Advent One—Year B
December 3, 2017
Isaiah 64:1-9, Psalm 80:1-7, 16-18, 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, Mark 13:24-37
Today we start a new year in the church, so it is appropriate for the gospel reading to draw our attention away from trivial things, so we can face important things: things like how are we supposed to live as Christ’s Body in a world that is always close to falling apart? In the beginning of Mark 13, which sets the context of our gospel reading, we hear this: “As Jesus came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!” 2 Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.”
Jesus is predicting the destruction, not just of the most impressive building any of the disciples have ever seen, but the holiest, most sacred building, they would ever experience. It is not just the foundation of their individual spiritual lives, but the foundation of their social, national, and cosmic existence.
The temple sits on a site 900 by 1500 yards. The Temple is 150 feet tall and 150 feet wide. It is built of white stones that are decorated with much gold and silver. And Jesus predicts it will all come tumbling down.
For at least two reasons: one, because Israel is not letting justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream. Instead, the poor are getting injustice and the rich are getting more wealth and power. The Temple and the culture it perpetuates is not producing a people capable of bringing light to the nations.
Second, Israel is heading toward a violent revolutionary movement to throw out the Romans—and as Jesus said, “those who live by the sword will die by the sword.”
For me it would be as if the U.S. Capitol is merged with the National Cathedral and then merged with the abbey church at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit outside Atlanta—and then Jesus tells me it’s all coming down—not at the end of time, but before this generation is gone.
When we get our mind around the magnitude of this prediction, we can understand the apocalyptic language Jesus uses:
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.
We still use this language to describe overwhelming events. We said the collapse of the Twin Towers was an earth-shattering event. We said the sky is falling when the market collapsed in 2007.
We’ve had occasion this week to think about when President Andrew Jackson began the removal of the Cherokee Nation from Georgia to Oklahoma in what came to be called “the trail of tears” in which 4,000 died. It wasn’t “the end of THE world—just the end of THEIR world”. See NT Wright Mark for Everyone uses this phrase.
So Jesus is not describing the end of the space time universe and he doesn’t know exactly when this will happen, so he warns the disciples to stay awake.
Jesus proclaims this prophecy shortly before his death in AD 30. It comes true 40 years later in AD 70. As Vespasian is heading into Rome to be crowned emperor, his adopted son, Titus, is marching into Jerusalem to destroy the city and the Temple. Then he crucifies thousands of Jews. An earth-shattering event—the end of THEIR world!
But that happened 2000 years ago—what does it have to do with us today?
First of all, earth shattering events keep happening today and therefore we need to awake and watch what is going on so we can be faithful disciples when injustice is roaming the land.
Wright wrote in 2001: “Where human societies and institutions set themselves up against the gospel and its standards, producing arrogant and dehumanizing structures, deep injustices and racial oppression, there may once more be a place for prophets to denounce and warn and for God’s people”–to serve those we heard about in last week’s gospel–the hungry, sick, thirsty, and those in prison. Mark for Everyone, page 184.
Am I saying God is the one who comes to destroy? Not at all!
The destruction is the natural result of living against the grain of the universe. When we build societies on a foundation of injustice and inequality, it is only a matter of time before the wind and the waves bring the house down. It is simple cultural calculus and gravity wins every time.
Or I should say, gravity wins, but only temporarily, because God and God’s love always wins in the end. That’s why Jesus comforts us by saying: “Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming” and “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.”
The Son of Man, or we could say, the New Adam and Eve, or the New Humanity, which is the Risen and Ascended Christ comes in fullness to gather the elect into the New Creation, the Beloved Community, on earth as it is in heaven.
But who are the elect?
Our Puritans forebears subscribed to a doctrine called “limited atonement”, which teaches that Jesus only died to save some people, but not all people.
But Jesus says the elect are not in one place or one church or one religion and certainly not in one nation, but that the elect come from the four corners of the earth—from everywhere.
And as Karl Barth says, Jesus Christ is the electing God and the elected Human Being. And therefore the election of Jesus is the election of all human beings. All are chosen by and in Christ which is why we say he died for all.
When the sky is falling we are not helpless victims, but those elected by God to proclaim to the world that they too have been elected in Christ.
I think here of “Antonia Brenner who, according to one obituary, “was a twice-divorced former Hollywood socialite and mother of seven who, in 1977, gave away most of her possessions, put on a homemade nun’s habit and went to live in a Mexican prison.” She “moved into a bunk in the women’s wing of La Mesa Tijuana, a prison housing 7,500 male and 500 female prisoners, later moving to her own 10-by-10-ft concrete cell.”
Over the next 30 years “Madre Antonia,” as she came to be known, transformed the atmosphere. Armed with a Bible, a Spanish dictionary, and her own unassailable moral authority, she waded into riots and gun battles; shamed prison authorities into improving conditions and brought human rights violations to the attention of newspapers.
She persuaded doctors and dentists to hold free clinics, got local bakers to donate bread to supplement the meager prison rations….She taught offenders to acknowledge they had done wrong, and many would later testify that her example had persuaded them to mend their ways.
She also took on the Mexican legal system, raising money to pay fines to keep petty offenders out of prison and accompanying inmates to court in order to force judges to justify the wildly different sentences they handed out to rich and poor. One Tijuana judge acknowledged that she had convinced him that class should not be a factor in the administration of justice.”
I first heard about Madre Antonia from a single forty-something devout Roman Catholic woman who saw a documentary about Madre Antonia and felt called by Christ to go into Concord Prison to lead—by herself—a Thursday night Bible Study for 15 men.
So—No Excuses! Like “I’m not worthy, or good enough, or smart enough, or I don’t know the Bible and I don’t know how to pray”— because in Christ we were all elected and therefore all empowered by the Holy Spirit to bear witness in our time and place to the love of God in Christ Jesus.