Today is the first Sunday in Advent. That means today is the first day of the Christian calendar and the beginning of the season preparing for Jesus’ birth. It’s a big day.
Our advent theme is A Practical Guide to Advent Living. We’ve got a sweet devotional book available for download. Our goal is to learn how to live as “Advent People” — that is, people who live out the four themes of Advent in our lives.
Today’s theme is Hope.
Our scripture tonight comes from the Lectionary schedule for today. It is from the book of Mark and involves part of a conversation between Jesus and some of his Disciples. They had just spent time in the Temple and, as they left, Jesus said, “Do you see these enormous buildings? Not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished.” The Disciples sat on a mountain across from the Temple and asked Jesus to tell them what will happen.
Quite the setup for a discussion on hope, right? Listen to what Jesus said to his Disciples (Mark 13:28–31 CEB):
28 “Learn this parable from the fig tree. After its branch becomes tender and it sprouts new leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 In the same way, when you see these things happening, you know that he’s near, at the door. 30 I assure you that this generation won’t pass away until all these things happen. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will certainly not pass away.
Upon the first glance, hope is hard to find in this scripture. This first section reiterates Jesus’ statement that everything will be destroyed. Then Jesus adds that his words will remain.
Jesus is telling us that his teachings will stand the test of time. Buildings do crumble and fall away, but Jesus’ call to love each other and care for those in need still stand. There is hope to be found in Jesus’ words!
Our goal this Advent is to be Advent People. So how do we live into hope?
The second portion of tonight’s scripture gives us a glimpse, see if you can catch it (Mark 13:28–31 CEB):
32 “But nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the angels in heaven and not the Son. Only the Father knows. 33 Watch out! Stay alert! You don’t know when the time is coming. 34 It is as if someone took a trip, left the household behind, and put the servants in charge, giving each one a job to do, and told the doorkeeper to stay alert. 35 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. 36 Don’t let him show up when you weren’t expecting and find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to all: Stay alert!”
Did you catch it? Four times in this short passage, Jesus tells us to “stay alert.” This is the key to living hopeful lives — staying alert.
Ok, I’ll admit this seems a little odd. Especially in this season leading up to Christmas. Everything is chaos and parties and events and shows and gifts and buy this and go there. There’s a lot happening. I look at the calendar of things happening here at the church and want to take a nap. Then I throw in our wedding anniversary and family Christmas events and its pretty hard to “stay alert” for anything.
Yet, Jesus repeats this phrase four times so it has to be important.
Jesus is using a parable to drive home his point. He tells of a person who takes a trip and leaves servants in charge. They don’t know when the owner will return, so they need to stay alert and be prepared for whenever that time comes.
Throughout the tv show or the books that make up the Game of Thrones universe, the Stark Family reiterate the phrase, “winter is coming.” It’s a call to be prepared because winter is always just around the corner. These are ominous and dire words. When Jesus says that the servants are to “stay alert” it rings very similar to “winter is coming.”
Again, upon first look it’s hard to see how being prepared and alert is living into hope.
The question we have to ask ourselves is what are we alert and prepared for?
If we give into the marketing that surrounds Christmas, we are told to be alert to every sale and deal that is available. This way we can be prepared to deliver the right gifts to everyone we care about. This is not hopeful living.
If we give into fear, we are told to be alert to every lurking danger. This way we can be prepared for whatever ominous thing might befall us. This is not hopeful living.
Hopeful living is about being alert to God’s presence in our lives and in the world. When Jesus says “stay alert”, he is telling us to keep our eyes open to what the Holy Spirit is doing around us. We live as Advent People by staying alert for God in our lives.
Earlier this week I looked at my to-do list. It was about a mile long and somewhere in there was writing this message. Like I said, the church calendar is jam-packed this time of year and includes programs and parties and we also throw in annual budgets and planing for the new year just for fun. It’s a lot. I was hard pressed to stay alert and live as a hopeful advent person. I wanted to crawl into a cave and disappear for a few weeks.
But on Monday a group of church members came to celebrate the birthday of another of our members, one who was previously homeless. The group of people surrounded this man and helped him into housing, through medical issues, and came together in true Methodist fashion with a potluck and communion. The love they showed replicated God’s presence in the world. This is advent living. This is staying alert to hope.
Then on Tuesday it became evident that multiple people had been thinking about the same issues and were landing on similar ways to care for people. It was clear that the Holy Spirit was moving and because these various people have been alert, they noticed. This is advent living!
Finally, our Core Values have been finalized and approved by the Church Council. These Core Values are how we as a church will live out our vision to Seek and Love God, Love and Serve People. I encourage you to read these Core Values when they’re available and see the hope they bring. God is present and the people of this church are listening. This is advent living.
One of these Core Values — which we’ll begin to explore more deeply in the Spring — is Courageous Leadership. It reads:
We believe that when people speak up for good and take risks in service to others, God transforms lives. We believe each person is uniquely gifted and called to lead others in sharing God’s message of hope and love for all the world. We accept the urgent responsibility to encourage an equip courageous leaders.
That group of church members were uniquely gifted and called to share God’s message of hope and love for all in the world. You and I are also uniquely gifted and called to share hope and love. This is Advent living.
Jesus tells us through tonight’s passage to stay alert. So the challenge to each of us is to do just that: stay alert to God’s presence in our lives.
Ironically, in this season leading up to celebrating Jesus’ birth the amount of things going on make it difficult to stay alert. Yet, if we do, we will see the amazing things that God is doing in our world. We’re called to be courageous leaders and share God’s message of hope for all the world.
As Jesus says at the end of this passage in Mark, “What I say to you, I say to all: Stay alert!”