First Sunday of Advent  |  Mark 13:24-37


This Sunday marks the beginning of Advent. We are all waiting for Christmas. For some, it is the season to remember the coming of the Messiah. For others, it is a time of waiting for Christmas and for Santa, or for the food and gifts of Hanukkah. Some people, let’s call them the Grinch faction, just wait for it to be over.Mary and Joseph 001

And soon it will be. We will hear Christmas carols, shop for presents, wonder whether we’ll receive any, and one day, suddenly, it will be over. We’ll take down the decorations and start waiting for spring.

Most things are suddenly over. Birthdays are like that. Holidays. Stories. The complaint I hear from people who have finished reading my recent novel I, John is that it ends too quickly—they want to read more. (That may be the best complaint a writer can hear. Thank you. Another novel about John and Adriel and Lazarus is coming.)

Mark’s Gospel is like that. Originally it ended with this:

And having gone out, they fled from the tomb, for trembling and amazement (literally “ecstasy”) held them, and they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.

That is a sudden ending, leaving the readers wanting more. Later, someone added more verses to the Gospel, maybe trying to round out the story. Mark’s original ending is just as it should be, though. Fear and trembling and ecstasy were appropriate. That is precisely where Jesus took them. It may be where God takes us.

The lectionary gives us a different passage from Mark to reflect on for Advent. This one is from the little apocalypse, a portion of Mark’s Gospel that talks of the end of the world. That, too, will happen suddenly, according to this passage. The idea is to remember the first coming of God into the world in the person of Jesus by anticipating the next.

HorsebackAheadSo is the emphasis to be on waiting? Are we to abandon our homes and gather our families on mountaintops, thinking that “suddenly” means “soon”?

Jesus is portrayed as telling his followers that they would know when the end of the world was near by certain signs that they would see, but then he tells them, “Truly I say to you that this generation will not have passed away before all these things have taken place.”

What? All those signs indicating the end of the world, and they had already come true two thousand years ago? Does that mean that the crazy old coot with his sign is right, and the end is nigh?

Sure. As the fundamentalists are fond of saying, we are living in the last days. Oh, and so has everybody else who ever lived.

That was the point.

We don’t know our last day. We don’t know when it will be over. This world. Our lives. None of it. That doesn’t mean that we should cower in the corner, worried and watching for angels or meteors or exploding suns. Or an accident. Or cancer.

The end is nigh. Don’t waste your life waiting for it. Go out and live. Could that be what Mark is trying to tell us?

Pay attention, Jesus is saying to his followers. This is what we have. At its worst, it is amazing. At its best, it is ecstasy. So go live, because suddenly it will be over.