First Sunday In Advent

S. Advent 1.23 Mark 13:24-37

Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.”

What things will all take place before “this generation” passes away?

That’s the first question I have from our Gospel today. Maybe you were wondering too? As it is wont to do, the modern 3 year lectionary (devised in the 1960s by the Roman 2nd Vatican Council to replace the historic 1 year lectionary, the 3 year lectionary was subsequently modified and adopted by most of the other catholic-liturgical denominations in the 1970’s. Today, we start a new church year and move to Year B in which we hear from Mark’s Gospel mostly. Year A is Matthew. Year C is Luke. John is interspersed liberally throughout all 3 years. It’s actually an improvement on the old 1 year. More scripture, more gospel, more better, I think 😉

Anyway, as I was saying, the 3 year lectionary often compresses the Gospel readings such that some context must be supplied, especially for this, the end-times chapter from Mark’s Gospel, you kinda need to know what Jesus has said from the top of the chapter. Though, we got a good bit of Matthew’s version, last week, of the end-times talk with the disciples, so this is like Pt. 2 of a limited series. 😉

You’ll recall, this little talk takes place during Holy Week; Jesus has just entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, on the donkey, and is about to be betrayed, crucified, buried, and resurrected the upcoming weekend. A big weekend. King Herod the Great had started rebuilding Solomon’s temple mount and sanctuary around 20 BC and his son only finished construction about 26 AD (sure glad building projects don’t take that long today 😉 so it’s brand spanking new in 30 AD, and quite a sight.

It was like a religious Disney Land, Herod’s temple, one of the ancient wonders of the world that drew tourists from all over the world. The disciples are in full tourist mode, gawking and gob-smacked. And Jesus, in Debbie-Downer mode, goes, “Don’t get too… attached. Everything here will be torn down, not a stone left standing.”

The disciples are naturally dismayed to hear that Disney Land will burn down! “When will that be?!” They ask anxiously. “What will be the signs of the End?” Jesus tells them not to be led astray. Many will come in his Name saying they are anointed ones, Christs, his stand-ins or vicars to be obeyed as Christ himself—the man in the big white hat in Rome fitting this bill to a T! Though, I can think of an LCMS Synod President (or two 😉 that fits the bill on a smaller scale. Not to name names, but like Ralph Bohlmann. Well, and all the former Texas DPs who became Synod Prez, too.

Jesus says not to be fooled by these imposters who come in his name. He also says there will be wars and rumors of wars the whole world keeps getting sucked into. Earthquakes, plagues, natural disasters, sea level rise. The actual Christian Church will grow very small, be hated by everyone, shut down as dangerous to public health and safety, and the faithful who resist will be dragged before governors, kings, for punishment and cancellation

Within the church, false brethren will deliver their fellow pastors to death and the faithful will be hated by all for Christ’s sake. But despite this, the Gospel we proclaim will be preached in all the world to every creature under heaven.

And there will be this abomination of desolation standing in the holy place (which sounds like the cross on which Jesus was crucified, and a bit like the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD which just keeps getting repeated). The faithful will be always running away from the calamity that is Jerusalem, so be on guard, remember: Jesus warned you about religious tourism there. It’s fun, but not for the faint-hearted.

And finally we get to today’s Gospel. After that tribulation (the abomination of desolation and the general chaos radiating out from Jerusalem) the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. We’ll see the Son of Man going (Greek ερχομαι means both coming and going) on the clouds with great power and glory. And he will send out his angels (literally “messengers” in Greek) and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

Those are “the things” that must all happen before the End of the World and the Return of Christ. So, all these things certainly happen “before this generation passes away”.

Which leads to my second question: what is “this generation”? In the Greek, this clearly means the people living at the time in question. So all the people who were alive during Jesus’ 3 year public ministry will not all die until the signs of the End of the World and Return of Christ all take place.

When we look at these things, the wars, rumors of wars, persecution of the church, natural upheavals, and especially the sun, moon, and stars falling dark, Jesus coming on the clouds, the faithful gathered to him for the final judgment—we think of the Apocalypse (the actual one of Jesus, not the Zombie one, which I know isn’t real ;-). And we think those things have not happened yet, so we are puzzled by Jesus saying “this generation” will not pass away until it all takes place.

But… all those things happened!—between 30 and 70 AD when the generation of the Apostles was still living. The Gospel was preached to every creature under heaven St. Paul says around 60 AD. The temple in Jerusalem and whole city was destroyed in 70 AD, 40 years to the day Jesus was crucified on April 6, 30 AD!

But most of all, the sun, moon, and stars went dark—there were earthquakes and the dead were raised on Good Friday, 30 AD. And 3 days later Jesus Returned from death; 50 days after Good Friday, he’s riding on the clouds to heaven.

So, the End Times have been going on for the last 2,000 years and continue to unfold just as Jesus says. The leaves on this tree have all come out. Summer, the return of Jesus, is near. Nearer, as St. Paul says, than when we first believed.( And remember: a day is like a thousand years to Jesus, and a thousand years like a day. He keeps time differently)…

So he tells us to be on guard, to keep awake because the final return in Glory on the clouds to end this age and usher in the new, eternal creation is close…

Which is my third and final question, today: what is it to keep awake?

Well, the Greek word literally means sleeplessness, insomnia. You just can’t get to sleep. And that can happen when we’re anxious and afraid. But it also happens to most children on…Christmas Eve night!

Surely you remember being 7 or 8 on Christmas Eve? Can’t sleep for the excitement! Well, this what End Times, Advent insomnia is really all about! Christmas (and Summer!) are tomorrow! In this world, they concur… Whoa! Who isn’t up, throughout that magical night!?

Like Groundhog Day, Holy Week keeps unfolding in small and great ways in our generation, too. The wars, rumors of war, natural disasters, plagues, persecutions, can be a drag…

But… exciting, too, right?! Who doesn’t want to live in the catacombs, on the run from the secret police with 1st century Roman Xns? What fun! Danger! Excitement! Because we know, no matter the hazards, this Story ends incredibly well for Jesus’ own. By his Word in your ears, his Body and Blood in your mouth, Jesus gathers you into his secret service now—and has a crown of glory that will not fade away, ready for you to wear… soon. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

About Pastor Martin

Pastor Kevin Martin has served six Lutheran congregations, beginning in 1986 as a field-worker in Trumbull, Connecticut, and vicarages in Arlington, Massachusetts and Belleville, Illinois. He has been pastor of congregations in Pembroke, Ontario and Akron, Ohio. Since 2000, he has served as pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh. Pastor Martin is a lifelong (confessional!) Lutheran (even though) he holds degrees from Valparaiso, Yale, and Concordia Seminary St. Louis. He and his wife Bonnie have been (happily) married since 1988, and have two (awesome!) adult children, Bethany and Christopher. Bonnie is an elementary school teacher. The Martin family enjoy music festivals, travel, golf, and swimming. They are also avid readers and movie-goers.

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