In Mark’s 13th chapter, Jesus told parables about the late return of the bridegroom and the maids who waited with lamps, some of whom did not bring enough oil, or the landowner coming home after a long journey, who asked about how his servants had managed the money he left them– these were the gospels of the second and third Sundays in November. They were each metaphors for a final judgement.
That theme about an unexpected return, carries on in this morning’s gospel (Mark 13: 24-37) in which Jesus quotes from Isaiah.“But in those days, after that suffering,the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. (Isaiah 13:10)The end will affect all people, not just individuals. It will be a global phenomenon.
Two questions that this theme raises are: what does this have to do with Advent, and, related to this: what does it tell us about the Incarnation?
Jesus continues, then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then 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….“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.
That the Son does not know is surprising to many Christians, who believe that the son knows the mind of the father. The statement is one of the reasons this gospel is used in Advent. Jesus’ admission that he does not know creates a perspective on the Incarnation: that is, it demonstrates that Jesus was fully human. (Mark 10:40 also hints at this when he tells James and John, who had asked him about sitting on his left and right hand in glory, that it is not in his power to grant. )
On the one hand the gospel seems to be a prediction of the end of time. It draws our attention to our ultimate destiny. Nevertheless, its real lesson is that people should live as though the end was near. This perspective is what Jesus encouraged.
Towards the end of the gospel Jesus says, Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. These two imperatives-- beware, keep alert –may be less about the imminent apocalypse than about how to live in that state of mindfulness of God. Attentiveness to God in daily life may be the actual message of the gospel.
In all his teaching, Jesus emphasized reverence for his Father’s wishes in daily life rather than the rituals of the synagogue and temple. It was not only Sabbath ceremonies but how one acts towards one’s neighbour or gives thanks for bread. These are the important rituals of daily life. If one acts in harmony with God’s and Jesus’ instructions, then one will be “ready” for the end, whether it is personal or a global phenomenon.
Jesus’ parables used familiar settings and experiences to underline the point about the importance of this habitual orientation towards God. It 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. This mini parable is a case in point. The slaves’ actions would reflect the master’s wishes for the work of his household, even when he is absent.Jesus again warns, Therefore, 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, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”
This gospel for the first Sunday of Advent invites us to do two things. One is to be conscious of our ultimate destiny, death. This is true of every living creature. While it may be fearsome, it is not meant to terrorize us. It is a sober fact which should affect the way we live.
The more important invitation is related to this: that we renew our attention, and intention, to living according to God’s wishes in our daily lives. In this way we will be aware and alert.God’s own Incarnation in Jesus meant that he accepted death as part of his human reality. Significantly, he showed us how to live in the moment, in the events of daily life, with an awareness of his ongoing relationship with the Father, who was his ultimate destiny.
· Put yourself in the shoes of Jesus’ disciples as they listen to this gospel. Did his words about coming in glory encourage them, confuse them, upset their ideas of what the Christ would be like? Did each one wonder whether if they were personally ready?
· What does keep alert mean to you in a spiritual context? (Some saints of the past centuries kept a human skull on their desks as a reminder of death.) Could it mean keeping a “gratitude journal”…consciously noting something each day for which you were especially grateful to God? (It makes for uplifting reading, later.) Does it invite you to confession?
· Does this gospel put you in an “Advent frame of mind”? Does it tip the scale towards the incarnation with its reminder that being human means that we will die, and that Jesus accepted that reality when he was born? Peace