961) Surprises; Pleasant and Unpleasant (a)


     The season of Advent anticipates the celebration of the first coming of our Lord Jesus Christ to earth, born among the cattle and the straw in that Bethlehem stable.  The first Sunday in Advent usually speaks of Christ’s second coming, which will be at the end of time as we know it.  In Mark 13:24-25 Jesus says of that time, “In those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.”  The world has changed a great deal since Jesus first spoke those words, but a few things have not changed at all.  The same sun has been burning brightly all those years, the moon has with great regularity gone through its monthly cycle from new moon to full moon and back again to a new moon, and Jesus and the disciples looked out on the same stars in the night-time sky on which we look out.  But, says Jesus, make no mistake about it, even all of that will change when he comes again.  “At that time,” Jesus says in verse 26, ” men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”  Then, there will be no ‘silent night, holy night,’ with the wise men having to look all over for the baby Jesus.  And there will be no bewildered King Herod killing a whole village of infants to get at the new king who he knew was born somewhere in the area, but could not be located.  The next time Jesus comes to earth in person the whole world will know he is here.  You’ll know it, says Jesus, by the sun which will be darkened.  That is a clue that no one will be able to miss.  “Heaven and earth will pass away,” said Jesus, which is to say, everything will change.  Only one thing will not be changed then, said Jesus, and that is “my words which will never pass away” (verse 31).  For those who had been listening, his words promised a new creation, and a place in that new creation for all who would believe in him. 

     So Jesus says in the closing words Mark 13 to “watch, be on guard, and be alert,” because no one knows when that time is coming.  Jesus says this every time he talks about the end times.  He says, ‘Watch,’ because it will happen suddenly.  Like the boss in Mark 13 who comes back unexpectedly and finds the work not done and everyone sloughing off.  In other parables, the coming of Jesus will be like a thief in the night which no one ever expects, or like the bridegroom at a wedding feast who is late in arriving and finds half of the wedding party still not yet ready.  In all these parables, Jesus comes as a surprise into the normal routine of normal people as a surprise.

     This idea of surprise is a big theme in the teachings of Jesus, so we might well ask what kind of surprise it will be.  There are, as you know, pleasant surprises, and there are unpleasant surprises.  What kind of surprise would it be for you if the sun’s light went out this afternoon, and Jesus returned to put an end to everything you are familiar with?  Would you be ready to trust him for whatever comes next?  If so, then it would come as a most pleasant surprise; just as it is for some of the folks in the parables of Jesus.  But for others in those parables, that sudden arrival is not at all pleasant.  They are the ones who are not ready.   (continued…)


Mark 13:24-26  —  (Jesus said), “In those days, following that distress, ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’  At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”

Mark 13:33…35a  —  (Jesus said), “Be on guard!  Be alert!  You do not know when that time will come...  Therefore keep watch.”

I Thessalonians 5:2b  The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.


O God, our Father, help us so to live that, whenever your call comes for us, at morning, at midday, or at evening, it may find us ready, our work completed, and our hearts at peace with you, so that we may enter at last with joy into your nearer presence and into life eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–William Barclay, Scottish pastor, professor, author  (1907-1978)