Advent Series: There’s a New World Coming
Advent 1: The Motivation
Isaiah 64:1-9 & Mark 13:24-37
Jesus Christ, Word of God,
As we open the Scriptures which speak of you as we meditate again on your promises and truths,
May these words ignite our imaginations
giving us a vision of the new world
which you proclaimed and lived.
This morning I acknowledge the writings and words of John Van der Laar.
When you read the Markan passage (in the lectionary year, today we enter the Year of Mark), we hear about the consummation of time and the violence of it. When we read it in the light of the Isaiah reading we see endings, and violent endings at that, being reinforced. God’s coming signifies the death blow to evil through aggression and destruction of the world.
So what is it doing at the beginning of Advent, when we normally talk about babies, stars, visitors coming, birth and rebirth?
We might do better to see the events of the apocalypse as signs of a life without God rather than signs of a life with God.
We would also do better to remember that the Greek word ‘apocalypto’ which we translate as apocalypse with all its dark connotations, actually means ‘revelation’ – a new revealing of God and God’s nature.
Jesus is God’s best revelation. A revelation that is about restoration rather than destruction, about ‘hope’ rather than hopelessness and love rather than about hate.
But where and how can we see this in the passage from Mark’s Gospel. Perhaps we need to read beyond the borders of this pericope for the passage is part of a larger chapter where the scene is continually moving but the setting is the same.
The drama of this passage begins at the temple. In Chapter 12 Jesus has entered Jerusalem, in his famous procession. He is confronted by the religious leaders and a debate ensues where they try to trick or to belittle the wisdom of Jesus, when they ask who a woman will be married to in heaven, if she has had more than one husband in her lifetime.
When Jesus had successfully answered all of their challenges, he taught them that the greatest commandment is to love God, your neighbour and yourself. The religious leaders, corrupt politicians and greedy people can never acquiesce to this and it is then that we hear about the destruction and the darkening of life will occur because of this.
Not because of God’s wrath, but because of the greed, selfishness and unloving nature of so many people and particularly the leaders of society (to those who have been given much, much will be demanded – Luke 12:48).
The signs and omens are there when suffering begins, the temple crumbles and people flee to foreign lands.
Jesus, as a baby, comes to bring hope and the promise of his return is to bring restoration. In this we find God’s motivation. The author of Mark is using this passage, not to highlight the wrath of God, but to remind the people that even these traumatic events are used by God to reach out to people with grace and love.
Mark stresses in today’s passage that God is gathering people to God’s self, and the gracious invitation that he demonstrates to his people. As such Mark is seeking to inspire hope in his readers and provide the resources they need to avoid the temptation to simply despair in their circumstances.
We can’t simply pigeon-hole the Markan reading, as being about God’s wrath.
The writer of Isaiah, probably a prophet who has returned from exile in Babylon, to see the shattered temple, the unkempt fields and the wastelands beyond, is invoking God to use God’s wrath – but I believe he understand this is not in God’s nature. Why?
Read on to verse 5. You meet those who gladly do right – being glad and doing right are obviously two things that God desires as it mirrors God’s character. For then the writer says, that they are those who remember you in your ways.
This is not the image of God as tyrant, but as a father, doubled up with an even richer image of the potter – molding us, but working with the material that is available, before putting it in the kiln to transform it into a new form and stronger material. And while God is God, we – in this passage – become God’s people (verse 9).
How then do we respond?
Advent reminds us that there is a new world coming – always coming. But it also tells us that the new world exists in the midst of the old one. God is present as the master potter, the living Jesus and his Spirit with us. He is motivated by a love that will not let us go and desires our restoration.
However, God doesn’t achieve God’s purpose by coercion and violence.
God, subversively and quietly, steps into our world, in the form of a baby, to a poor young couple, in the backwoods of a huge empire, and begins again to win over the hearts of people, who then begin to live by a different set of values and goals – those of God’s reign – those of love, grace, compassion, justice, forgiveness and restoration.
The signs of suffering and trauma that we see every day are not an indication of our need to predict the end times are near. Nor are they an indication that God’s reign has failed or that God is not coming.
Rather the suffering we experience in this world is an opportunity to encounter God and to help others to do the same.
The struggles of this life are a call to embody now the grace and restoration of God. As a manifestation of God’s motivation, we channel that love and grace, God’s presence and activity for those around us.
Our challenge, as we begin the Advent journey again this year, is to hold fast to faith and live life as best we can, even in the midst of a struggling world. Despair is not an option for us.
Rather, as we celebrate God’s coming, hope becomes the foundation from which our joy, our love and our peace can flow.
Come to us again, O Christ;
Restore us and renew us,
And teach us to live now
the reality for which we long.