Kenora 1 Advent
29 November 2020
Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18
1 Corinthians 1:3-9
God of unveiled truth, in times of darkened sun and waning moon, lift up our hearts and waken our love to announce the coming dawn of unexpected peace; through Jesus Christ, the one who is to come. Amen.
Today’s gospel is very much a ‘doom and gloom’ kind of text. It points out to each one of us the various signs of the end of times.
It does it in a way that reminds me of the focus of some of the more ‘black and white’ printed tabloids, who have been looking at, looking for years and trying to declare what events are the actual indicators of the end of the world, since I started grocery shopping.
And we see this sandwiched between papers filled with celebrity gossip, fab diet plans, makeup tips, and alien abductions that seem to dominate the grocery store checkout lines.
Perhaps the true demise of our society, of our world, is our ever-present focus on the lives of the rich and famous, and their ever-present personal problems, instead of looking at the world all around us and striving to work together for the betterment of all?
In the gospel for today, we see Jesus talking about the end of time, yet at the same time, he is bringing us back to the fig tree.
He reminds us of how the tree, in its annual cycle, marks the change of the seasons by the way we are able to see it bud, to put out leaves, and to develop new branches.
We’re able to watch those leaves go from promising buds, to verdant green leaves, to the autumn colours that herald the rotation of seasons. And then as they fall, and we watch the tree prepare for its annual winter hibernation.
Jesus tells us: “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.” (Mk 13:28)
Throughout our lives, we are able to see the seasons come and the seasons go.
We plant in the spring, tend in the summer, and harvest in the fall. And throughout this ongoing and consistent reminder of the change of the seasons we are able to know when to add long johns under our trousers, or switch to shorts, and throughout all of this we know that we, each one of us is loved and cared for.
We are able to remember, to acknowledge that we are loved so much by God that we have been given the knowledge that one day Jesus will come back.
Today’s gospel tells us: “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.” (Mk 13:26-27)
But this doesn’t mean we need to become devout readers of supermarket tabloids. (Please! Turn to a good novel, instead.)
And we see today that Jesus shares this with us so that we aren’t caught trying to figure out if the portents Jesus points to mean we need to put on long johns, or shorts, or fear the return of the Son of Man in our lives and hearts.
This isn’t meant to be greeted with wailing and moaning and tears. Those are a part of our world anyway when we face loss, or when things don’t go as we plan, or when they get out of hand, from a human perspective.
Nor does Jesus encourage us to sit on our hands waiting for the end of times. It will come when it comes, and in the meantime, the fig tree continues to bud, and grow, year after year.
Jesus hopes we will look with a sense of hope to such occurrences as the end of days, so that when Jesus comes in his glory then we’re prepared. Or maybe we’re not ready for the word hope, yet. But perhaps with anticipation that when the day comes, we’re ready, we’re prepared.
We’re prepared for the extraordinary vision of “‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.” Because if we weren’t prepared, we’d be thinking ‘alien invasion’, if we believe those tabloids. 😉 (Mk 13:26b)
Because when we’re prepared then the change of seasons isn’t as much of a shock, as we put away our shorts and hope the long johns will last another season.
And in the meantime, we need to be able to care for each other, in the cycle of the fig tree, when some seasons are easier on some than others.
So, in this time of Covid, of global pandemic, then we know that the time isn’t yet for the coming of Christ in his glory because the portents Jesus points to, in today’s gospel, haven’t happened, rather the pandemic is so much closer to home.
And closer to home, we know that when the trees shed their leaves it’s time to reach for those warmer layers of clothing, and to identify the whereabouts of one’s snow shovel. (Yes, it’s snowing as I write this.)
We know this isn’t the end of times because the tabloids are still talking about celebrity gossip and the latest abduction stories.
Instead, Jesus tells us: “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.” (Mk 13:32-33)
And this is good news for us, because this means we’re able to focus on life. We’re able to look with hope at the change of the seasons, especially if you love shovelling snow!
We’re able to gather (as we’re able, these days) with those whom we love, as we with the whole people of God look to Christ’s second coming.
So, as we gather, in tighter social bubbles, wash our hands, wear three-ply masks, and continue to physical distance. As we contemplate a much different upcoming Christmas season than we could have anticipated, we know that this isn’t the end of the world.
We know that only God knows the hour and the day. So God is waiting for something that only God knows to look for, but this is good news for us, just knowing that we are loved so much that we have Jesus words, Jesus reminder to live, and yet to keep alert.
And we know that we are loved so much that we’re being told to focus on life instead of on the end of the world.
“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.” (Mk 13:34-37)
We know we are loved because Jesus tells us that this will eventually come, but even he doesn’t know when. So our focus, then is on life. It’s on love, it’s on sharing the love of God with each other, as we move through the seasons, as we look to the seasonal pattern of life.
Today we celebrate the beginning of Advent. A new season is now under our feet, and still we look to the second coming of Christ, not in vain, but in hope.
And in that sense of hope, then, even in the midst of pandemic, we continue to celebrate, we continue to uphold each other, and we continue to live our lives. So that when the day does arrive, we greet it with all the joy we greet each morning, together in the love of God.
Sure, things don’t look anything like they did this time last year, when we were able to gather together, share in each others lives, and were connected in ways that, at the moment aren’t possible.
At the same time, we are still able to live, grow, and revel in life. We’re still able to anticipate the second coming of Christ, in his glory, at the same time we anticipate the birth of the Christ child in the manger.
We’re able to look forward to the love that we experience every day from each other, knowing that it comes to us from God, and we are able to share that to all who need to feel and experience the love of God in their own lives.
Paul reminds us, in the reading from Corinthians, for today, “4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus, 5 for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind— 6 just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you— 7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 1:4-7)
Paul, too, encourages us to live lives filled with faith, knowing that the end of times will find us, but that day isn’t today, and there’s still life to live, in the meantime.
And in this pattern, then we encourage each other, we uphold each other, we teach each other what we’ve learned from Jesus, from Paul, to look to the fig tree, to encourage each other with the teachings of Jesus because “about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Mk 13:32)
And if the Father knows then one day it will come to pass, and we’ve life to live in the meantime, as we wait for the return of our Lord and Saviour in his glory.