Mark 13:24-37, Advent 1 B, November 30, 2014
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
There are certain times in our lives when God reminds us that we are not always in control. Take driving for example. Here in the Quad Cities, there isn’t much traffic. “Morning rush hour” means that there are more people out on the road, yet traffic is rarely every at a standstill like in Chicago.
Yet, the one time that you have to cross over into Illinois before 9 a.m., of course there is an accident on the I-74 bridge. You were on time, but not any longer. You are not in control of your time stream.
Here’s another example: It has been snowing all day. You are grateful for the plows on the roads who enable you to get home safely. Your whole family is home safely, and you are considering what to cook for dinner. Then the power goes out. You call it in, and you discover that almost everyone in the QCA is out of power.
Living in Princeton, you wonder how long it will take MidAmerican to restore your power? What can you cook for dinner without opening the fridge? What will your family do all evening? Will you have to sleep without heat? When the power goes out, you are certain that you are not in control of your time stream.
Being stuck in traffic and losing power are just two small examples of being out of control. They are reminders that no matter how carefully you plan your life, you cannot control every aspect. Some things will go wrong. Appliances will break when you can’t afford to replace them. People will get sick, having you spend more time than you would like in the hospital.
We may not be in control, but God is. God knows what will happen to us - when we will prosper and when we will falter. God knows when we will be overjoyed and when we will grieve. Even so, God is in control of a lot more than our small lives: God is in charge of the whole world.
Jesus tells us today that no one knows when the Son of Man will return. None of us knows - even Jesus doesn’t know! Only God the Father knows when Jesus will return in glory. Only God is in control of the world’s time stream.
This may seem uncomfortable to some of us. How could Jesus not be in the know? This certainly made Gerald uncomfortable. Gerald was a member of my internship congregation in North Carolina. After I preached on a similar lesson from Matthew, Gerald could not believe that Jesus didn’t know when he would return. Gerald assumed that I didn’t know better, who he approached my supervisor, Pastor Fred.
He said, “Vicar Julie said that Jesus didn’t know when his second coming would be. She must be wrong. How could he not have known?” Then Pastor Fred gently showed him the gospel lesson for the day where Jesus directly says that he does not know the day nor the hour when the Son of Man will come in glory. Shocked, Gerald still could not accept that no one on this earth ever has known when Jesus would return.
We have no control over when Jesus will come, yet we pray for Christ to return. We see the terrors in this world, and we want them to end. We wish that everyone could live without fear of running out of food, being captured in a war zone, or being struck by a stray bullet. We pray for Jesus to return, and we wait.
Jesus tells us to stay awake, but he doesn’t mean to keep our eyes literally open. He means to be aware of the abundance around us, and to be aware of the needs as well. He also means to be alive, not to go through the motions but to appreciate every living moment.
Sometimes, we do this best when we are actively waiting in our own lives. For example, when I was in seminary in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, I and a twelve hour drive to come home to Chicagoland. Coming home for Christmas was always a challenge. Would the roads be clear on the drive? Would I find an unexpected snowstorm? Would it be safe for me to leave at all?
Each time I traveled home, I would agonize for days wondering what I would do. Then my family would worry for me when I was on the road. They would pray for my safety, and keep a close eye on the weather. My mother was always ready to buy a hotel room for me if I couldn’t finish the drive. Thankfully, I never had to take her up on that offer. While I was literally keeping awake during the drive, my family was figuratively keeping awake.
Another example: During my senior year of seminary, my father fell off a ladder and thankfully only broke his arm. For the average person, the worry would end there. Fixing a broken arm is pretty standard surgery, but I wasn’t worried about the surgery.
After I got the phone call from my sister, I sat in the hallway of my dorm. My friends, worried for me, sat with me as I told them about my father. I told them how my family has a genetic blood clotting disorder. I told them how my uncle died from a blood clot after a successful surgery.
When my father came out of surgery, that was when the true waiting began. I stayed awake, wondering if my father would live or die. My friends stayed awake with me, praying that he would be ok. Thankfully, my father did survive that surgery. That day, I was painfully aware that neither my father nor I was in control of his time stream.
Not being in control of our own time stream - of when we live and when we die - may seem like a burden. It certainly felt like a burden when I was halfway across the country as my father’s life was in danger. Even so, not being in control can be a blessing too. For we know that God is in control - of our lives and of the whole world. We need not worry, for we cannot change when our loved ones live and when they die.
It is often in these moments of uncertainty over life and death that we feel God closest to us. When we are at our worst or facing the worst in others, all of our worries and fears expose us vulnerable. This creates a “thin space” where we can touch a part of God that we usually cannot reach. There, we experience God. There, we hand over all of our worries and fears to God. When our burdens are too much to bear, we can hand them over to God.
Then, we are better able to stay awake. Then, we can be fully alive, fully aware of God’s love for us. In those darkest moments, we shout out, “Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come!” If we are awake enough, we just might sense Christ’s presence. Right there. When we need Christ most. Amen.