Sermon 29th November 2020 – 1st Sunday in Advent
Text: Mark 13:24-37 – Worth the wait
Jesus says today - “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near”. Jesus obviously has never been to Melbourne. Here we are 2 days out from Summer and I have no idea whether I’m going to have the heater or the air conditioner on today. In fact, quite often I have had both on during the day. This is usually when my jumper drawer empties out – not because I’ve packed them away for Summer but because I’m so cold in the morning that I put on a jumper but by mid-morning I’ve taken it off and put it somewhere. Melbourne has to be unique in that sense of not following the script when it comes to weather.
But I think that is the point of what Jesus is trying to teach us in our Gospel reading today. Perhaps, especially as Christians, you thought the your life would follow a different script. If God is in control – if we are being faithful to God – shouldn’t life be better than what it is?
Isn’t it funny that when things go wrong in the world – whether it be what we’ve been going through with Covid 19 or whether it’s natural disasters or simply the state of the world with war, drugs, crime or whatever makes you disillusioned – isn’t it funny that somehow we think that either God is not in control or that God doesn’t care. But this is the whole point of God sending his Son Jesus into the world. It’s why Jesus directs us to look at the state of the world – but not in despair but with hope.
Firstly, because the world needed Jesus. The world was losing hope waiting for God to send his promised Messiah to save the world. But secondly, and most importantly, to show the world that God was, always has been, and always will be in control of everything – even if the world doesn’t seem that way – even if the media tells us differently.
I must admit there has been times when I have wondered whether the Church and God were in control. When football matches could be played but churches couldn’t gather. When bottle shops were deemed an essential service to remain open but churches were shut. When thousands gathered to cheer and shout at the recent State of Origin and AFL Grand Final but churches have been told it’s dangerous to sing in worship. When you can go to a crowded café and take your mask off but you have to keep it on during worship even with social distancing.
I’m sorry if I sound cynical but that’s sometimes how I feel in my faith journey and I know that I’m not alone. But then I read passages like today’s Gospel and I’m reminded that nowhere does the Bible say we’re going to have it easy. Nowhere does it say that the church will be a respected and essential part of society. In fact Jesus says that the world will hate you because of me – but remember it hated me first.
Jesus said: Beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips. You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and other unbelievers about me. In these difficult times, Jesus says we are to be awake. Jesus doesn’t paint a pretty picture of flowers and rainbows which often depict the Christian outlook. No he says; 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. What Jesus is encouraging here is to wait patiently and not give up your faith in him. Because it’s not going to always be an easy path – but it’s a path that Jesus himself walked when he himself told the disciples he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed.
But Jesus didn’t end there – he continued – and be raised on the 3rd day. And that’s the hope for us. That all the difficulties in this life will end – and then we too shall be raised. But it’s the wait – and it’s the difficulties that arise during the wait. But Jesus said: Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. The time he refers to is when he returns to bring about the end of the world and Judgment Day.
Waiting is not an easy thing to do – especially waiting for God to do something. If God is going to do something why doesn’t he do it now. 2020 has been a year of waiting and a year of testing our faith. And it isn’t over yet.
We’re happy to be back worshipping but in reality this is exactly where we were 5 months ago before the 2nd wave hit us and we had to shut down again after being back for 3 weeks. So you can understand why some people are nervous. The Good News is that God is working for us as we wait for him.
And we are waiting just as God’s people were waiting for the coming of the Christ Child on Christmas Day 2000 years ago. That glorious moment when God comes to be with us in human form. That’s how we know God is in control – because he became one of us. And now we are again waiting. We’re waiting and watching the signs of Christ’s return. We’re waiting to see Jesus return in our own individual time and place. But that doesn’t mean that God is not with us now.
God is with us, but it’s the where and how? As the old saying goes - patience is a virtue, and many of us are deeply wearied by all the waiting we’ve had to do. All the cynical laughs from the world believing that Christmas is just another fairy tale that we believe in. It might feel like 2020 is a year that has been wasted and empty. But is that true?
This has been a year that has made us face what is most important about church? As you reflect on your waiting this year, what has God grown in you? Paul reminds us that despite all the hardships that we face in the world – all the hardships being faced by the church that “You are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ AND he will also strengthen you to the end.”
Look back on this year and see the strength with which you endured its trials. We waited for 7 or more months for our church doors to be open again and we didn’t give up. And there are some who because of health reasons can’t re-join us just yet and we won’t give up on them. And so, we pray, and we stick together, and we love one another, and we wait upon the Lord.
I love what the prophet Isaiah says in chapter 40 - those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. This has been a hard year and it’s not over yet and there’s no guarantee. Just look at what happened in South Australia a couple weeks ago where the entire state was shut down. So we are to stay strong and not grow weary.
God urges us to remain faithful because God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus will return but we don’t know when. As Jesus said: about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. But when it happens – what a glorious moment that will be. We will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect – you and me - from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. And our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. That is something worth waiting for.