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

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

2008-11-Mark 13:24-37

2008-11-30 Mark 13:24-37
James McTyre
Lake Hills Presbyterian Church (USA)

Good morning.

Anybody else feeling a little worn out today?

Giving thanks takes it out of you. You get extra points for being here the Sunday after Thanksgiving. All that turkey and pumpkin pie. Laying on the couch, falling asleep watching football games you don't really care about. Any of you feel like you've spent the last three days in the kitchen? Thanksgiving - it takes a toll. But now comes the best part, turkey sandwiches. Turkey sandwiches on white bread with may-o-naise.

The president-elect made news last week when he said the economy needs a "jolt." Scripture's a jolt today. Just about the time you get all warm and cozy after three grueling days of giving thanks, just about the time you start thinking of relaxing for one day of rest you come to church and instead you get a serious jolt.

"But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be
darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be
shaken...." But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor
the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come."

Um. Merry Christmas.

So much for a peaceful Sabbath. Who picks these Lectionary passages, anyway? Ebenezer Scrooge? The church in its centuries of wisdom looks at the weeks leading up to Christmas, the four Sundays of Advent and delivers a taser-sized jolt. You think it's time to nap? the scriptures say. You think it's time to let down? You think you've got a minute to plan out your offense through Christmas, Hannukkah and Kwaanza? Think again. Scripture's bringing us a big-ol can of Jolt Cola, with caffeine, taurine, and Vitamin Gee You Better Get Yourself Movin' Now.

But why? Why the jolt? Why the jolt at precisely the time when we want peace? Why the anxiety when what we really want is children's laughter and chestnuts roasting on an open fire? This little apocalypse at the front-end of Advent is an alarm bell for our souls. Anybody like hearing the alarm clock go off in the morning? This little apocalypse at the beginning of Advent is our wake-up call. Before you sleepwalk through all the stuff you think you have to do in these coming weeks, before you step along with the rest of the revenge of the shopping zombies, wake up. Wake up and remember! Remember why we have Christmas in the first place. Is it because of all the stuff we can plan and buy and cook? Sometimes we're tempted to think so. But we know it's not. Christmas is about Jesus. And Jesus is about God. And God is about the stuff we can't do. God's jolt is the gift of hope.


This morning we lit a candle of hope.

What do you hope for? If you ask the kids, they probably have a list. Or two. But we all have our lists, at any age. Only, as we get older the list might not have as many things you can get at the store. Health. Savings. A sense of accomplishment. Joy. Those don't exactly fit in Santa's bag. That's the difference between a wish and a hope. We might wish for an iPod Touch. We might wish for a Nintendo Wii. Not that I would ever wish for either of these. But for those of you interested, they are available on eBay with free shipping if you order this week. And if you've ever ordered online, you know that at just about every store, if you don't want to buy something right away, you can click to add it to your "Wish List." In all the places I've visited online, I've never seen a store with a "Hope List." Wishes are stuff we know we really don't need, but would be cool to have. Hope is the stuff we long for. You can get your wishes filled at Macy's or Home Depot or CarMax. Hope is tougher to find in retail.

Where do you find hope? Maybe right here, in church. I hope so. Maybe you find hope in the pages of scripture. Maybe your hope comes from sharing stories with other people who've made it through, or from just knowing that there are people who hope you make it through, and want to help, whatever your situation. If you were new to church, you might think it strange that something as big as hope would come through such fragile vessels, as fragile as the crackly pages of a book, or the veined hand of an elder. You might think hope would come packaged and warrantied - read these verses, say these prayers, associate with these people and you'll have boatloads of hope, or your money back. But hope itself is too fragile for that kind of treatment. Hope has to be passed along with such care. Hope is like a shaky hand lighting a candle's flame. You just have to hope you meet the match to the wick long enough for the flame to ignite. Hope is gently passed through a handshake or a hug, through eye contact that says, "I really am glad to see you." Hope sits by a hospital bed. Hope cries at a funeral. Hope soars with the choir's harmony and dances on piano keys. Hope is that scripture you've heard a million times and suddenly get, for no apparent reason, just the right word at the right time. Hope defies explanation, defies rational thought, but hope is real. You know it when you feel it. And you know when you need it. The first candle of Advent is a candle of hope.


The scripture from Mark, this little apocalypse described by Jesus, doesn't sound cheerily hopeful.

"...the sun will be
darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be

It sounds as if Jesus is saying the end is coming. Like the signs on Alcoa Highway after church say, "Be Prepared to Stop." That's exactly what Jesus is saying. The end is coming, soon. But he's not saying it the way the guy with the sign on Market Square, walking in circles is saying it. Because the apocalypse Jesus is describing is a sign, not just of endings, but of a grand, new beginning.

"...the sun will be
darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be
shaken. Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from
the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven."

What's ending is the need for wishes. What's ending is the pandemic of hopelessness. What's ending is the search for hope because here, descending from the clouds with power and glory is hope. Hope tangible, hope touchable, hope real, live and in person. Hope that we can hold onto. Hope that holds onto us. God's hope in the new day of a new heaven and a new earth is hope that will never, ever let us go. God's hope is hope that rips through all the packaged wishes. God's hope is hope that tears apart the gray skies and shines like radiant diamonds of new life, not from some distant tomorrow, but within our grasp and forever. No more fragile hope. No more broken hope. No more hearts that yearn for something just out of reach. Hope clear. Hope defined. Hope alive.

Scripture jolts us awake to a new morning, a new life in Christ Jesus. The old life is gone, a new life has begun, in Christ Jesus we are alive, in him we hope. Not as the world hopes. But as those who aren't troubled, as those who aren't afraid of what tomorrow might bring. Because our hope doesn't come from things seen, but from things lived, and shared, and new.


If you are worn out. If the idea of Christmas stresses you out. Start your Advent Season with a jolt. Christ's coming isn't something you can bring. Christ's coming isn't something you can usher in, as in, "Oh my gosh, we hung the garlands wrong - Christmas isn't coming this year!") Christmas doesn't need you. Christ doesn't need you. And yet he chooses you. And he wants you to hope in his word. He wants you to find hope in scripture, and church, and even (and maybe especially) a few strangers, a few unexpected mercies. Christ wants you to find hope in God. Christ's hope should shake up your world. Christ's coming will shake up our world. Christ will bring us hope. So be ready.