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November 29, 2020 is Advent 1B

Isaiah 64:1-9 – O that you would tear open the heavens and come down…

Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 – Stir up your power O Lord and come to save us.

1 Corinthians 1:3-9 – God will strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Mark 13:24-37 – But about that day… no one knows, neither the angels… nor the Son

First, An Overview of The Gospel of Mark

This Sunday is Advent I, the first Sunday of the new church year. We say goodbye to a year of Matthew and move into a year of Mark, with a smattering of John. Click HERE for an Introduction to Mark’s Gospel.

Here’s bird’s eye view of the gospels for Year B in RCL:

Year B-at-a-Glance 

A very rough outline of the lectionary year

Advent is November 29, 2020 to December 20, 2020 (Mark 13, Mark 1, John 1, Luke 1)

January 6-February 16, 2021 – Mark 1 And John 1
January 18, 2021 is MLK Day

January 18-25 is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
February 14, 2021 – Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-9)

February 17, 2021 – Ash Wednesday (Joel 2, Isaiah 58, Matthew 6)
February 21-March 21, 2021 – Five Sundays in Lent:

Baptism and Temptation of Jesus (Mark 1:9-15)
Peter’s Confession (Mark 8:31-38)
Cleansing of the Temple (John 2:13-22)
Just as Moses lifted up the serpent, so the Son of Man (John 3:14-31)
Greeks: We want to see Jesus (John 12:20-33)

Three Days
March 28, 2021 – Palm Passion Sunday (Mark 14 or 15)
April 1, 2021 – Maundy Thursday (John 13:1-17, 31b-35)
April 2, 2021 – Good Friday (John 18:1-19:42)
April 3, 2021 – Easter Vigil

Easter through Pentecost
April 4, 2021 – Easter Sunday (Mark 16:1-8)
April 11-May 16, 2021 – Easter Season texts from John and Luke
May 23, 2021 – Pentecost (John 15: Advocate will bear witness to the truth)

Time After Pentecost
May 30, 2021 – Trinity Sunday (John 3: Nicodemus)
June 3-July 18, 2018 – Mark 3-6 (4: Parables. 5-6 More Healings)
July 25-August 22, 2021 – John 6 “Bread” texts for five weeks
August 29-October 23 – Mark 7-10 (End of Galilee ministry and Journey to Jerusalem)
October 31 – Reformation Sunday (John 8)
November 7 – All Saints (or the Widow’s Coins)
November 14 – Mark 13 (the end is coming)
November 21 – Christ the King (John 18: My kingdom is not of this world.)

A Short Outline of Mark’s Gospel

  • Introduction (1:1-13)
  • Jesus’ Ministry in Galilee (1:16-8:26)
  • Journey to Jerusalem (8:27-10:52)
  • Jesus in Jerusalem (11:1-13:37)
  • Passion and Resurrection (14-16:18)

The date of A.D. 70 is preferred because Mark mentions events of the siege of Jerusalem (A.D. 66-70), most notably in Mark’s “Little Apocalypse” in chapter 13, from which is this Sunday’s text.

Here is what to expect in this Advent season of expectation:

Advent B Summary

  • Advent 1B Mark 13:24-37 –   About that day or hour no one knows
  • Advent 2B Mark 1:1-8  –   The voice: Prepare the way of the lord
  • Advent 3B John 1:6-8, 19-28  –   John: The voice in the wilderness
  • Advent 4B Luke 1:26-38  –  The Annunciation

Mark’s Little Apocalypse

Chapter 13 is the Gospel of Mark’s little apocalypse. 13:1-8 will not be read for another year. Verses 9–23 do not get read in the Lutheran lectionary. These verses are important to understand today’s text, which picks up in the middle of this discourse.

Jesus and his disciples walk out of the temple. They are marveling at the magnificence of this building. Indeed, the temple probably took up 1/6 of the city of Jerusalem. Ben Witherington III says it would’ve looked like a mountain of white marble decorated with gold from the Mount of Olives. And yet Jesus predicts that one stone will not be left on another. Some of these huge stones are 25 x 50‘. Jesus is not the first prophet to predict the temple’s destruction (Jer. 7:14; 26:6; Mic. 3:12).

