First Sunday in Advent
December 3, 2017
St. Jacob’s and Trinity Lutheran
Rev. Kirk Shipley, Interim Pastor
Mark 13:24-37; Isaiah 64:1-9; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9
“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence – as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes the water to boil – to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence.”
“But in those days, after that suffering, 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. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. Then he will send out his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”
“He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
With these words God through the prophet Isaiah, the Son Jesus, and the apostle Paul, paints a picture of the movement and effect of the culmination of human history as we know it, the return of Jesus Christ. It is quite a movement.
First, it is something the prophet wants to see, even though he recognizes that his people are ones who so sinned that their righteous deeds are overwhelmed by their sins. The image of the good done being like filthy rags and the sins so strong they are like winds that sweep his people away is a forlorn one. The best the prophet can do is remind God they are the divinity’s people and ask God not to remember their sins forever.
It is hard to hear. In this country and much of the developed world we do our best to not think about things like God returning and shaking things up. Even religious leadership shies away from God intervening so directly. In seminary I recall a book by an activist Lutheran Indian, as he referred to himself (the movement was called AIM American Indian Movement, then), God is Red. After spending several paragraphs working over fundamentalist Christianity he turns to mainline Protestantism. With some humor he noted that we often pray for God’s presence at our various assemblies but would be taken aback if God made a dramatic entrance and decreed what we should be doing. It would be an affront to our dignity and ability to manage things. I remember our seminary history professor lecturing at the common lecture for students of all seven seminaries “We used to teach eschatology (final things) until you became afraid of it.”
I admit that mental pictures that come from the Isaiah passage are not comforting. Isaiah presents even God’s people in the position in a gangster moving asking the crime syndicate collectors of bad debts to have mercy and give a few more days to raise the money.
Initially the Gospel passage from Mark echoes Isaiah. He takes it to a higher level with the heavens being shaken and not just the earth and its’ people. From top to bottom the focus will be the Son of Man coming in the clouds with great combined with great power. Jesus is not someone coming with fanfare in the spangled robe so we can admire the shine of the sown in gems. He comes in such a way from Satan to the pettiest misdemeanor offender recognizes underneath the glitter is someone who can make a mud hole out of anyone.
There is a significant shift in Jesus teaching about his return. The actual use of the great power is to gather his elect from top to bottom and far and wide. His action is more of an affirmation of faithfulness. It raises contentment to those sensing being secure in Christ in life and rescue for those sensing themselves besieged while holding on to their faith. The return is a banner headline of Good News.
We see it in the opening of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Corinth. The bulk of the letter addresses one problem after another that they are having. There are numerous divisions and disorders from seeking status from who introduced them to Jesus Christ to excluding the poor from their pre worship service pot luck meals. Yet he operates from a base grounded in God’s grace. Again hear how he ends his greeting before beginning his appeal for an end to discord and addressing a variety of issues. “He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Stepping back and seeing a bigger picture of God’s ultimate control shown by Jesus is a very great help in the present. It redirects us from the burnout of making it happen ourselves by placing Jesus in the driver’s seat. There is a contrast between righteous confrontation and an agent of reconciliation who might help widen who Jesus gathers. On one end at a program for Spiritual directors and those taking direction one speaker described how his Gospel understanding had been a combination of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount enacted by a righteous Old Testament prophet. He was in Mexico or Central America as part of ministry. A woman in the group from the host country said, “You have no love, only anger.” He heard an inner cowboy jumping on a runaway horse and saying “Whoa!” On the other end when in high school and early college I occasionally met with Navy Chaplain Richard Smith. His plan for his earlier retirement years was to move to his home area and work with people he knew were Ku Klux Klansmen on meeting the Jesus who so loved the world rather than the Jesus of their ideology. It is quite a contrast. One of my regrets is in college and graduate school is not trying to keep in touch with him. I’d love to run into the speaker and learn more from him on reconciling justice.
With Jesus return and the promise of accomplished good that accompanies it I’d like to share this prayer of Padraidg O Tuama of the Corrymeela Community in Ireland formed as a place to explore hostilities within the context of Christ centered hospitality.
Courage comes from the heart and we are welcomed by God, the heart of all being.
We bear witness to our faith, knowing that we are called to live lives of courage,
love and reconciliation in the ordinary and extraordinary moments of each day.
We bear witness, too, to our failures and complicity in the fractures of our world.
May we be courageous today. May we learn today. May we love today. Amen.