(Jesus said:) “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 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.”
“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. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 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.”
“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 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. 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, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” Mark 13:24-37 (NRSV)
Advent is a time of waiting and watching and anticipation. The Christmas story is so tender and sweet, with Joseph and Mary on a donkey, making their way to Bethlehem for Jesus to be born. We all love to sing carols like “Silent Night” that picture the baby Jesus in a manger. But verses such as this passage from Mark 13 and others like it (such as Matthew 24) when Jesus spoke of His return used to turn my blood to ice. Jesus isn’t portrayed as a sweet baby or even as a nice guy in this passage. He is coming back with an attitude.
Yes we should savor Advent and take the time to get away from the holiday hoo-hah to reflect on what God With Us really means. We should rejoice with Elizabeth and delight in Mary’s song of the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). We should look at the manger with wonder and awe. We do know that Jesus will return at some point in human history, and it will be a dramatic return. The thought of His return can seem rather frightening, especially when taken in the context of popular movies and books that are loosely based on apocalyptic passages of the Bible. However, we need to take apocalyptic passages as part of the whole counsel of Scripture and not turn them into a bang them up action movie. There is a great deal of exaggeration and metaphor in apocalyptic literature which is meant to drive the message home.
What if Jesus returns in the midst of the chaos? What if He comes back right into the middle of destruction, death and human suffering? Where will we be in that drama when He arrives? Are we going to be on the “good guy” side? Will He catch us “being good?”
Rather than looking at Jesus’ return as some kind blazing inferno action flick, why not see and anticipate Him as He really is: a deliverer, the one who will end suffering, death, destruction, and agony? He is the One we cry out to when we are suffering, when we are in despair, when there is no hope left. We reach out to Him from the chaos and uncertainty that characterize our lives.
We can look forward and watch and wait and anticipate that day, knowing that He will find His people who He has named and claimed waiting for Him and already bringing about His kingdom here on earth.
It has been said that when Martin Luther was asked what he would do if he knew today were the end of days, he said he would plant a tree.
God asks us to do the planting and the tending. The harvest is up to Him. Not every good thing we do will bear fruit that we will see, but it is all known to God. We wait and watch and hope and work and pray, not in fear, but with excitement and joy. Be awake. We don’t want to miss this!