Second Sunday before Advent
Introduction and Call to Worship
Jesus is the supreme example of life lived to the full, lived in the moment. He points to God’s time – not ours and offers his own life as a sacrificial gift for all people, all time and eternity. Today we’ll think about how fear of tomorrow empties us of today. May we trust God in worship and give thanks for life in all its fullness.
First Reading Daniel 12:1-3
A prophecy of the end of times – it will be a time of anguish but also a time of deliverance.
Second Reading Hebrews 10:11-14 [15-18] 19-25
The writer reminds the Hebrews that Christ’s perfect sacrifice gives them confidence to enter the sanctuary and enables them to approach in full assurance of faith. He also reminds them to meet to support and encourage one another.
Gospel Mark 13:1-8
When Jesus predicts the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem the disciples want to know more. He talks about the end of times and warns them not to be led astray by others who claim to be him. The tumultuous times he predicts will be only the beginning.
HOMILY “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign that all these things are about to be accomplished?” (Mark 13:4)
Throughout human history people have been desperate to predict the precise time of the apocalypse. From before Jesus our Lord right up to today’s fast media world people have been obsessed with the end of time. The fires raging in California this week have been named apocalyptic and, indeed, they have been both fearsome and deadly and our prayers go out to everyone involved. Nine years ago the disaster movie 2012 was released. With special effects and dramatic fast-moving images the film, according to reviews in the press at the time, tried to grapple with the possible experiences that everyday people would go through when the world comes to an end. Joy and happiness I hear you shout! The film included the fictitious cancellation of the London Olympics and the dramatic and spine-chilling destruction of the Vatican. The premise was based on the Mayan calendar which is said to have ended suddenly on the 21st December 2012. We don’t know why it stopped then but there was speculation that this heralded the end of the world and there are many other films in popular culture that predict our ending. Perhaps there should be a BREXIT film? Certainly, lots of people are busy trying to predict what will, could or may happen at the apocalypse. What do you think?
This kind of speculation and hype reminds me of the run-up to the millennium, a time that was filled with prophecy for doomsday merchants. I understand that some even cashed in their insurance before the 31st December celebrations because they were so sure everything was going to come to an end. As we know, when midnight struck, all was well. As with 21st December 2012 – and thank heavens for that. Who would want to miss out on celebrating Christmas at St Mary’s Church Thorpe?
Peter, James, John and Andrew are four of the most celebrated Christians in the history of our faith: disciples cum Apostles and Church leaders. And I hate to break this to you but they were flawed as well, as Mark reveals in his illuminating insight into their human failings. These men are very ordinary, down to earth and yet quite extraordinary because they also cope with the whirlwind of God’s love outpoured in the life, ministry and teaching of Jesus, who prophesies the unthinkable - the dramatic destruction of the beloved Temple in Jerusalem. “When will it happen?” they ask. “How will we know?” Their concern is palpable because the Temple was an awe-inspiring building so its predicted destruction must have seemed as impossible as the premise of many a disaster movie. Our Lord’s prediction was realised in AD 70 when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the temple was razed to the ground, a devastating blow for the Jewish faith.
However, Jesus is not finished because there is more: a warning to come! “Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray.” (Mark 13:5) So the disciples – that is us today – have a warning from the Lord of life and love. We must listen carefully to what God is saying and not be led astray by the doomsayers and false prophets of our own time. What of our context today, with wild fires ravaging parts of the United States, sea levels rising and many speculating about the devastating impact of climate change – and BREXIT to boot…? Are you worried? Should you be? Who are you listening to?
The Christian calendar as we now have it sets the birth of Jesus as “year zero”, but scholars and theologians have worked out that it was originally miscalculated – so Jesus was born sometime between 7 and 4 BC. Perhaps the precise date is irrelevant for it is what the event means that matters – God coming among us in human form to bring about a change of relationship with and within creation itself. Jesus knew that his disciples, human as they were, would have doubts and fears and he tries to teach them about the inevitability of change. In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks about the need to be watchful and alert for the end of times or, in other words, be prepared for change because it is coming – it is always coming! And as we approach Advent, our spiritual focus shifts towards preparation and anticipation but there is an important distinction between anticipation – a state of prepared, relaxed watchfulness – and apprehension – fear of the future.
It’s a safe bet that each of us has wasted some time and energy anticipating a future event. Perhaps it was something we were looking forward to – Christmas Day, a new job or the birth of a child – or a dreaded event – an exam, a business meeting, the loss of a loved one, a funeral. It’s often the case that, when it did happen, it wasn’t what we’d expected at all. This apprehension is a human failing, one the disciples Peter, James, John and Andrew share with us. How easy it is to live in the past and not for the present! We can only be truly prepared for tomorrow if we are living in the present because that is what gives us spiritual dexterity; we can’t afford to be just a people of tradition, we need to be people of renewal. And at the heart of it we can only face tomorrow if we have Jesus, our friend and guide, in our lives and a part of our decisions.
As human beings, fear is often our natural reflex and we like to prepare for disasters – even BREXIT. As we saw, even the disciples asked the “what if”, the “when” and the “why” questions as Jesus talked about apocalyptic events. The antidote to fear is lived-out faith and prayer, which inevitably leads to our souls acquiring a deeper understanding of what it means to be fully present and prepared, loved by God. Amen.
The film “2012” predicts what life may be like at the end of the world based on the Mayan calendar which comes to an abrupt halt on 21st December 2012.
The disciples show fear when Jesus predicts the destruction of the Temple.
Even the date of the millennium was a flawed calculation, but our eagerness to embrace catastrophe tells us something about our craving for certainty and our fear of letting go of the past, and our traditions.
The answer is lived-out faith and prayer – and these are a good preparation for anything that life may throw in our direction. God loves us – that is why Jesus came among us.