First message in our Advent Series:I was on the phone the other day with a customer service rep. I don’t remember what it was about, but that doesn’t really matter, does it?
The CSR was handling the issue very well. So well, in fact, that it was one of those things that, even if I couldn’t get the outcome I wanted, I would have to have admitted I was treated very well.
Except that I ALWAYS opt out of those “brief survey at the end of this call” things. I don’t trust myself to be mature about them.
So everything is going along swimmingly, when she says, “the Mrs.” As in “you and the Mrs.”
I’m pretty sure I’ve never referred to Rachel as “the Mrs.” I don’t think I’m opposed to the term, or offended by it, but it strikes me as a bit quaint and antiquated.
And some of you are probably wondering, “Well, Steve, if you weren’t bothered or offended by it, WHY do you still remember it?”
Good question. Sometimes I am so easily distracted!
I am learning (finally!) what some of my buttons are. For example, when I hear anyone disparage young people simply because they are young, I pull out my soapbox and let loose.
I suppose it comes from memorizing 1 Tim 4:12 as a youth: “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”
I memorized it in King James English.
So; if you disparage youth, I am going to react. If you blame the problems of the world today, or even the problems of youth today, on youth, I’m probably going to go off.
There I am, distracted again! (Squirrel!)
So. Anyway. Where were we?
Oh, yeah: Mark 13:24-37.
Many of us are distracted by apocalyptic writing.The destruction, the vivid imagery, the dire tone all play well to our media-and-entertainment-and-cgi-engulfed culture.
We get so caught up in the vivid imagery that we miss the message.
Apocalyptic was (or is?) a style of writing in the bible. We find it in several places in the OT, three of the gospels, and, of course, Revelation.
Originally, “apocalyptic” meant “revealing.” It comes from the greek word “apocaluptein” which means, literally, “uncover.”
It has come to mean, though, “describing or prophesying the complete destruction of the world.”
“resembling the end of the world; momentous or catastrophic.”
How did it come to this?
Because, I think, we are both easily distracted and quickly frustrated.
Does talk about the end of the world frustrate you?
Does graphic imagery about the end of the world frustrate you?
You may be thinking that it excites you, rather than frustrates you. That’s ok, and I’m not out to make sure everyone is frustrated, but have you considered this:
This morning’s text, Mark’s account of Jesus’ apocalyptic Olivet Discourse is approaching 2,000 years old. And, within this morning’s reading is this: I assure you that this generation won’t pass away until all these things happen. (verse 30).
So, whatever Jesus is talking about has already happened.
Today marks the first Sunday of Advent. Some of you already have all your decorations up and your shopping done. Some of you don’t bother with decorations and have barely given shopping a thought.
And, besides the lights and trees and angels and sleighs and mangers, besides the Black Friday onslaught and Cyber Monday and exchanging Christmas wish lists, there’s all the parties. And the family gatherings.
And this probably isn’t new, but my memory didn’t hold it from before, but the internet is offering us ways to have decent family conversations at our family gatherings.
While I don’t remember that, I do remember a time, almost 30 years ago now, actually having this thought: “I hate Christmas.”
It was my 2nd year out of seminary, my first on the staff of a church large enough to have an associate pastor. I was that associate pastor.
There was so much going on! And I don’t mean just so much going on at the church – though there’s plenty of that! – there is so much going on in church, in family, in family finances, and if all that weren’t enough the year is coming to a close AND the way we’ve decided to situate all this, days are growing shorter as we approach Christmas, and the increased darkness naturally dulls our moods and dims our outlook.
What a frustrating combination!
While we sing this is the “most wonderful time of the year,” some of us cannot wait for it to be over!
So, what is the Christian response? Maybe, “suck it up” works in your family, but that’s not a message that I think resonates with people.
In fact, no. Maybe you were always, or often told to “suck it up” when you were younger, but that’s not how Jesus approached people who were frustrated or hurting.
So that’s not how we are going to approach people who are frustrated or hurting.
Jesus didn’t tell this story, this apocalyptic story, this end-of-the-age story intending to frustrate his disciples, but, rather to give them hope.
Advent isn’t intended to be frustrating, but a time to build hope toward a celebration of Immanuel, God WITH us, God incarnate in human form!
If you hate this time of year, this series is especially for you. If you love this time of year; you have already worked through all your frustrations, or, perhaps, you don’t have any, I want this series to be for you as well.
Today, in our efforts to follow Jesus better today than yesterday, and to prepare our hearts, our minds, and our souls for celebrating Christmas, I invite you to move from frustrATE to decorATE.
Though we are distracted by the vivid imagery of Jesus’ words in Mark 13, if we can take a breath and step back, we see that he closes with what is really important – with what he wants his disciples to take away from the session.
How can we stay alert if we aren’t already alert? What if we are so distracted by the apocalyptic language – and maybe frustrated either that we don’t understand it or that it hasn’t happened yet, that we can’t get to alert?
Here’s a hint about what Jesus was talking about. Did you catch how in verse 35 Jesus says,
Therefore, stay alert! You don’t know when the head of the household will come, whether in the evening or at midnight, or when the rooster crows in the early morning or at daybreak.
