Sunday the 3rd of January 2017
When I was a child my mum liked to give me surprises. I thought that she did this because she thought that I liked surprises. However, in a conversation with my mum about my own children one day, she told me that the reason that she kept things a surprise was she could not handle my reactions to waiting for things to happen. If I knew that something exciting was coming, then I would not be able to settle, and because I suffered from hyperactivity I would be bouncing off the walls and I would be a real handful until the expected thing had passed. I have always been like this; I still struggle to wait for things that I know are coming.
As I was thinking about today’s Gospel reading, I began to wonder whether there are times in our Christian journey where life can be like this. In this Gospel reading from Mark chapter 13 we hear Jesus telling us that the time is coming when he will return and set things right. One of the things about Mark’s Gospel is that when Jesus speaks he speaks with a sense of urgency and expectancy. Today’s reading is no different; we need to be alert and ready, on the lookout, expectant.
If you look at our world you can see why this speaks to us today; society is falling apart; our faith seems to be under threat; decisions are being made by our government that will have disastrous results into the future; I look at the news and see that the world as a whole is getting gloomier and that it is sometimes hard to be positive because all we hear is bad news. And sometimes in my prayers I have said to the Lord: “Lord I know you are coming back to take us to be with you, but what are you waiting for?” “How long are you going to let things continue like they are?” “When are you going to do something?” I am confident that I am not the only one here who has prayed like that to the Lord.
Jesus says this to us: 26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens. 28 Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door.”
You and I know that what Jesus tells us is true. That the end is set. That the day and the hour when he returns is firmly established. It will happen. He will come and get us. And yet we have to wait. We know that it is going to happen and we look forward to it, but we have to wait. And the danger with waiting is that we lose our hope and focus and drift off. Jesus told his disciples, “33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.”
In the chapter after today’s reading Jesus took Peter James and John to the garden of Gethsemane, and while he went off to pray he told them to watch and pray, but instead they fell asleep. The day was coming, the hour was upon them, but they did not see it coming, despite the repeated warnings. One of the biggest events in history, our Lord’s death on a cross, was about to happen and yet they were not ready because they slept.
For us as Christians living today, we are in a similar position. Our Lord has spoken to us through his Word; he has told us about his second coming. Our God has established the last hour, and it will come; we have been told and warned. 32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
This is why Jesus says to you and me as his disciples, “33 Be on guard! Be alert!…keep watch…” You and I need to hear this because we so easily become impatient; we pray, “What you are waiting for God?” and when we don’t see him working, perhaps we begin to think: “Maybe it isn’t really going to happen after all”; or maybe we just become impatient; we allow other things to distract us from our focus on Jesus and his Word to us. We may even let ourselves drift off to sleep so to speak.
But this is why Jesus’ words are important. It is not just about the end, but also our journey towards the end. The command to watch applies not only to doormen and watchmen, but to all disciples of Jesus, as we journey through this life. Careless, sleepy people who are taking a journey risk missing a flight, or an exit, or the “bridge out” sign. However, those who keep watch and are alert pay attention to maps, weather, the road, luggage, other people and the destination. Because the day and the hour is unknown by us, we need to watch and be alert to God’s Word and direction every day. It is a whole of life thing, because when the end comes it is too late.
So I wonder what difference it would make if we turned the question around, and instead of asking God, “What are you waiting for?” whether we hear God asking the very same question to us, where he asks you and me: “What are you waiting for?”
We have a life to live. We have a destination that we are going to. We have a direction for each day. We do not want to be caught missing out on what God is doing in us because we are sleeping.
The reality is that all of us are guilty of not watching or being alert. We all, because of our sinful natures, have drifted away at times. We do not do what our Lord Jesus is commanding us to do in today’s reading. But this is where we need to remind ourselves of the good news. And this is the fact that it is our Lord who is the real watcher.
This comes out very clearly in one of my favourite psalms, Psalm 121. Listen to what it says: “3 He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber; 4 indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. 5 The Lord watches over you— the Lord is your shade at your right hand; 6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. 7 The Lord will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life; 8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”
It is only our Lord who never falls asleep and is always watching, and his promise is that he is watching over you and me as his children; not only is he watching, but his promise is that he directs our paths.
The reality is that it is our Lord Jesus who accomplishes what you and I cannot. When the disciples’ time of trial came, Jesus died on the cross and rose again from the dead. When the time of trial comes to you in your daily lives here and now, today, our Lord Jesus comes to you and graces you with his gifts at the Holy Communion table. And when the time comes for judgement at the end of time, Jesus will come again and take you to be with him forever. Our confidence is not in ourselves, but in his promises to us.
The challenge that Jesus gives you and me is to be alert, to watch over our lives as Christians and be ready for his return. This includes watching so that we don’t drift away or become complacent, but that we continue to live each day alert to what he is doing.
I encourage you all that you are never alone in your walk with him and that he is always with you, doing what you are unable to do at times.
As he commands you to be alert and to watch, so too he is alert and watching over you.