Advent 1 Year B
Isaiah 64:1-9; 1 Corinthians 1: 3-9; Mark 13: 24 -37
“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.”
Welcome to the Year of Mark, and we’re in with a bang.
It is the Passover week and Jesus takes his seat on the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem. Mark lets us listen in to the private teaching he gives his closest followers, Peter, James, John and Andrew.
Which is only right, since Jesus concludes saying “What I say to you, I say to all.”
Strife is gathering.
Jesus can foresee the rejection of his gospel by the religious and secular powers.
He can foresee God’s protection removed from Temple and city, and within this generation,
and he can see in this a foreshadowing of the last days, when the moral reality of all things is uncovered and judgment follows.
It is this 13th chapter of Mark, this ‘Little Apocalypse’, with which we swerve suddenly into Advent: –
no longer the heavenly light of All Saints and of Christ the King; in today’s gospel the lights go out – the sun darkened, the stars falling.
If Advent alerts us to what is coming, we may well ask: do I want to know?
Don’t we see enough already of dark and destructive forces today,
and in every page of history?
I read recently that old Finnish has no future tense. The hunter-gathers of the North had no expectation of change beyond the familiar seasonal cycle. Perhaps no wish for change.
To have a future tense is to have expectation:
something is coming; some irreversible alteration will take place.
It’s that mystery of time: the equations of modern science witness to it, equations which can be run backwards to equal effect,
but which we only experience forwards.
A future suggests story, a forward movement, with characters acting
and all the tropes and sense of an ending which these project.
What is to come: that invites us to see meaning … to write history.
The liturgical year resembles a stream. In the weeks after Trinity it has meandered all over an upland flood plain, irrigating fields near and far, and now at the start of Advent, it is gathered between hard rocks and rushes on and over, tumbling in a torrent to new lands.
So, is having such a sense of onward flow to meaning, a story,
true for us?
Or is it artificial, a fable we tell to distract ourselves,
spun out through long winter nights until the return of the hunting season,
just as the Finnish forest-dwellers told themselves the sagas of Kalevala?
Actually, we don’t know. And that thought affords a delicious sense of vertigo.
It is an act of faith.
And it is an act of faith because we’re in the middle of it. We can’t know the end – like characters in a drama.
The apocalyptic lifting of the veil gives hints, but no more than hints.
We don’t have the author’s eye view of the whole.
Recently in Upper Church at Mattins we heard read the Book of Tobit.
Well, we’re Tobias on the road to Ecbatana, caught between empires, hoping for the best, filled with fears.
We’re not Raphael, who knows the road and sees the outcome, because he is an angel who stands ready and enters before the glory of the Lord.
Indeed in dramas many characters never see the final act; never see the sense of the play as a whole gathered up.
Or as St Paul puts it, we “wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
So all our acting is an act of faith.
And we do it in the face of the sun being darkened and the moon not giving its light,
of intractable war, circles of vengeance,
and of the onrushing degradation of the environment.
Some days we long for judgment.
But we are helped along the way.
We are accompanied by scripture with its unfolding story of God coming in this mortal life and at the last day.
Also we have our own experience of human life taking shape, like a child gestating in the womb, strengthened and endowed with faculties, with the expectation of birth – matching the Advent hope.
And we are immersed in the Church. Her liturgical cycle brings us together today. This is never plain repetition; rather, we are enriched as those Corinthian disciples were. The sacrament transforms us. We grow.
Advent then can rouse us to the sense of meaning, to urgency and energy, to repentance and fasting.
As those who await a birth are not simply waiting. There is expectancy, preparation, knowledge that life will change, with new responsibilities, a new seriousness, entering into new relationships, becoming a parent for example, and so being placed in a different generation.
We can approach the Israel-Palestine conflict in a similar way, or COP28:
not with resignation and despair, but with hope that looks for transformation.
And … life as an ordinand – not marking time but watching for strengthening, for God is faithful and by him you were called.
And … life as a brother in CR – God remains faithful to us too. He enriches us and we are strengthened to await the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.
He is near, we hear – at the very gates,
and we are the ones charged with watching the door.
So listen again to the words of the prophet Isaiah:
O Lord, you are our Father:
we are the clay and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity for ever.