Midweek Advent One, 2 December 2020
A Sermon on Mark 13:24-37 by Samuel D. Zumwalt
Mark 13:24-37 English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles
24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And 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. 28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32 “But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.”
THE WORD OF GOD: EXHORTS
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
As it was in 587 BC, so it would be in 70 A.D. A mightier power would destroy Jerusalem and the Temple. It would happen in the lifetimes of those who listened to the Lord Jesus, the Living Word of God, as He exhorted them about the end to come for all that seemed permanent to them, for all that the Jewish people held dear.
We have some sense of the terrors associated with His warning as we wonder about all that we hold dear in this life: our dear ones, our way of life, and our country. Unlike the Jewish people to whom our Lord was speaking, we Lutheran Christians don’t long for a theocracy – an earthly kingdom led by God’s chosen king from David’s family. But we know what it is like to live with nagging anxieties about being left on our own without our loved ones, about being left to pick up the pieces when our safe little worlds have been shattered, and about being left behind in an unrecognizable, unwanted culture with no familiar landmarks.
By the last decade of the first century A.D., Judaism was forced to redefine itself again without the Temple and without David’s city. By the end of the first third of the second century A.D., the Romans having put down the latest Jewish revolt declared that Jews should not even be able to live within sight of Jerusalem. Eighteen hundred years would pass before Jews ruled the city.
So, then, about what does the Living Word of God, Jesus, exhort us Christians? The latter part of our Gospel lesson reminds us that we are the doorkeepers left behind by our Master. We are the ones called to watch, to be on the alert, to stay awake. Our Master, Jesus, will return!
But isn’t it easy to get comfortable right where we are? Those over eighty years old can still remember the day the Empire of Japan did its best to destroy the Pacific fleet of the U.S. Navy on December 7, 1941 at Pearl Harbor. Those over sixty can still remember the day the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, was assassinated in Dallas TX on November 22, 1963. Those over thirty can still remember when terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington D.C. on September 11, 2001. We can remember those days, and the days our dearest ones died, because on those days all sense of being comfortable left us. We were suddenly mindful that we had been unwatchful doorkeepers. We had not been on the alert. We had not stayed awake. Then, there was huge emotional devastation.
We Christians have to learn this lesson over and over. We confess weekly that Christ will return in glory to judge the living and the dead. But we say those words without thought… just as we say the Lord’s words without thought… deliver us from evil. We so know them by rote, that we are comfortable even with the most uncomfortable of our Lord’s words. We are not watchful. We are not on the alert. We are not awake doorkeepers.
We observe Advent, dear ones, so that will have our comfort disturbed. We observe Advent, so that we will get a triple shot of auditory espresso. Hey! You! Doorkeepers! Watch! Awake!
We are not waiting for the return of the old. We are waiting for the coming of the new. Not an earthly kingdom in which the privileged elite of this country tell us what’s good for us and make us like it… or else. We are waiting for the Word, who was with God, and who is God, yes, the One through whom all things were made, the One who has redeemed us with His precious Blood, His innocent suffering and death, the One who rose from the dead, ascended to the seat of power at His Father’s right hand, and through whom the Father poured out the Holy Spirit upon His Church. We are watching, alert, and awake for the long expected Jesus Christ, who will separate those who are His from those who are not. Then, He will make all things new.
The past several Advents, Father Peter has introduced us to his simple prayer: “Come into my heart, Lord Jesus. There’s room in my heart for you.”
That is how we Christian doorkeepers watch, stay alert, and remain awake. Prayerfully, we remember that we need our Savior, for this world is increasingly unrecognizable as the work of the Master’s hands. As Isaiah 64 reminded us on Sunday, we are the clay, and we so need our Potter to remake us and all things as His alone. The Living Word of God exhorts us today: Watch. Be alert. Stay awake! Do not be like those who have no love for the Master. Do not be like those for whom this life is the only comfort they want. Be watchful doorkeepers as you raise your empty hands to receive the Living Word of God in the Host and Cup. Be alert, awake doorkeepers, praying, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
©Samuel David Zumwalt, STS
St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA