Advent 1B (12/3/2017)

Isaiah 64:1-9
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
1st Corinthians 1:3-9
St. Mark 13:24-37

Prayer of the Day:
Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. By your merciful protection waken us to the threatening dangers of our sins, and keep us blameless until the coming of your new day, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

13:24 “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27 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.

28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.

34 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. 35 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, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

St. Mark 13:24-37, New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

A Season of Waiting and Watching

The season of Advent is upon us: four weeks of preparation, designed to make us ready for the celebration of Christ’s birth towards the end of this month. Traditionally, the church has considered this as a time to slow down and to nurture spiritual growth. Advent is often marked by additional weekly opportunities for worship, personal times of devotion and prayer, and attempts to reach out to the community in acts of service.

If the whole world was striving for that kind of experience, it would be a simple task. But as we all know, December in our country is anything but slow and quiet. It is a hectic month, filled with parties, school programs, gift purchasing, college students returning home… and countless other additional demands on our time, attention and energy. The reality is that while the church is honoring Advent (this year; December 3-24) as a time of waiting and watching for the coming of Christ, the secular culture’s “Mid-Winter Festival” is in full bloom, with schedules that are packed to their fullest, and it is futile to try and pretend otherwise.

There is sadness in that. This can be, for believers, a season of hope. A season that draws us nearer to God, and grounds our spirits in the power of God’s grace and presence. A season that fills our hearts, and prepares us to celebrate the birth of Christ with enthusiasm. Yet this season is often one that leaves its celebrants empty, lonely, exhausted, and disappointed — often times people arrive at December 25th, grateful that it is “all over” for the year.

There is little likelihood that the church’s practice of Advent will soon change the way our wider culture celebrates at this time of year. The task, then, is to find ways we can honor the ancient traditions of our faith, even in the midst of the joy and the delight and the commotion of our culture’s celebration. For some of us, this may mean giving ourselves permission to say “no” to some of the many invitations we receive. It may mean committing ourselves (or our families) to a daily time of prayer and devotion. It may mean worshipping every Sunday, and taking advantage of mid-week opportunities our congregations may offer during this season. It may mean selecting some special acts of service — of reaching out to the needs in our world — as Christ instructed us to do. It may mean including gifts to charitable organizations that are working among the most vulnerable in our society.

These are some of the ways believers have set Advent aside as an intentional season of spiritual growth. These are also some of the ways that believers have sought to prepare themselves for the coming end that Jesus describes in this week’s Gospel lesson. We are instructed to “be on guard” — to “be alert.” Advent is a season where we learn what it means to live expectantly. As someone once said: “Live your life as if every day could be your last because eventually, one day, it will be.”

I wish you a blessed Advent as you prepare for the coming of Christmas. I pray that in the midst of the busyness, you might make time for Advent preparation. It will definitely make a difference for you. And who knows? It might even be habit-forming…

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. How might Jesus’ original audience have understood these words?
  2. What could this message have meant to St. Mark and the people of his day?
  3. What similarities are there between Mark 13 and Isaiah 64?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What cultural pressures draw me away from the contemplative quite of Advent?
  2. Which changes in my schedule might help me into a deeper experience of this season?
  3. Does the promised coming of Christ seem like good news or bad news to me?

The author would love to hear what you think about this post.