What Does It Mean To Keep Awake?

Sermon: Queen Anne Christian Church, Seattle, WA
November 27, 2011, First Sunday of Advent
Scripture: Mark 13:24–37

The Coming of the Son of Man
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.
26Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory.27Then 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.29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he* is near, at the very gates.30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.31Heaven 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.33Beware, keep alert;* for you do not know when the time will come.34It 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.35Therefore, 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,36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.’

 These verses are some of the most difficult found in the Gospel of Mark. It’s not just the fact this it is apocalyptic in nature, but it is stuffed with meaning, which may or may not have meaning for us in the 21st century.   It is also an odd start to Advent, no angels, no shepherds, just a warning, crazy stuff huh. So, we are going to have to wade through the imagery and history to find what is meaningful for us today.  I wish I had more than 10 minutes or so because there is so much in this scripture and it’s really interesting, but I’m sure you don’t so I will be brief.

The fact of the matter is Jesus isn’t talking about the second coming at all here because He almost immediately says that no one will know when that will happen, not even him!  Mark is writing to a community that needs to flee the Jewish revolt, which began in 66-65 of the Common Era and resulted in the destruction of the temple in 70 of the Common Era.  So much of the imagery Jesus speaks here is related to Jesus’ own prophecy of that event, which came true.  Mark is telling his community that this war isn’t theirs, it’s not the beginning of the end, so Mark’s community needs to “get out of Dodge” before they become enmeshed in the destruction.   What is important to recognize is Jesus is fine without knowing,  it is useless to speculate about the second and Jesus knew God has ensured that history, his and ours, was headed somewhere, we have to be patient and let it unfold.  And, that is the first clue to finding meaning in this scripture; patience.

Let’s take another look, in Mark 13:30-31 Jesus says “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”  Now that surely sounds like the second coming.  Well let’s think about that for a moment, if Mark is warning his community to leave Jerusalem,  telling them that the war wasn’t their war, nor the Messiah’s war, does it not make sense that what Mark is saying is this war will end before they do, Jerusalem may pass away but the words and deeds of Jesus won’t.     Again Mark, through Jesus’ words, is telling his community to be patient.  How do we know that, well in verse 32 Jesus says “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the son, only the Father.”  Well if no one knows, not even Jesus or the angels, and the lack of that knowledge doesn’t bother Jesus then we need to stop worrying about the whens and start living the way we are intended.   All we have to do is “be alert,” when the time is right, it will happen.   But what does it mean to be alert?

So what are we to do while we wait, oh ever so patiently, well Jesus has an answer for that as well in verse 34, Jesus always has an answer, well nearly always, sometimes Jesus lets us figure it out.  So here’s the story.  Your employer goes on an extended vacation and he tells you and your fellow workers that each of you have your tasks to complete while he, or she, is gone.  The employer doesn’t expect you to wonder when he or she will return, or to cut short your work days, or take a vacation yourself, the employer expects you to do your job and fulfill your contract.  The employer tells you that she doesn’t know when she will return, so you need to keep awake and do your job or otherwise you will be caught short when she does return.  And that is the second clue to what this scripture means to us, we have a task that needs to be completed before the coming of the Master.

So how do the clues of waiting and working fit us in this season of Advent?  Well first of all we aren’t supposed to sit in our rocking chairs and wait for the day to come,  whether that be Christmas Day or the Second coming.  We Christians have a mission to complete; our waiting is supposed to be active waiting not passive.  Jesus makes that clear when he says “each has his work.”   So just what are we supposed to do; well be a faithful witness and in Mark’s day, and ours, that points to social justice.  We need to be aware of the social justice issues of our day,  which by the way aren’t that different from when Mark’s Gospel was written.   How do I know that, well all I have to do,  and you too,  is LOOK at what Jesus DID, not so much what he said, for Mark, nor Matthew or Luke for that matter, does not record many of Jesus’ words but nearly every page has Jesus doing something.  Jesus heals the sick, chases out demons, feeds the hungry, and offers comfort where comfort is needed. He plays with children and shares his table with those the so-called righteous of his day lock out of their homes.  In other words he made a difference in his world and Jesus calls us to make a difference in our world. While we wait for the day the Kingdom of God is fully expressed WE are to do the best we can to prepare for it.  We are to keep AWAKE and not let the Master find us sleeping in our Lazyboy chairs with the remote in our laps.   We are to continue the ministry Jesus and his Disciples started, opening the doors of compassion, love, mercy and justice for those who have no voice in this world.

It’s not our place to speculate when the Master will return; it is our task to do the work of the Master while we wait for the Kingdom to be fulfilled. God has assured us that history is going places; Jesus was content with letting God take control, so we too must do the same.  Tomorrow will come, of that we have no doubt, and today is all we need to be concerned about.  Do you remember the old television show Mission Impossible?  Well just like the voice on the tape this is your assignment.  “This is your mission if you choose to accept it, take care of the poor, the hungry, the widow, and the stranger amongst you.  Have compassion for the voiceless, offer mercy to all, and let justice and kindness guide you as you walk with God.  This sermon will self destruct in 15 seconds.”

©Ruth Jewell, November 27, 2011

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