There’s that pattern evening, midnight, early morning, or when the rooster crows,and at daybreak. Mark repeats the pattern in the following chapter: 14:17, Jesus begins the Last Supper with the disciples in the “evening.” then, in the garden, Jesus goes to pray and comes back to find them sleeping. Why? It was this middle of the night. Third, Jesus is arrested, and Peter denies him when the rooster crows. Finally, Jesus is taken before Pilate in the morning.
Something about the pattern of the end that Jesus tells us about in 13 is mirrored perfectly in the events leading to his death in the following chapters!
Some of what Jesus was talking about, some of what he was encouraging his followers to “stay alert” for, was about to happen.
For whatever else remains, you and I join the original followers of Jesus in expectation and anticipation. And frustration. We want Jesus to come and finish the job!
Can you admit that Jesus frustrates you? Have you had a conversation with God recently in which you’ve expressed – or shouted – how frustrated you are when or if things don’t work out the way you thought they should – the way it seemed clear as day God wanted them to turn out?
Frustration is a theme in Mark’s Gospel… Every time Jesus heals someone, he tells them, “Don’t tell anyone.” In fact, in chapter 9, in Mark’s version of Jesus’ “Who do people say that I am? Who do you say that I am? Passage, when Peter answers, “You are the Christ,” Jesus ordered them not to tell anyone about him!
And, right after that, Jesus starts teaching them that he must suffer. And die.
In expected Peter fashion, Mark tells us, Peter “scolds Jesus.”
Jesus tells Peter, “get behind me,” and concludes the teaching with this:
“All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. [(‘take up your cross’ didn’t mean have people look at you funny if you bow to pray over your meal at a restaurant. It certainly didn’t mean face the abject persecution of having someone say “happy holidays” rather than Merry Christmas!” ‘Take up your cross’ meant, as Bonhoeffer reminds us, that “Jesus bids us come and die.”)]
Welcome to frustrATE!
In response, I invite you to decorATE.
I don’t mean to take a second mortgage out on your house to try to win the HOA’s Christmas decoration contest.
Our HOA gives offers up to 5 $100 prizes for best decorations in the development. Several of our neighbors spend at least a couple hundred each year in pursuit of a $100 gift card.
That’s not what I mean by decorate.
Here’s what I mean: find a way, make a way, to inhabit the world you inhabit. Make the time, the effort to be still and know that God is God.
The point of decorating is not to win contests or gift cards. The point of decorating is to oo and aw. To have the space around you settle you, suggest peace, help you just to be.
Can you just BE this close to Christmas?
I am coming to learn that I am not very good at just BEing. Well, I’ve known for years I’m not good at BEing. I’ve come to learn relatively recently part of the reason, and part of the solution.
I don’t decorate.
From my earliest days of living on my own, I’ve had little to no sense of style or decoration. Ok; honestly, I’ve had little to no sense of being willing to spend any money at all to support a sense of decoration.
If it were left to me, all the walls of our house would be the same color – whatever color they were when we moved in.
One of them would have a picture on it. Because that’s all the wall art I had ever actually purchased.
It’s an Ansel Adams print. His Mount McKinley Range, Denali National Park picture.
I saw it once and was blown away at the majesty. First thing I saw was the mountain range across the bottom. Any mountains look big in texas, right? And the clouds floating over them. Then, and it took me a second to catch it, then you see the next level of mountains, snowcapped, rising behind and above that coastal range.
Then you see – or then I saw, THE MOUNTAIN shrouded in clouds, rising as high as the clouds themselves.
Seeing that, pondering that, decorating one wall with that gives me some perspective on how small I am and how big God is.
And that helps me BE.
I don’t know how much decoration you need to help you be. I am pretty sure it doesn’t require your bankrupting yourself. In fact, a lesson from the Psalmist, and a lesson this Ansel Adams print would tell me if I took the time, is that creation – the natural world around me – might be decoration enough to draw me back, out of my frustration, to a place I can recognize God.
I got home from running an errand last Saturday and tried to get seamlessly back into putting up Christmas decorations. We had arrived home about 6 the night before, from a great week away for Thanksgiving. I had a long, slow run, longer than I’d run in several months. Just before the errand I had gotten out the trees that replace the hibiscuses that stand watch at our front door. So I brought in the groceries, put them away, and went back out through the garage. I went that way on purpose because next on my agenda was to replace the autumnal doormat at the front door with the one we had put in the garage.
So, I picked it up, went out the garage, turned the corner, and was reaching down to pick up the matt as I turned, and noticed there was a brand new doormat there already!
So I went and asked Rachel, as I often do, when we had gotten that.
When we were at Aldi a month or so ago, You and I. Together. Shopping. And we saw that mat, and we talked about how worn out ours was. And we decided, together, to buy it.
Even when there is decoration, I can miss it!
Probably because I am so easily distractible and too quickly frustrated.
Catch yourself running ragged and BE. Notice creation. Look for beauty. Slow down.
So decorATE. DecorATE your soul with peace that passes understanding, even at this time of year.