Allegations, Apocalypse, and Advent – Mark 13: 24-37
"But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see "the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory. 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.
"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, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
"But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 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. 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, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."
After my initial reading of the gospel text assigned for today, I quickly turned to a preaching commentary for some guidance. This is what I found on the very first page:
“Contrary to the manner in which it is often celebrated in the churches, Advent begins not on a note of joy, but of despair. Humankind has reached the end of its rope. All our schemes for self-improvement, for extracting ourselves from the traps we have set for ourselves, have come to nothing. We have now realized at the deepest level of our being that we cannot save ourselves, and that, apart from the intervention of God, we are totally and irretrievably lost.”*
If you’d prefer a message about joy, go listen to my midweek sermon on the Christmas movie Elf. But today we’re talking about an apocalypse.
Advent this year begins with an APOCALYPSE!
- Apocalyptic literature is a literary devise in which events are reinterpreted and reapplied in each context.
- Things are bad, they may get worse - it does not mean God has abandoned us, nor forsaken us, nor has God “lost” The apocalypse is not about watching and waiting passively, but actively bearing good fruit and participating in the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God
- The purpose of Apocalyptic literature is to INSPIRE HOPE not to sow fear
- “The basic message of apocalyptic visions is this: The rebellion against the reign of God is strong, as the wicked oppress the righteous. Things will get worse before they get better. But hang on just a little longer, because just when you are sure you cannot endure, God will intervene to turn the world right side up.”**
- The in-breaking of the Kingdom and the right-side-up-ing of the world is a tumultuous experience. These things have taken place in the past, through the cross. These things will continue to take place each time those who are suffering rise up against and topple the powers.
- Mark is addressing Jesus’ crucifixion as well as the destruction of the temple-centered society
- Reference to the disciples’ inability to stay away in the garden as Jesus prays prior to his betrayal and crucifixion
- v. 35 - when will the Master come? Evening, Midnight, at Cockcrow or at Dawn?
- “When it was evening”- Mark 14:17-Last Supper
- “He found them sleeping” - Mark 14:40 - in the middle of the night
- “At that moment the cock crowed” Mark 14:72 - the denial of Peter
- “At daybreak” - Mark 15:1 - Jesus is handed over to Pilate
- Is our faith lulling us to sleep or keeping us awake at night?
- “….[A]ll of our anticipation and preparation of Jesus’ second advent should be shaped by his first advent in the form of a vulnerable infant and as a man hanging on a tree. More than that, I think Mark is inviting us to look for Jesus – even here, even now – in similar places of vulnerability, openness, and need.” ***
Let’s Get Practical
Typically as Advent kicks off I am ready to throw out nuggets of wisdom like:
“Don’t sing Christmas carols during Advent” or
“Make sure you don’t overspend on Christmas presents” or
“Don’t get caught in the mania and commercialization of Christmas.”
However, I’m realizing this year that these are not the most pressing issues we’re dealing with. No, this year I’m realizing that things look bad, and they might even get worse. Right? I mean, things are bad.
Case in point, I bet you don’t even know which bad things I’m about to talk about!
It is the threat of nuclear war?
The prevalence of gun violence unique to our nation?
Well, those are bad; and the list can certainly continue with issues weighing on your hearts. But I’m thinking about an apocalypse that is much more personal – an ugly truth about our world that some of you have known about for a long time and which I am only slowly being brought up to speed.
Given that the message of this first Sunday in Advent is the admonition to stay awake as well as an invitation to look for Jesus in the places of vulnerability, openness, and need and participate in the toppling of the powers; I can think of no more practical issue to address than the prevalence of sexual abuse and harassment in America.
Like you, I’ve watched as men in positions of power have been revealed as predators. Each morning there are new allegations that someone has used his power to manipulate, coerce, or physically force others into sexually inappropriate situations. Each morning there is news that such a person, so long as he’s not a politician, has been fired or stepped down from his position. I’ve watched women step out from the shadows, buoyed by an understanding that they did not bring such action on themselves and that they are not alone.
I’ve watched all this happen with no clear understanding of how I should respond.
As a man in today’s society, what can I say?
As someone who has seen firsthand the wake of destruction left behind by sexual predators, what is my response?
As someone who, by virtue of my career, can claim at least some degree of power in today’s society, what should I do?
I do not ask out of a sense of defensiveness, as if I feel the need to defend the abhorrent behavior of other men. Rather, I ask because this is yet another moment where the Kingdom of God is breaking in on our world. People who have been victimized are standing up and confronting the power structures of today. This is another apocalypse.
Two thousand years ago the apocalypse to which Mark referred in his Gospel was the corruption of the temple-centered universe that failed to treat people equally and kept God at a distance; today it is the corruption of masculinity that has made women around the globe feel inferior and voiceless – a toxic masculinity that teaches boys from a young age women are inferior in every way.
In the midst of this apocalypse God calls us to respond not with watching and waiting passively, but by staying awake and actively participating in the in-breaking of the Kingdom.
I have an idea about what it would mean for me to participate in the in-breaking of the Kingdom in regard to this issue. I think I need to listen.
This week I listened to a podcast called Pantsuit Politics. A friend of mine from Paducah, Kentucky co-hosts the program. It’s a top-tier podcast with millions of downloads. In the episodes I listened to this week I heard an impassioned plea for women to assert themselves and for men to be quiet for once and listen. And not just listen, but believe.
Believe when a woman accuses a man of inappropriate sexual behavior.
Believe when a woman says she’s been treated differently from men her whole life.
Believe when women say that our world would be better if women’s gifts, intelligence, leadership, and insights were given equal weight as men’s.
I was particularly struck by this comment:
Having listening to the episodes and having started to reflect on the scope of this problem as well as the ways in which I have been shaped by a culture of toxic masculinity, I feel compelled to participate in God’s kingdom in-breaking in on our oppressive and unjust society. I believe God is doing something incredible through the courage and bravery of women who have taken a stand and insisted on being treated equally and insisted that men to keep their hands to themselves (and be held accountable when they cannot do that).
In this season of Advent, characterized by anticipation of the arrival of God in a new way both through the manger and through the cross, I hope that women will continue to be inspired and encouraged by the ones who are speaking up and demanding justice. I hope that women will seek out allies and continue to share their stories. I hope men will listen to women who have been victimized and I hope men will dedicate themselves to serious reflection. I hope that if you have been mistreated, abused, or assaulted, you'll realize that it is not your fault. And I hope Cross of Grace can be a safe and open space to accomplish some of this meaningful, kingdom-bringing work.
I hope women will persevere even when people them they are wrong and that “that’s just how the world works,” because God has a habit of disrupting the way the world works when the world doesn’t work for everyone equally.
So maybe my disclaimer at the beginning of the sermon was unnecessary. Maybe this actually is a message of joy. Joy in the despair; joy in the honesty, and joy at God’s promise that something new, beautiful, inclusive, and just will be born out of the struggle.
* Texts for Preaching, Year B, p. 1
** Christopher Hutson, Feasting on the Word, p. 22
*** David Lose (http://www.davidlose.net/2014/11/advent-1-b/)