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Advent 1 Sermon

Sermon text: Mark 13: 24-37

The Necessity for Watchfulness.  In my Bible that’s the heading they give to part of our Gospel lesson.  The Necessity for Watchfulness, or maybe Jesus would say, “Waiting is Essential.”  The problem is, and we are all deeply aware of this, watching and waiting stinks—they are intolerable acts of cruelty designed to torture the psyche.

For instance…recently it became clear to me that the only weight lifting I was doing was my weekly challenge of carrying all my bags of groceries from the car to the parsonage in one trip.  I decided that this particular training regime wasn’t adequate, so I went to the store and bought an adjustable kettlebell to work out at home.  But for various reason I didn’t like this product, so I returned it and ordered a different one online.

Is it just me, or is online shopping a double edged sword?  On the plus side there is the convenience, the instant transaction, and the endless options from all around the world, all available from your couch while you wear your jammies.  On the minus side there is the waiting for anything that isn’t being two-day shipped by Amazon.

Furthermore, I don’t know if it is a blessing or a curse that we can now track our packages online.  Does it make waiting easier or more excruciating?  On the one hand it is nice to track your package as you receive notifications from the carrier service.  On the other hand you can become entirely sucked in to a process that is far beyond your control.

On multiple occasions my best friends have complained, in real time, as they watched the delivery vehicle make the wrong turn or drive past their house as they followed the truck on an app and were anxiously waiting for their beloved parcel.  For the last two weeks I relentlessly checked my email, waiting for my order to be fulfilled, and then watching the status as my kettlebell traveled from Draper, Utah to Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania…watching in disbelief as I watched it go from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg before backtracking to our fair town of Hollidaysburg.

Waiting stinks.  I don’t care if it’s thirty seconds loading a website on dial-up internet, standing in line for three minutes at the deli counter, sitting for two hours at the DMV, or waiting 14 days for a cannonball shaped piece of exercise equipment to cross the country.  Waiting is awful, and we are accustomed to living in an instant society.  Also, it’s worth noting that it is one thing to wait when you have a relatively accurate idea of when the event will occur, if there is a timeline, but what if you’re watching and waiting for an indefinite period of time?

It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his own 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.

Jesus speaks these words to his disciples about his eventual return.  In our Christian understanding we believe that this will be a glorious day as Christ draws all of creation, both the past and the present into himself.  A day when all the forces that fragment the world will be removed or repaired.  A day that will bring peace, reconciliation, and unity as Jesus fulfills all of his promises.  This day is so neatly summarized in the Creed when we profess “he will come against in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.”

In the scene Jesus describes I imagine it was easy for the slaves to be on their best behavior for days and possibly weeks after the master left.  Perhaps a few months.  But how much time must transpire before we grow weary of waiting?  How much time must pass before we settle into the new reality, before we forget that the master is one day going to return?

Isn’t that the challenge of this pandemic?  In March and April we sang our ABCs, twice, when we washed our hands, we bathed in hand sanitizer, we even locked down the state.  As time continued we became used to this augmented reality.  Covid time became normal, even if we hate it.  And now, months later, as numbers surge, we are fatigued, we are tired of precautions and are desperately waiting for life to go back to normal.

Imagine being in Mark’s original audience, the people hearing these words about Jesus’ return 30 or so years after his death and resurrection.  How do you think those Christians felt about waiting for Jesus’ return?  How weary and watchful were they?

Or how about now in 2020?  How watchful are you of Jesus’ promise to come again?  Are you living like the cook on Thanksgiving, guarding the pop up timer like a hawk, or are you living like a 25 year old putting off retirement planning after landing their first job?—eh, retirement is lightyears away.

Jesus instructs us to be watchful, to keep awake, because there is something for us to witness.  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.

What signs of Jesus’ presence do you see in your life that let you know he is near?  What do you witness day to day that remind you of God’s presence, God’s providence, and God’s protection?  Where do you see and feel the Holy Spirit moving in this world? For while we wait for the fullness of God’s Kingdom to be installed as Jesus returns, we do receive little status updates as if we’re tracking our online orders:

  • Jesus was spotted as a neighbor delivered groceries to an at risk individual
    • Jesus was spotted in scientists who are developing vaccines and in the people who volunteered their bodies for testing
    • Jesus was spotted in grandparents video calling their grandchildren to say goodnight
    • Jesus was spotted as our youth make Christmas cards for homebound members
    • Jesus was spotted as we celebrated 50 years of women’s ordination in the Lutheran Church in America
    • Jesus was spotted in the multitude of prayers and well wishes and positive vibes that people send for each other as they face the challenges of life

Even if Jesus is not bodily here, he is present, and our job is to be watchful and then to share the story when we see him.  Jesus is present, and while we are keenly aware of how we are not living in the fullness of his Kingdom, we are tracking him with all of the hope and anticipation that comes with a package being delivered to our doorstep.  Keep awake friends, and share what you see.  AMEN

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