Then Jesus says that his followers will suffer intense persecution. Next he says there will be suffering such as the world has never seen. This takes us to our text for today, Mark 13:24 to the end of the chapter:

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.”

The sun and the moon will be darkened, and the stars will fall from the sky (almost a direct quote from Isaiah 13:10). The Son of Man will come on the cloud. This would be a good Sunday to sing “Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending.” Read the signs of the times. When the fig tree puts forth new branches, you know that summer is near. But as to the exact day, no one knows, not even the Son of Man. So, don’t focus on predicting the day or the time, focus on remaining vigilant and being prepared. Apparently, they had their false prophets of doom then as we do today.

Mark 13 looks to the end of the world and the messianic return, which Mark says will happen a short time after this destruction (the temple). Josephus says the temple was on fire during the final assault. The messiah will come “on the clouds” in this interval between the destruction of the temple and the end of the world. Mark’s community is living in this short interval time. How long will this short interval be? When will the end come? “Soon”, is Mark’s response. Just like you know summer is just about here when the fig tree bears leaves, so you can know that since Jerusalem has been destroyed, it’s time for the second coming.

“This generation will not pass away before these things come to pass,” Jesus says. If we are talking about the destruction of the temple, Jesus is spot on. Generations are forty years in the Bible. Jesus would be speaking in 30 AD and the temple was destroyed in 70 AD. But if we are speaking about stars literally falling and the end of the world, then the interval turns out to be not as short as Mark thought. Nevertheless, Mark gave himself a loophole: No one really knows the time: not the angels, and not even the Son. From this, by the way, I read a lower Christology in Mark. Even Jesus doesn’t know. Support seems to be, if Jesus doesn’t know, what are the odds that others do?

The “little apocalypse” probably is a key to understanding Mark (and Peter’s? and Jesus’?) theology. He reflects the early church’s consensus that the end was coming within their lifetime. Mark thought so. So did Paul, by the way. Recall that Paul said in the Thessalonian correspondence, when Christ returns, the dead in Christ would rise first, and then “we who are still alive” would be second, meeting them in the air. Paul fully expects to be alive when Christ returns, at least early in his ministry.

Advent, at its heart, developed as a season to keep alive this messianic expectation. Stories abound about absentee landlords, who go away and are likely to return any moment. It was a time for the church to remind itself to remain vigilant.

The parable is similar to the Parable of the Virgins that we had recently in Matthew 25. A landowner goes away but will return soon. How will that landlord respond upon finding them goofing off, misbehaving, burying talents, and generally not being “alert.” Advent was not originally the time of preparation for celebrating Christ’s birthday. In fact, the startling thing in reading the Church Fathers’ Advent sermons is that there is little to no mention of Christmas in them. These early Advent sermons are about staying and alert for Christ’s return.

Whether preparing for Christmas or preparing for the second coming, the theme of “preparation” is clear. The preacher might reflect on how we prepare to meet Christ, whether at the end of the world or the end of your life. Let’s all draft our obituaries. Ponder what you might like the speaker to say at your funeral. How you live now, the choices you are making right this minute, will shape that eulogy.

Karoline Lewis, Associate Professor of Preaching and the Marbury E. Anderson Chair in Biblical Preaching at Luther Seminary in Saint Paul, Minnesota, suggests a “sermon on the first Sunday of Advent can be a reorientation in time and of time toward God’s time.” I would observe that our sense of time has been shifted a little bit by the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ve also noticed throughout my life that time seems to pass more quickly or more slowly depending upon what I’m doing. Certain activities can slow down time, at least in my perception. Sabbath, rest, worship, prayer and play shift our sense of time. “Ultimately, God’s entering into time disrupts time, displaces time, disorients time,” Lewis opines. What does it mean to live in God’s time?

One last thought. My son and I once watched a show in which Stephen Hawking assured us that the sun wasn’t scheduled to do the things Mark describes for a few more million years.  Not long after that program I attended a funeral of someone who died too young. I was reminded that, regardless of the timing of the end of the world, we are, everyone of us, only a short time from meeting our Maker. Maybe today. You don’t know what hour, like a thief in the night. Are you ready?