The following was preached at Veedersburg and Hillsboro UMC on Sunday, November 30, 2008.  The verse for this week’s message is Mark 13:24-37.

Today’s passage is certainly an interesting way to begin Advent.  Advent is a time when we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, but it is much more than simply celebrating his birthday.  Advent is a time when we are filled with expectation and anticipation at the coming of Christ, and it’s not the same anticipation that many had in the first century.  If you’ll remember from last week, the first century Jews were expecting a military and political leader that would restore the fortunes of Israel.  The long awaited Messiah did come, so we are not waiting on the coming Messiah.  Jesus did live on this earth and showed us what a redeemed life looks like; a life that is fully engrossed in the will of God.  Jesus still lives, and it is his second coming that we are eagerly awaiting – a time when all of creation is restored and we will live eternally in the presence of the Triune God.  Today’s passage is a reminder of this.  It is a reminder that we are still living in a time of tension.  It’s the tension that God’s kingdom has already come in Jesus Christ, but that we are awaiting its full consummation upon Christ’s return.

The section in which we find today’s Scripture is in the midst of a conversation between Jesus and the disciples.  Jesus has been teaching in the Temple all day long, and when they come out, the disciples are quite impressed with the architecture of the area.  They say to Jesus in 13:1, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings.”  They are amazed at the structures which surround them.  But Jesus takes the opportunity to take their comment and tell them something spiritually significant.  Now, isn’t that just like Jesus?  We come to him with something that we find amazing, and he flips it on its head and gives us a totally different perspective; a broader perspective; an eternal perspective.

The discussion turns to what the last days are going to be like, and introduces one of the most studied and confusing conversations that Jesus ever had with his disciples.  The reason that I say this conversation is one of the most confusing is because there are so many different perspectives on what it is that Jesus is talking about here.  There is so much noise surrounding this Scripture, that we don’t really have a clue what Jesus is talking about here, but that doesn’t stop us from interpreting it anyway!

I am not going to stand here today and tell you that I have it all figured out.  I will say right now that I don’t have a clue if Jesus is talking literally or figuratively in this passage.  I don’t know if the Left Behind series hit the target dead on or was so far off base that it’s laughable.  And while we’re being honest, let’s go ahead and admit that they don’t really know either.  That’s the thing about the future.  It hasn’t happened yet, and unless there is some sort of time traveling device that will allow us to see the future, we can never predict with 100% certainty what will happen in the future.  But there is something inside us that always wants to know what will happen.  For some reason, we think we can face the future better if we know exactly how everything is going to go down.  But even some of the simplest predictions go unfulfilled, and sometimes the most bold predictions end up making us look silly.

I came across some of this century’s biggest mistaken predictions while working on something else a while ago, and I think it is appropriate to share them in this context in order to give us some perspective.

1.      In 1912, one of the most well-known failed predictions took place.  An official of the White Star Line declared the Titanic to be unsinkable.  Early in the morning of April 15th, the Titanic sunk, killing nearly 1,500 people.

2.      In 1939, the New York Times said the problem with TV was that people had to glue their eyes to a screen, and that the average American wouldn’t have time for it.  Today, the average American watches around 22 hours of television each week.

3.      And finally, “Whatever happens, the U.S. Navy is not going to be caught napping.”  Frank Knox, U.S. Secretary of the Navy, December 4, 1941.  As you probably know, three days later the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor killing 2,333 and wounding 1,139.

 The future is never 100% certain.  So, if we can’t use this passage to decifer what exactly is going to happen when Jesus returns, why do we look at it?  What can we learn from this passage?

Well, conveniently enough, the passage is broken down into three segments, all of which have something very important to say to us.  The first segment is found in 13:24-27.  One thing we learn from this segment is that the second coming of Jesus will be accompanied by strange occurences in nature, but what does that mean?  I’m sure many of us have seen strange weather before, but Jesus hasn’t come back, so there has to be something else that this segment is pointing to.  I think what this part of the passage is pointing to is Jesus’ authority over all things.  All of creation is awaiting his return, not just Christians.  All of creation is radically affected by the second coming.  In Isaiah 65, the prophet tells us that the Lord will make a new heavens and a new earth, and that the people will rejoice because it is a time of peace and intense joy.  2 Peter 3 refers to this time as one in which righteousness shall reign.  Creation as it was supposed to be, will be once again.

The second segment is found in 13:28-31.  Jesus tells the disciples to learn a lesson from the fig tree.  When its branches sprout leaves, you know that summer is near.  In the same way, if we are paying attention, we will also be ready for the second coming of Christ.  I can’t say specifically what it is that we need to be watching for, but I am confident that if we continue to carve out that time in our daily routines to listen, we will understand, in God’s time, what those signs are, and we will be prepared for the Jesus’ return.  

I don’t know how much I need to emphasize this point, but the simple truth is that we don’t know exactly when Jesus will return.  We can interpret the signs that are given many different ways, but ultimately, it comes down to the fact that God doesn’t tell us to figure out when it is going to happen.  What He does say is that we need to be prepared for it when it does happen.  And that is the other major point that we can pull out of this part of the text. 

Jesus closes this segment with the assurance that the earth will pass away, but his words will not.  Jesus’ words will stand the test of time while all else around it does not.  It is not a question of if Jesus will return; it is a matter of when it will happen.  This passage doesn’t incite speculation insofar as the actuality of these events is concerned, just how and when they will come about.  Jesus’ return is certain, and that is the most important thing to remember.  And what’s the next most important thing to remember?  It’s in the last segment, 13:32-37.

In these few verses, we are told, in this order, that the hour is unknown, to be on guard, to keep awake, that the time is unknown, to stay awake, that we don’t know when this will happen, and, again, to stay awake.  Do you sense the urgency in this part of the passage?  The uncertainty of the timing and the call to stay awake dominate these few verses.  Now, I have a feeling that if Jesus tells us to keep/stay awake three times in the span of five verses, then maybe we should take those words to heart.  Maybe he is trying to get across a significant point, and that point is that we constantly need to live in a state of preparation for his coming. 

We can’t go through life just accepting things as they are and living half aware of what is going on around us.  I have lived like that, I have a feeling that so many of you have as well.  It’s the type of life in which you wake up every morning and just go through the routine.  Nothing is special, nothing stands out – we cannot live like that.

Jesus doesn’t call us to enter into a relationship with him so that we can simply live life as we always have.  Jesus’ call to us is so that we can live a new life; a redeemed life; a life of abundance.  And when I say “abundance” I don’t mean that accepting Christ will automatically make you wealthy and you will never have to worry about anything ever again.  A life of abundance is a life that is lived to the fullest.  It is a life in which we expect Jesus’ return and live in such a way that shares the gospel with all around us.

We are people of Advent.  We are people who need live each day knowing that Jesus just might come back before the day is done, and knowing this, we prepare ourselves for his coming.  We celebrate Advent because Jesus has come.  We celebrate Advent because Jesus is here.  We celebrate Advent because Jesus will come again.