“No One Knows”
November 27, 2011/First Sunday of Advent
For some unknown reason my father refused to let me stay home alone for more than 24 hours before I turned 18. If he and my mother were going to be out of town, I had to either stay with a friend or my older brother was co-opted into coming to stay with me. Quite honestly, I was better off alone, because my brother Brad was a pretty lax chaperone. But the Amy-must-be-18-in-order-to-be-in-the-house-for-longer-than-a-day rule was set in stone.
Then I turned 18 and my parents conveniently decided to take a week’s trip to Minnesota leaving me alone in Nashville. With one hand I waved them out the door and down the driveway. With the other hand I was dialing the phone letting people know that the party started at 8.
Now before you think I’m completely brazen, you need to know that my parents knew I was having a party before they’d even packed their bags. I told them. I might have said, “I think I’m going to have a few friends in while you’re gone.” I may not have clarified that a few meant 30 plus. But I doubt that my parents were under the illusion that I was going to have a small, quiet dinner party either. They were a little hipper than I gave them credit for. My dad’s last words as they pulled away were, “please don’t burn the house down.” I didn’t.
In fact the house was spotless when they came back home. But I was helped with this because I knew when my parents were coming home. I was prepared. I was ready. I had friends who weren’t so lucky. One of my friends had parents who would never tell her when they were coming back. They might go for a couple of days. They might leave for a week. Not telling her was supposedly a way to prevent wild parties and a trashed house. I spent a weekend with her when her parents were out of town and we cleaned everyday just in case her mom and dad pulled in unexpectedly.
Mark 13 says that the master of the house is a lot more like my friend’s parents than mine. No one knows when he’s going to return from his journey, so stay awake. Don’t drift off. Watch. Stay conscious. Stay awake. For the master could return at any moment. No one knows.
Warnings to stay awake. Stars falling. A darkened sun and moon. Heavenly powers shaken up. Not exactly images we normally picture at the beginning of Advent. There’s no babe lying in a manger for Mark. No cattle lowing, no shepherds being led to the child by a host of heavenly messengers. Instead on this first Sunday of Advent, we have what is known by Biblical scholars as Mark’s Little Apocalypse. This chapter begins with Jesus’ predictions about the destruction of the temple. Then Jesus and a few of the disciples – Peter, James, John and Andrew – retreat to the Mount of Olives, look out over the temple and discuss the end times.
His disciples question Jesus. “Tell us, when will this be; and what will be the signs that all these things are about to be accomplished?” Jesus tells them about many signs. False prophets and false messiahs. Beware those who come in his name, making claims in his name, yet in reality lead the faithful astray. Wars, nation rising up against nation. Earthquakes, famines, natural disasters. Don’t be alarmed, these are the beginning of the birth pangs.
There will be suffering. The disciples will be forced to testify to the good news in front of councils and governments. But don’t worry, the Holy Spirit will speak through them. And again, there will be false prophets and false messiahs pointing the people in the wrong direction. Leading the elect astray. So wake up! Stay awake!
And then we come to our verses. When the end times truly arrive cosmic signs will fill the sky. Stars, sun, moon. And then Jesus, the Son of Man will come surrounded by clouds in his power and glory. Angels will be sent to bring the elect from every corner of heaven and earth.
All this will happen in God’s time. Not even the angels or the Son himself know when the end will come. Only God the father. And he’s not telling. So stay awake! Remain on watch, wait open-eyed for the Master’s return. Because no one knows when he will come.
Apocalyptic literature and predictions about the end times, such as what is found in Daniel, the book of Revelation and this chapter in Mark, usually come out of a community that is oppressed and under siege by political, religious or military leaders. The situation in the community seems so utterly dire and desperate that their only hope is in divine intervention. No mortal means can end their suffering. Only action from God and God alone. Then their suffering will be justified. A new world will be issued in.
But that divine intervention will happen in God’s time and God’s time is not our time.
So stay awake. Stay alert. The end could come in the next moment. It could come next week or next month. We don’t know. No one knows. We just have to stay awake.
It’s hard to imagine it’s been over a decade now, but do you remember all the fears that surrounded the new millennium? Y2K. Predictions of the terrible things that would happen because computers hadn’t been programmed to switch from the 1900’s to 2000. Planes were supposedly going to drop out of the sky. The worlds’ businesses would go into a tailspin. There was going to be chaos on every street. Even movies were being made to exploit the fear that people had about Y2K. Just as a movie has been made to exploit the fear people have about 2012 and the predictions that the end of the world will come next year.
Around this time of year in 1999 Matt and Phoebe and I made a quick trip to Montreal. I remember that everywhere we looked there were signs about the approaching year 2000. As we drove out of the city there was even a huge billboard with flashing bright letters stating: 40 more days to the new millennium. Matt and I looked at each other and said, “The countdown has begun.” And I was scared. What was going to really happen on January 1, 2000? And I worried. But that New Year’s Day passed calmly and quietly. None of us could have predicted what would happen on September 11, 2001 or the Tsunami in 2004 or Hurricane Katrina or any of the events since.
It would be easy right now to look at current world events and try to interpret them in light of the apocalypse. Look at the terrible economic troubles happening here and in Europe and really around the world, look at the wars being fought in so many different places, look at the famine that continues to rage in parts of Africa. Think about the earthquakes that hit here just a few weeks ago, and the big one that shook the East Coast a month or so before that.
Are these signs that the end of the world is upon us? It seems like there have been wars and natural disasters and terrible things happening for centuries. Are these signs that the end of the world is upon us?
I don’t know. And I’m in good company when I say that, because Jesus said the same. Even the Son doesn’t know when the end will come. No one knows. All of that is in the Father’s hands.
But we must stay awake. When Jesus tells the disciples to do this he uses the same word that he uses in the Garden of Gethsemene when he begs the disciples to stay awake with in his final hours. Gregorite. Stay awake. No matter how hard it is, no matter how long it takes, stay awake with me.
But staying awake is hard. Personally, I like as much sleep as I can get. I don’t just like it. I value it. G.K. Chesterton wrote that sleep is one of the surest signs of trust in God. But sleep is also a means of escape. Constant sleeping is one of the signs of depression. Sleep can help us avoid the world. Sleep comes with boredom, waiting for something to happen.
Being asleep is much easier than being afraid, or helpless or bored. Being asleep is much easier than being alive to each moment. But Jesus won’t put up with this. Stay awake. Don’t miss a moment! Don’t sleep through life. Wake up to all that life brings you. If life is painful, than wake up to it. Live through it because it’s the only way you’ll heal. Wake up to the love and joy that you are afraid of having because you might get hurt. Wake up and recognize that the future is not in your hands. It’s in the hands of God. You might not get the future you planned on, but you just might get the one you need. Stay awake!
No one knows when the end is coming. The end of the world, the end of our family as we know it, the end of our church, our own end. No one knows. But don’t sleep through the time we have. We’re at the beginning of Advent, the season of waiting. This season when we look for a star in the sky telling us that a child has been born. Maybe this year will also herald the second coming. Maybe Jesus will finally come again. It’s been a long time since that first time. We’ve been waiting for centuries. But whether he comes or whether he doesn’t isn’t really the point. Are we awake? That is the point. Are we truly living in the present of each day? Are we celebrating the great and glorious expectations of this season? Are we awake to all that God is doing in our midst? Are we awake? Alleluia. Amen.