We look again to God with anxious eyes this Advent. With all the difficulties in the world sometimes we can feel so inadequate in trying to make the world a better place. What difference do we make in the world? Sometimes the world’s problems seem so big that it’s like “David and Goliath” – but let us remember, David actually defeated Goliath – but not with his own strength or with weapons provided by King Saul – but relying on God’s strength. Advent keeps us watching and waiting for Jesus Christ to return and until then we ask ourselves: do we still trust that God is in charge? Do we really believe that God is faithful to us and working towards bringing us home to be with him?
Our Advent focus, as always, encourages us to trust in God despite what is happening around us. Advent is a time of waiting and watching to keep our hope alive, despite the headlines that continue to bombard our TV screens and newspapers. Whether it’s the tensions between the USA and North Korea, the terrorist attacks by ISIS, the drugs crisis or the growing immorality in the world – these all make us fearful. But there’s another response to these that we continue to see and that is the growing prophesies of the world coming to an end. I’ve lost count of the number of predictions warning of Armageddon, the Tribulation and the Rapture – and if you’re not familiar with those terms come and have a chat with me.
These can have a negative effect on our faith as we see with the Jehovah’s Witnesses who on several occasions predicted the end of the world – 1914, 1915, 1918 and 1975 which saw many quit their jobs and sell their houses. That’s not what Jesus has said to do while we watch and wait. Another response which we continually see is a desire to go back to the good old days. Advent doesn’t focus on the past, when nostalgically things seemed better. Advent looks forward. But, one might ask, what do we have to look forward to? Despite the concerns we in the church and world have we express our faith that God has not given up on us. We reach out for God and discover God has been embracing us with love all along even during those times when we thought we were doing things alone..
Christmas decorations have been in the stores for some time already. Yet, our focus is not there yet – we are still preparing so we can bring that one essential point to the forefront- Jesus’ birth. And so we are called to “Prepare the way of the Lord” at Advent time. Advent doesn’t begin with cheery anticipation of the birth of Christ but rather a reminder of why we need Jesus our Saviour. We hear Jesus’ warning sounds in our ears, “Be alert! Stay awake!” This gospel reading isn’t from the beginning of Mark’s gospel but rather it is near the conclusion; it has a farewell theme preparing for Jesus’ arrest. In this section of Mark, Jesus talks about the destruction of the temple because that was where his disciples believed their earthly help would come from during their times of difficulty. So when the temple was destroyed they thought their faith was destroyed. Jesus taught them to look to him, the true temple. This section of Mark also speaks of Jesus return in glory as an end to the doom and gloom. So Jesus encourages his disciples that we should always be watchful and be full of anticipation for Jesus’ return and be ready. We are also reminded that we may have to wait for some time since the “master” of the house may not come until very late into the night hours, perhaps not till dawn. But Jesus calls us to keep alert, keep awake.
As many people stress over the coming holiday period and the Christmas rush, Advent calls us to prepare for something much bigger than the yearly arrival of Christmas and all the hustle and bustle of buying presents, sending out cards, and getting the Christmas lunch or dinner ready. Advent calls us to pay attention to the world around us wracked with suffering, violence, and hunger. The first Sunday of Advent begins with a story of cosmic signs, with the sun being darkened and the stars falling from heaven. Advent reminds us that, like the people of the Old Testament, we cry out for a Saviour to come and rescue us to give us hope that all is going to be okay. And that’s what we in the Church are waiting for – the return of one who promised to save us and bring us to our new home. We wait, and we hope and we keep watching, and keep awake. In our world torn by pain and division, we look at the pain all around us and we wonder, “how long?” How long will people have to live in fear in their communities, in their schools, and in their own homes? How long will we live at odds with our neighbour? How long will people have to endure violence and hunger and pain? We are tempted to wonder if things will be this way forever. But this season that we begin today — Advent — calls us to look deeper. It urges us to “Keep awake!”
It is a call of urgency and longing, but also a call of promise: there is hope.
Things will not always be as they are. Something is coming that is even bigger than our Christmas celebrations. Or rather – someone is coming. The world is waiting for justice. The world is waiting for peace. The world is waiting for God.
Advent is about preparing ourselves to receive the light of Christ that pierces our dark world. Jesus does remind us that the world has an end date when he says, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Mark 13:31).
The world may crumble but Jesus and his words will last forever. When that will be, we don’t know so Jesus says to watch and be alert and let the world’s destruction be a sign to keep looking to God and his promise: I am with you always, till the end of the age.