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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Wake Up!

Mark 13 24-37
How Do You Know What's Coming?
Mark 13:24-37
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church
November 29, 2005

“What I say to you I say to all: Keep awake!” said Jesus to everyone. “Keep awake!” Because with the advent of Jesus Christ, with the preparations for his kingdom, looking toward the future… we don’t know what’s really going to happen. We might THINK we know, but we don’t know. Especially when we’re talking about Jesus, we don’t – and we can’t – know what’s going to happen.

How do you know what's coming? It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas (everywhere you go). We're lighting candles and singing the GOOD hymns. Not that all the others aren't good, but there's just something about those Christmas carols. We preachers try to remind you that it's not really Christmas season yet. We try. We say, "Wait! Hold on! Thanksgiving was only last Thursday. Scripture says thou hast 27 more shopping days left. 27 more days of Advent. We tell you Christmas season doesn’t really begin until the day AFTER Christmas. Silly preachers. Everybody knows Christmas season starts the day after Halloween. Everybody knows what’s coming. Everybody’s making plans.

You know what time it is. You’ve planned for it. Some of you already have all your presents bought and all your cards in the mail. If that’s you, keep it to yourself. Cold weather’s finally here. The deceitful trees have thrown all their leaves into our gutters. WalMart has giant, inflatable Santas. We know what time it is. Like the fig tree Jesus spoke of, we see the change of seasons. We know what's going to happen. It's the end of football season. This year it's really the end of football season. Time for hunting season. Hunting for an Offensive Coordinator season. We can read the writing on the wall. We know what's going to happen.

We know what's coming this Christmas season because the same things happen every Christmas season. We light the Advent candles. We have the Cantata. We read pretty much the same scriptures. And hear sermons on pretty much the same scriptures. That’s why we start with the one that says, “Keep awake!” All this stuff about the sun and the moon and the stars burning out... all this prophesy about the foundations of the universe being shaken up. Do we really believe that? We believe them in principle, sure. But we don't really expect these things to happen. Not before this generation passes away. Not before we finish our Christmas shopping, at least. We might believe it as a concept, but we don't watch for it. We don't stay awake for the end of the world as we know it. Good Presbyterians that we are, we know what's coming because we plan what's coming. We save. We buy. We make lists for Santa and go to the mall so our kids can hand him the printouts from the gift registry. Christmas is a time of no surprises, or few surprises. We tell the jolly old elf what we want and then sit back and let him do his thing. We know it's Christmas because there aren't surprises unless we say there are going to be surprises, and if there are surprises, we darn well better know what they're going to be.

We know it's Christmas because the same things happen every year. We're comfortable with them. We're OK with tradition. Yes, the Christ baby surprised everyone that first Christmas day, but one surprise in 2000 years is enough. Christmas is the great festival of predictability.

So what do we do with scripture that tells us that Christ's advent is utterly unpredictable? What do we do with scripture that tells us while Christ's coming is good, it's not exactly pleasant? What happens when the Word of God goes against everything we expect -- in the busiest holiday season of the year? Christ and Christmas are on a collision course. Someday all that we can prepare for will run headlong into all that we can't. And scripture tells us what we can't prepare for will win. How do we know what's going to happen? Not because we've put it on layaway. Not because we've done it that way for 1000 years. We know what's going to happen because God says it's going to happen. Maybe that's the biggest surprise of all. What God says is going to happen will happen. And God's happening will wipe out everything we think we're prepared for.

Praying, and watching for God's kingdom to come is not the prayer of the man or woman who has everything. Praying and watching for God's kingdom is not the prayer of the child who can't wait to see what's under the tree. Praying and watching for God's kingdom is the prayer of someone whose life is predictable only in its chaos. When we reach the point of knowing in our hearts that things aren't how they're supposed to be... When we reach the point of hoping for hope itself... God's promises of universal surprise begin to pull us through. God's promises of a new heaven and a new earth pull us into hope that we can't buy, make, bake, or charge. God's promise of change gives us life when our plans fall dead. When we honestly don't know what's going to happen... When we truly can't plan our way around the block, Christ whispers the advent carol to us: "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel. That mourns in lonely exile here. Until the Son of God appear. Rejoice. Rejoice. Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel." It isn't a carol of birth; it's a carol of rebirth. It’s almost too honest to sing. Advent strips us down beneath the jolly stuff we want to wear. Advent sings straight at the heart. Like an arrow to the soul, Advent sings songs only God knows how to write. We don't know exactly how they're going to go. But we know they will. Not because we can sing, or live, or plan our words and deeds so carefully. Advent will come in God's way, in God's time, because God says it will.

How do we know what's going to happen this Christmas? We all have our ideas about that. But how do we know what's going to happen in Advent? How do we know what's going to happen when Christ comes? We don’t. We can't know. But God knows. And God says, "Just watch. Watch. Keep awake. And you'll see."

So what do we do with our Christmas commitment to predictability? What do we do with the decorations that always go on the same table, in the same configuration? What do we do with the ceramic penguin with the scarf that always has to face 24 degrees south-southwest? Probably the same things we do every year. But what can change, what needs to change is something only you can change, with God’s help. If Christmas bores you, if Christmas wears you out, if Christmas traditions lull you into sleepwalking through the season, then WAKE UP! Wake up to Christ’s advent. Wake up to the season of Advent. Wake up to the totally unpredictable, totally uncontrollable force of a God strong enough to snuff out the sun and shake the stars out of the sky. Wake up to the God who’s unpredictable enough, and uncontrollable enough, to choose you, to say “Yes” to you. Wake up. And stay awake. For you don’t know when Christ is going to born again in you.