This gospel reading is called the Little Apocalypse. Isn’t it nice to start the Advent season with an apocalypse? Kind of gets you in the mood for Christmas. Ho Ho Ho!
Why on earth do we do this? When I think about getting ready for Christmas, I immediately think about shopping lists and grocery lists. I wager that most people have the same thoughts. Jesus is telling us to get ready and he’s not mentioning shopping. Nope, he is telling us to be prepared, get ready, keep awake. The master of the house is coming. Be alert. He is telling us to wake up and pave the way for his coming. He is not telling us to go to stores and climb over each other to grab one more TV. That is NOT how he wants us to prepare.
Jesus is giving us a warning, telling us to be keep awake. In professional football there is a two minute warning near the end of each half of the game. Here is what it means: it is time to play like there is no tomorrow because players, you are running out of time! Kevin says that a lot of quarterbacks are known by the fantastic plays they make those last minutes of the game. It’s really the only time I pay attention to the game because that’s when things are guaranteed to get exciting!
On October 17, 1989 I was living in San Rafael, California and just after 5 PM my house started shaking violently. It was a 6.9 magnitude earthquake! I was standing in the kitchen, making a cheese sauce for scalloped potatoes, and as I sank to the floor, I heard the sound of glass breaking, and my hyper vigilant Border Collie, Rachel came running to me to make sure I was OK. As soon as the shaking stopped, I quickly surveyed the house, finding broken picture frames on the floor but no other damage. I rushed back to the kitchen and started eating the cheese sauce. I’m a Californian. I know that earthquakes are followed by aftershocks and I know that scalloped potatoes take an hour to cook. I wasn’t going to risk waiting a whole hour to eat those potatoes in case my house fell down. I have my priorities in order. The cheese sauce was delicious.
One of the most frightening things about earthquakes is that there is no warning, two minute or otherwise. Our scripture today gives us plentiful warnings and powerful images: Isaiah paints a picture of tearing open the heavens and God coming down so that the mountains quake at his presence. That God meets “those who gladly do right, those who remember God in their ways”.
Paul tells the Corinthians not to worry because they have been strengthened by the testimony of Christ, so that they are not lacking in any spiritual gift as they wait for the revealing of our Lord. And they will be strengthened in the end so that they may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now let’s go back in scripture a bit to understand today’s gospel. In Mark, chapter 13, verse 1, the apostles are leaving the temple in Jerusalem with Jesus, saying: “Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!”
“Do you see all these great buildings?” replied Jesus. “Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”
They go sit on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple. Peter, James, John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are all about to be fulfilled?”
And that leads us to our Gospel. Jesus is telling his friends that the Temple will be destroyed and it is going to be a massive, profound change in the world as they know it. This gospel of Mark was written just after the war of 66-70, right after the destruction of the Temple. For the Jews of that time and place, the world was effectively coming to an end. To many this felt like the first stages of the Last Days. Jesus said that these things would happen in this generation and they did. These writing are not meant to be a prediction of some far off future end time, but a foretelling of the destruction of the Temple.
And Jesus tells his followers to be ready for that terrible time by staying awake. He is giving them a two minute warning. He is telling them to play like there is no tomorrow. Step up your action.
Advent, taken from the word adventus means “coming.” Throughout Advent we get Scripture full of warnings telling us to get ready, prepare, step up the action. This is how we get ready for the coming of the Christ child. This is our two minute warning.
Jesus tells his followers that they will ‘see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory’ and that ‘Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.’ Then he dies and comes back, just as he predicted, to walk amongst his followers and cook them fish. I believe that Jesus comes back again and again to us at Easter, when we celebrate his resurrection, at Christmas when we celebrate his birth, at Pentecost when we are grateful for the gift of the Holy Spirit so that Jesus can live amongst us always, everyday.
Many people believe in a disastrous end time apocalypse when all hell breaks loose and only a few, a chosen few, get to go on to live a glorious life in heaven. I believe that these things predicted in our scriptures, tell of the coming of the Son of Man, who lives and walks among us every day, every hour as we live out the charge of Jesus to love one another. As we live out the charge to feed the hungry, free the prisoner, care for the weak.
As we live out our lives inspired by Christ we, you and I, become Christ in the world. We are the second coming of Christ. We are charged to keep awake, keep awake. He is not telling us to be afraid of a terrible future, he is telling us to open our eyes and hearts, to be awake and aware of the needs of others around us.
What if we live with an awareness that we’ve been given a two minute warning? Most of us get very little warning of our impending deaths. As Jesus says, “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.” Sometimes death comes swiftly, shockingly so. What if we use each minute of our lives as a time to practice forgiveness, to live our best lives, caring for others? I feel that our beloved Lee lived in this way. He was kind and good and loving in every interaction I had with him in the twenty years I knew him.
So, during an earthquake many years ago, when contemplating my personal apocalypse, I ate cheese sauce. Here’s the deal: if you have really worked to live in the best way you can, trying your hardest to live out Christ’s love in the world, maybe that is OK. Because, I tell you, it was pretty tasty cheese sauce.