The first Sunday of Advent always begins with trouble.
“Be on your guard” Jesus told his disciples in Mark 13, “and see that no one leads you astray…” And then he foretold of coming days that didn’t seem like very good news at all.
Jesus described people as fainting – their hearts melting within them – with fear and foreboding over what was coming. He spoke of the sun and the moon going dark and the stars falling from heaven. He described darkness hovering over all the earth – – all natural light and comfort gone.
Stay alert. Don’t be led astray. Put not your trust in what you can see.
Pregnant and nursing women would flee their homes in the city to the mountains. If they survived death by the sword they would be captured and sold to their captors. Beaten. Berated. Treated as property. Brothers would betray brothers for a few pieces of silver. Dread and misery would permeate every waking moment — all family security and comfort utterly gone.
Stay awake. Don’t be led astray. Put not your trust in princes.
Pestilence. Poverty. Persecution. Ashes. Shards. Everything that was once good and lovely would be rudely trampled underfoot. Crushed. Scorned. Crucified. Nothing would ever be as it once was. The roaring of wind and sea; waves bearing down on earth – tsunamis, hurricanes, floods – would distress even the most secure. No one would be safe — all protection and comfort completely gone.
Stay awake. Don’t be led astray. Put not your trust in the things of this world.
Welcome to Advent!
I’d prefer something a little more cheery and welcoming to be honest. But Jesus is less interested in gently beckoning us across Advent’s threshold than he is to administer a strong dose of smelling salts to those who are spiritually unconscious. “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
All that Jesus described to his disciples happened in AD70 when the Roman’s laid waste to the city of Jerusalem in a manner as can only be described as a holocaust. But as we read Christ’s words today we know that everything he described to the original hearers is just as pertinent for the body of Christ who suffers as intensely all over the world.
Stay awake. I have overcome the world. I am with you even in this dreadful dark.
Each month over 300 saints are killed for their faith. Over 200 Christian churches or buildings are destroyed. Over 750 forms of violence are committed against Christians in the form of rapes, beatings, arrests, abductions and forced marriages. Each month!*
Stay alert. You will be hated for my name’s sake, but not a hair on your head will perish.
In 2017 we all saw famines and floods, earthquakes, plagues, and terror of every imaginable sort. We are all too familiar with the sufferings of this world. I don’t need to be reminded to stay more awake, do I?
“But watch yourselves,” Jesus continues to all who will listen, “in case your hearts be weighed down with the comforts and cares of this life, and that day comes upon you suddenly like a trap.” (Luke 21)
Advent is an unrelenting declaration that nothing good and right and true will be lost forever. Evil and death will not have the final word. Do I really believe it? Do I hope, watch, pray, and persevere towards this kind of kingdom on earth? Or am I weighed down – trapped – with my own concerns?
Advent is an act of war against suffering and despair. What is keeping me from joining the battle for heaven’s kind of justice and righteousness? The resurrection of all good things has already begun. Can I see it? Or am I soundly asleep under the thick covering of my own comforts and cares?
So let’s stay alert to the hope and the spirit that is within us, saints. For greater is He that is in us than he who is in the world.
Let’s stay awake for the saints who suffer loss of loved ones, homelands, freedoms, and physical safety. The world is not worthy of them. For by your endurance you will gain your lives.
And let’s be vigilantly on guard against all the many comforts and cares in this life that crowd out the joy of our salvation. For what good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?
Peace to you and yours, because all good things will soon be restored in Jesus’ name!
This is very good news indeed.
Scripture: Mark 13, Luke 21.