Biblical Text: Mark 13:24-37
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Whether or not it was intentional, Mark's Gospel was taken to heart last night in not being able to sleep. The what, the why, and the how of not being able to sleep is a mystery. What is known is the frustration of looking at the clock repeatedly throughout the night, thinking it time to get up, only to see not much time had passed since the last time of looking at the clock.
Somehow, the ability of not sleeping at night is not what Jesus is referring to when he tells the disciples, 'Keep awake.'
Before this passage, the disciples are amazed and impressed with the grandeur of the temple, marveling at the craftmanship, the skill, and the detail that went into building it. In their marveling, Jesus warns them of the day to come when the temple will be destroyed. Peter, James, and John approach Jesus later, privately asking him when this event will take place, and how will they know when it will happen. They want to know so they can be ready and prepared.
The answer Jesus gives is one they do not expect: Be watchful, be ready, be alert for those who would bring deception instead of good news about the Son of Man returning. Be ready for moments of being under attack by those who fail to understand the good news of Jesus' coming. Be ready because no one knows when that day will come.
Jesus continues with what TO expect: the sun will become dark, and a full moon (like last night's) will not shine. Stars will fall from heaven. In short, Jesus warns it will not be pretty. Yet, in that warning, Jesus offers words of hope, words of encouragement: keep awake.
Keep awake for those moments the reign of God breaks into our lives without realizing it.
Keep awake for those times we encounter God in our neighbor or in creation or in the beauty of song.
Keep awake to notice the way our hearts, our souls are touched by a gesture of kindness, a memory, a random experience with God.
Throughout Mark's Gospel, there is a sense of urgency, and a sense of immediacy. This immediacy is because Jesus knows his purpose and why he is here. Jesus knows too, there is a task ahead of him bigger than him: to go to Jerusalem as part of God's plan of salvation for the entire world. There is work to be done on the way to Jerusalem: the message of repentance to be proclaimed, sick to be healed, disciples to be called and made. For Mark's Jesus, there is no time to waste.
Knowing what is ahead of him, Jesus does his best to prepare the disciples for the time when he will leave AND return. He knows the human spirit far better than we often know ourselves; waiting for anything can be a challenge. In our waiting, we may grow tired. We may lose interest, or become discouraged, or become distracted.
Jesus' words to the disciples are words to us as well: Keep awake. Not a twenty four hour remain awake and vigilant at all times matter of being awake. Rather, an awake that is alert to the presence of God working in our lives.
When Zion entered the Lower Susquehanna Synod's Renewal Journey a few years ago, one of the questions frequently asked was "how did you see God at work in your life this week?" It was a question to encourage reflection, to pay attention to the ways of experiencing God working in our lives. At times, there were questions back of "Pastor, why do you keep asking this question?" The question is asked to remind us of the need to stay awake, to pay attention to the ways God works in the world and in the everyday 'stuff' of life. The question encourages us as disciples to notice the ways we too are part of God's work already begun.
To fall asleep noticing God's work among us, in us, through us, with us, and all of creation, means missing opportunities to continue God's mission and God's ongoing work in the world. In the work of renewal, it is often said, "The church doesn't have am ission, but rather God has a mission for the church." When we remain awake, we open ourselves to the ways we can be of help to God in the world. When we fall asleep, we miss options and possibilities.
Jesus reminds us, "Keep awake." Keep awake, dear friends, this Advent season. We know not what is to come, especially in these next few weeks of coronavirus. But we do know Who is to come, and Who will come again. Thanks be to God. Amen.