Mark 13:24-37 — (Jesus said), “But 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. 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. 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. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back— whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”
The season of Advent anticipates the celebration of the first coming of the 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 the above reading, Jesus speaks of that time, saying, “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 as we look out on. 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, “at that time people 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 little boys to get at the new king who he knew was born somewhere in the area, but could not be located. No, the whole world will know then that Jesus has arrived. 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. “The heavens and the 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 that “my words will never pass away.” And 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.
And so, says Jesus in the closing words of the text, “Watch, be on guard, be alert,” because no one knows when that time is coming. And this is the sort of thing Jesus says every time he talks about these end times. He says, ‘Watch,’ because it will happen suddenly; like a boss (Mark 13 above) who comes back unexpectedly and finds the work not done and everyone sloughing off. Or in other parables, Jesus’ coming 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 then finds half of the wedding party still not ready. In all these parables, Jesus comes into the normal day to day routine of normal everyday people as a surprise, and many are not prepared to meet him. So, Jesus says, “Watch, be on guard, and be alert.” You might think your day to day lives and responsibilities and activities and investments are all that matters. But all that will come to an end in an instant, suddenly, like the arrival of a thief in the night. (continued…)