Sermon, December 3, 2017


St. Paul’s – Brookings

Fr. Larry O

Isaiah 64.1-9; 1 Corinthians 1.3-9; Psalm 80.1-7, 16-18; Mark 13.24-37


From 66 CE to date, there were at least 174 predictions for the end of the world; seven more say before 2280 ( Those predicting include individuals and groups.  They include Pope Innocent III, Michael Servetus, Martin Luther, Christopher Columbus, Cotton Mather, Nicholas of Cusa, John Wesley, Charles Taze Russell, Wovoka, Herbert W. Armstrong, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Jim Jones, Charles Manson, Pat Robertson, Harold Camping, Nostradamus, and John Hagee. When predictions failed to come true, they often reset the clock. If you are looking for things to worry about, Jeane Dixon says it’s going to happen in 2020. If you would rather trust science, you’re good for the next 300,000 years, and perhaps the next 22 billion years ( Of course, we remember all the hype around 2012 – the supposed end of the Mayan calendar – and don’t forget the special effects movie!

And yet, Jesus said, “In those days … 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” (Mark 13.24-25; NRSV). The Son of Man will come in the clouds with great power and glory; the elect will be gathered from the four winds and the ends of earth and heaven.

Jesus tells the disciples, just as the fig tree branch becomes tender and puts forth leaves, and you know that summer is near, so it is with the end times. When there are wars and rumors of war, earthquakes, and famines (Mark 13.7-8) – the beginning of the birth pangs – we are to know that the Son of Man is near, that he is standing at the gates. Jesus also said, “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” (Mark 13. 30-31; NRSV).

Biblical scholars are not sure what to make of this statement – some argue that “generation” may better be translated as “age.” No one can say with certainty what Jesus meant. Jesus further stated, “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mark 13.32; NRSV). On that basis, I have not been able to bring myself to worry or to believe the forecasts of those who profess to know more than the Son knows and only what the Father knows.

Some might argue, given all these erroneous forecasts, we should not be concerned. Rather, we should live as Bobby McFerrin says – “Don’t worry, be happy.” Well as any philosopher worth his salt will tell you, that is oversimplifying things – the existential side of our nature recognizes our happiness, and then we begin to worry about how long our happiness will last!

The important aspect of Jesus message is what comes next: “Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come” (Mark 13.33; NRSV). Rather than forget about the end times, we are to be faithful, to always be prepared for the coming of the Son of Man. Jesus illustrates this state of readiness by citing a man about to go on a journey. He put his slaves in charge of things, and commanded his doorkeeper to be on watch. After all, the master could return “in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.” If the doorkeeper is to be ready, he must be awake, so Jesus said, “What I say to you, I say to all: Keep awake” (Mark 13.35-37; NRSV). We are to remain alert, to be ready for Christ’s return.

Evening, midnight, cockcrow, dawn – at any of the four watches of the night. In Mark’s passion story, Paul Berge notes, Jesus as Messiah came to us at all four watches of the night. In recounting the celebration of the Passover, Mark tells us, “When it was evening he came with the twelve” (Mark 14.17; NRSV). (Paul S. Berge.

Following the Passover meal, near midnight, Jesus and the disciples went to Gethsemane. There he took Peter, James, and John with him and told them to sit while he prayed, to remain and keep awake. After praying, he came and found them sleeping; Jesus said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14.37-38; NRSV). Jesus resumed his prayers. Coming to them twice more, he found them asleep. The third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand” (Mark 14. 41-42; NRSV).

In a more figurative sense, Jesus comes to Peter after Peter’s denials. Mark tells us when asked if he were one of those with Jesus, “Peter began to curse, and he swore an oath, ‘I do not know this man you are talking about.’ At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ And he broke down and wept” (Mark 14.71-72; NRSV).

Mark also tells us, “As soon as it was morning,” i.e., at dawn, the chief priests bound Jesus and took him to Pilate who asked, “‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say so.’”

Jesus not only came to us at Bethlehem. He also came in the evening, at midnight, at cockcrow, and at dawn. We cannot separate his birth from his crucifixion and resurrection. Advent encompasses both. What will we do with Jesus when he comes to us? Will we be awake? Will we open the inn, welcome Joseph and a very pregnant Mary, keep awake and witness his birth in our midst, or will we crucify him?


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