, that promise, that joy, that assurance that things can and will be well.
This year has been a year in which we have experienced so much. We've talked about it since it began. As if a pandemic that's altered virtually every aspect of our lives wasn't enough, the contentiousness of the election that we've just come through and even that wrangling that's still going on, the civil unrest, the protests and it continues. This is a year in which cosmic things seem to be happening and getting our attention and saying, 'Okay, what is going on? Where are you? How are you going to make good of all of this?" So Jesus in this passage says, 'You know how to read the signs around you when the fig trees' leaves come forth, you know that summer's coming, so pay attention, observe, watch, and look.' And in these times, have you noticed? Have you seen it? Have you observed that God is still at work in our world? Have you seen that God is still bringing about His good in spite of all of these things? Now Jesus says that we need to be mindful, to be watchful, to be awake and attentive. But he also says, "But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son but only the father."
A while back in our e-newsletter, I'd reflected upon the Psalms of lament. Psalm 13 in verse 1 is a good example of a Psalm of lament that begins with a person who is praying this psalm, crying out, "How long o Lord?" In anguish saying, 'Enough is enough. When is this ever going to end?' But to those laments, we have Jesus giving us no certainties and no assurances about the day or the hour. No one knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son. But he says, 'Be aware and keep alert.' And he gives this image, this metaphor of a person that goes on a long trip and leaves all of their servants in charge and says, 'Be awake.' To the watchman, he says, 'You don't know when I will return, whether it's going to be midnight or morning or whenever. So be alert. Keep awake and pay attention.' Friends for you and I, this journey through Advent, of waiting, of wondering, of watching and keeping awake. Where we are, for all of those servants that were left in charge, they weren't sent off to the far ends of the land looking for answers. The simple answer, the simple assignment: be alert, keep awake.
Dreaming is something that we all do. Whether we remember it or not. Based on all of the research and understanding of dreams, it's part of the way in which our brains kind of relaxes, unwinds, and cleans itself out. In those times of sleeping dreams, the world gets a little confusing. Sometimes in our dreams, reality doesn't quite make sense or match up. One of Melissa and I's favorite shows on TV right now is a drama called, "A Million Little Things". It's about a group of friends. There was a dream sequence in one of the episodes that we recently watched, one of the characters is at the side of their friend who is deceased. And in his dream, he's trying to help his friend. And the friend is hooked up to an IV pole and suddenly it starts beeping, alarming, and making all kinds of noises. He's frantically trying to get it to stop and to plug it back in. He stops and looks. He has a cell phone charger that he's trying to plug into this IV machine. He's frustrated because he doesn't understand what's happening.
So it is sometimes in those sleeping dreams that we have. But the thing about dreams is they open us up to things that maybe had not been considered or imagined before. In our waking dreams, in those times in which we seek out, to look, to latch on to that dream of God. That dream that God has for a world set right, a people put at peace, where needs are met, where children are loved, where compassion abounds, where unity and harmony are sought after by all people. These are the dreams of God. We cannot sleep through God's dreams. As Jesus said in his warning, 'Keep awake. Be aware. Be on watch. Look out and notice what God is doing because it is the dream of God that we would know God. That at God's side we would participate in the work of setting things right in this world. So we continue to adjust. We continue to watch. We continue to wait. We continue to press on, knowing that God's plan will continue to unfold. But it's only when we're awake that we see it and are able to fully participate. May God's blessings be on us and may the hope of this season be alive and well in God's dreams and in ours.