Sunday, November 20, 2020 – Sermon by Art Taylor
In Mark’s Gospel, we get a full-on view of the end of the world and Christ’s second coming, the timing of which we can’t know but in anticipation we should keep alert. During our Bible Study this week when we discussed this passage, my first reaction was that it seems out of order from a lectionary perspective. I thought that as we are entering Advent, the beginning of the liturgical year, that we should be chronologically focused on the first coming of Christ. And it’s true that we spend much of this period preparing for Christmas, so today’s Gospel struck me as being a week late. The second coming represented in my mind, the end of the Christian story not the beginning. But as it turns out, Advent has little to do with the start of something. It’s about what’s coming, as its Latin roots confirm.
That Advent is placed at the beginning of the Christian year says more about the history of the liturgical seasons than the term Advent. But that’s for another time to be shared by a better historian than me. It does seem natural that the season of coming would be in anticipation of the birth of Christ and Christianity.
Mark says we do not know when it will be that Christ returns. This may be one of the reasons we spend so much time and energy on Christmas. The story of the first coming is known to all of us and brings us fulfillment in our belief that we have a savior. Why then do we need to focus on the mystery and uncertainty of the second coming?
But Advent is not only about the first coming; it’s a time for us to consider other comings as well. In addition to Christ’s birth 2000 years ago, there is also His coming presently into the lives of many who didn’t know God and ultimately Her coming at the world’s end to fulfill all Her promises.
We should focus on the second coming too because the story of our faith is incomplete without it. It is a time as the Nicene Creed says “Christ will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead…” We can’t ignore this judgement that will come to us whether we are living or dead. This notion of judgment is powerful and perhaps frightening. It sets up the idea that not all of us will enter Christ’s Kingdom. It would be presumptuous to assume that any of us will! We know our failings and our sinful nature. So we need to understand what it means to be alert, prepared and ready – especially if being alert is avoiding sin. Also, if being prepared it to live in the way that Christ did, our future is not certain. Who could meet these requirements?
So, let’s focus now on this second coming. Part of the challenge is that we must be ready at all times. Given Mark’s imagery compared to life as we know it, we might well believe that this second coming is near. The physical and emotional suffering in world today from the pandemic, the damage to life already caused by climate change along with its destructive potential, and the power we have to literally obliterate the world with massive nuclear explosions, paints a grim picture for all of us who cleave to this life. In the light of these observations, which seem to foretell Mark’s vision, the second coming may seem imminent. It may seem we don’t have long to prepare!
But while it’s easy to conclude from these events that the end is near, it’s also possible that these events signal the need for humans to come together to take care of what God has given us rather than a preview of the second coming. Mark says that there will be a period of suffering before the second coming. Maybe God is waiting for us to end that period. It’s not unreasonable to see it this way.
Considering the timing of the second coming, of which we cannot know, there is a song by Stevie Wonder in which he shares his vision of heaven being “10 Zillion light years away” and that “it’s taking Him so long because we’ve got so far to come.” If God were ready no distance would be an obstacle. As we’ve read in Mark’s gospel, God can come at any time. What’s interesting to me about the song is that it opens the possibility that it may not be that we are waiting for God but instead God is waiting for us. “It’s taking Him so long because we’ve got too far to come.” As the song later says.
If Stevie is right, we can all agree that we have a long way to go in our preparations, alertness and readiness. What if God is waiting for all to be ready? Maybe She does not want any to experience the wrath of Her judgement. Maybe the time is uncertain because God won’t give up on any of us. If God were to come today, judgement would be harsh, and many who are not alert would not make it into the Kingdom.
Yet we know that God’s mercy and grace toward humans made in his image is great. Even when we disappoint Him. We can see this is the many times that God promised to punish humans but later did not. In Exodus 32:14 “So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.” Jeremiah 26:19 “Did he not fear the Lord and entreat the favor of the Lord, and the Lord changed His mind about the misfortune which He had pronounced against them?” Amos 7:3 “The Lord changed His mind about this. ‘It shall not be,’ said the Lord.” Jonah 3:10 When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it.” Samuel 24:16 “When the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord relented from the calamity and said to the angel who destroyed the people, ‘It is enough! Now relax your hand!’”
God’s grace and mercy accounts for our very existence and it may well be that She is waiting on us to prepare the world so that all are ready for Her reentry. So, as we enter the season of Advent, let us remember that the second coming is as much a part of the Christian story as is Christmas.
But what does it mean to be alert and prepared and ready when we are prone, as mentioned above, to imperfection? It’s hard to know for sure. One thought is that we are alert by accepting that Jesus is our lord and savior and leaning constantly on God’s grace and mercy. It’s having faith in God and seeking God’s forgiveness for our transgressions “all day long.” Jesus’ blood on the cross gives us that if we only ask.
Second is to prepare with actions that aim toward caring about our neighbors and the “least of these.” As Reverend Fanny stated last week, it does not mean that we should be saving the world but offering a meal to a hungry person or writing a letter to someone in prison. It’s standing up for justice for those who are oppressed or treated unfairly, remembering that God loves us all the same. By giving to others, we prepare to receive the blessings of Jesus’ second coming.
Third is to get ready by interceding for those who don’t know God or who left this life and did not know God. There are many who will never know God because of the circumstances of their birth and life. One of the most significant ways we bring God closer I believe is when we intercede on behalf of others -Iike when we pray for eternal rest for all who departed in our intersessions each week. Maybe it’s in these ways we prepare, remain alert and get ready.
Faithfulness and Seeking God’s forgiveness, caring and acting for others in need and interceding for those who do not or didn’t know God is how we prepare.
Our preparation for this second coming extends beyond the Advent season. This is our everyday work. For as Mark says, we must be alert!