Advent 1B (11/30/2008)

A Life of Watchfulness

 

Lessons:      Isaiah 64:1-9      Psalm 80:-7, 17-19      1 Corinthians 1:3-9      Saint Mark 13:24-37

Prayer of the Day:     Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come. By your merciful protection awaken 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.

ad-vent (ăd věnt) n. The coming or arrival, especially of something awaited or momentous [Middle English, from Latin adventus, from the past participle of advenīre, to come to : ad, to + venīre, to come.]

Every serious student of the Bible knows its first words. ("In the beginning..." - Genesis 1:1) Yet how many could recite its last words? ("The one who testifies to these things says, 'Surely I am coming soon.' Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!" - Revelation 22:20) The season of Advent is grounded in the very last words of the Bible: the promise of Christ's return to this world. It is a season of considering how faithful Christians are to live in this "in between" time - this time between Christ's ascension and return.

In fact, that has been our focus for the past few weeks. On November 9 we considered the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids, and the call to be prepared for Christ to arrive. On November 16 we studied the Parable of the Talents, and the call to invest everything that has been entrusted to us in what matters most to our Master. On November 23 our focus was on the final judgment scene from Matthew 25, and the call to live with compassion and care for those who have needs. Now this week, as we begin our four-week long time of preparing for Christmas, we turn to the Parable of the Householder, and the charge given to the slaves of the household who await his return.
We sometimes say that Advent is a season of waiting and watching. This parable supports that belief, and emphasizes that it is not just a time to wait, but that it is also a time for intentional and productive watchfulness. The English translation of this parable doesn't quite capture the strength of the story. As this householder leaves on an extended journey, he "gives to his slaves authority, to each one in proportion to his work, and he commands the doorkeeper to keep watch." [Matthew 34: my translation] In the householder's absence, each slave has both authority and responsibility. When the householder returns (at an unknown time), each slave will have been expected to exercise that authority in a way that has fulfilled those responsibilities.

So what does Christian watchfulness look like? It doesn't mean to stand at the window of the front room, looking down the lane, ready to spring into action if we should see signs that his return is immanent. (That brings to mind the old bumper sticker: "Jesus is coming soon. Look busy.") Instead, faithful Christians wait for the return of Christ by continuing the work Jesus entrusted to us, and by using the authority we have been given to stay faithful to what he has asked to us to do.

In our tradition, we invite those who are becoming teenagers to participate in a ministry called "Catechism" (Greek for "Teaching"). At the end of three years of studying and practicing the Christian faith, our Catechists hear this charge from the Pastor:

Do you intend to continue in the covenant God made with you in holy baptism:     to live among God's faithful people,     to hear the word of God and share in the Lord's supper,     to proclaim the good news of God in Christ through         word and deed,     to serve all people, following the example of Jesus,     and to strive for justice and peace in all the earth?


Affirmation of Baptism (©2006, Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishers). Page 236.

In effect, we ask them to live in Christian watchfulness. As they await the return of their Lord (or their own personal return to the Lord), we ask them to focus on what God has called us all to be and to do: a worshipping people, gathered around the word and the meal, committed to evangelical outreach, intent on being of service to the world, and serving as advocates for justice and peace throughout the world.

Advent calls us to live as though Christ's return could be as soon as tomorrow. May we be ever aware of this possibility. May we encourage and strengthen one another for this faithfulness. And may God inspire our efforts, that through us, hope and peace might live on in this world.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week's Text:

  • What does this string of parables say about the life of faith?
  • Do Jesus' words in today's text sound like good news or bad news?
  • How must they have been received by Matthew's readers, who were living under intense persecution?

Connecting with This Week's Text:

 

 

  • Do I believe that Christ's return could be immanent?
  • What authority has God given me? And what responsibility has been entrusted to me?
  • What would watchful faithfulness on my part look like?