Posted on Dec 03, 2017 by Pastor Dave Whetter
Happy New Year! Oh, I know it's only December 3 and that there are 28 more days in 2017, but today we begin a new year in the church with the Season of Advent. To be technical we call it Year B, which means that the majority of our Gospel readings will be from the Gospel of Mark this year. But more importantly than focusing on the Gospel, it means that once again we go back to begin a new journey designed to help us to continue to grow in our faith.
To begin this year we are reminded that the world is broken and we participate in this brokenness. The prophet Isaiah said, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away” (Isa. 64:6). With those words in mind as we being this new year, however, we are also offered a promise. Yes, we are broken, this world is broken, but this is not how we will stay. There will be a time when we, and all of creation, will look back and say, “Heaven and earth have passed away…” (Mark 13:31). The promise of Advent is that God is always at work in the world, bringing new beginnings and a new creation to people and powers long bent on destruction. So, instead of becoming preoccupied with our brokenness, or with the end times that will come, we are challenged to live our lives in a state of preparedness. We are challenged to stay awake, because whether we are ready or not, our God has come, our God is here and our God will come again.
So what is Mark really trying to tell us today? Well, first and foremost, when we hear Jesus' words of “Keep Awake!” he isn’t speaking of a complacent time of laying around and just keeping our eyes open. No, Jesus is challenging us to not be complacent. He is telling us that just because things aren’t the way they are supposed to be doesn’t mean we have to leave them that way. Just because God promises a better future doesn’t mean we can just sit around and wait. No, keeping awake is living differently because at any moment our King could return.
Now, in the church today, there are many Christians who would argue that since the time of Jesus’ return cannot be known, we need not think much about it. But today Mark suggests just the opposite. Mark says, since the timing of Jesus’ return is unknown, we ought to think about it all the time. When it comes to Christ’s coming again, many of us aren’t very concerned about it because it will most likely be hundreds, or even thousands of years from now. But Mark on the other hand says since the timing is unknown, it could be today! Maybe this evening, or at midnight, or when dawn breaks.
If we approach Jesus’ second coming with Mark’s perspective, then Jesus’ second coming should not be simply a doctrine to which we officially subscribe; it should be a defining reality that impacts our faith and lives. It should impact us in such a way that we keep awake to the realities of this world and be active in bringing about God’s promised kingdom because, ready or not, it will come. So, Mark says, live as though the end is at hand and we need to dig in for the long haul because God’s timetable is unknown.
Today we are challenged in our reading to begin this new year by recommitting ourselves, our whole selves, to God because whether we are ready or not, God is coming. Don’t be complacent. Don’t settle for this world. Seek to bring change. Seek to change yourselves and your communities. Don’t hold on to the past. Keep awake and look to God’s promised future and be active in creating it.
But it's hard not to look to the past, isn’t it? This time of year we often look to the past with fond memories and hopes for the return of days gone by. Norman Rockwell was an incredible artist and he had a way of capturing moments. How many of you have seen this Rockwell before? It is called “Freedom from Want,” and for many of us, when we see it, we remember those days of old when holiday gatherings were perfect. Actually, though, I’m not sure those holiday gatherings were always perfect, were they? Heck, this year our Thanksgiving table didn’t look like that. There were tears for those who had died and there were tears for those who are suffering from illness. As I reflected this week on Jesus’ words in Mark’s text, I realize that I have to stop hoping for and living in the past. The reality is the past was broken, too, and I don’t want that for my future, I want what Jesus has promised. In fact, Rockwell’s artwork wasn’t about the past either. When he created it, he intended it to help us look to a future where we wanted for nothing, just like God promises.
Here at Salem, we do the same. We often speak of this building as our church, and all of us dream and hope to restore this building to what it once was. But the truth is, this building is not our church. It is a building, but Salem is not a building, it is a people. Salem is a faith community that seeks to be a place of comfort, joy, and respite in this broken world. Salem is a faith community that is a people who seek to make a difference in this broken world by feeding the hungry and attempting to change the reality of those who do not have enough food on their table. Salem is a faith community that is staying awake to the reality and brokenness of the world and instead of being complacent about it, is seeking to make a difference.
And so, today, while we begin our Season of Advent, a time of waiting, we also take time to commit ourselves — that is our time, our talents, and our financial resources — to this faith community so that we might continue to keep awake. This commitment you have been asked to make today is not about this building. It is a commitment to the ministries that we continue to offer to a broken world. Today you are being asked to commit yourselves in such a way that will allow us to keep awake and be active with our children’s and teen ministries. Today we are being asked to commit ourselves to keeping awake so that we can continue to feed the hungry and continue to nourish our faith through worship, music, study, and service. Today we are being asked to commit ourselves to the work God has called us to. We are being asked today to look to the future and see that in our present time, our God is here and our God is already at work meeting us, living with us and redeeming us so that we might be the hands and feet of Christ to a broken world.
In just a few moments I will invite you to come forward and place your commitments in the basket before the altar. I pray that these commitments are made with joy and made with the hope that God’s promise is real. Although we do not know what the future will look like, or how God will bring the future about, we do know that God’s promises it will come, and our challenge is to keep awake and to be active in healing this broken world. Keeping this ministry awake is not about a building; it is not about our personal likes and dislikes; it is about Christ and Christ’s call for our lives. Amen.