“Watch and Wait” on Mark 13:24-37 by Michelle Ellis - December 3, 2023
We welcome the kidsos to be part of our service today. You can listen and if you want, draw your ideas, your questions and your reactions to what you hear today. We’ve talked already a little bit today about how we’ve begun a new season called Advent. You might know that followers of Jesus have a special way of keeping time, kind of like our own calendar, it has its own special seasons. In the Christian calendar, the New Year begins with Advent. So we could say to each other today, Happy New Year!
I want to notice something together, about where we start our New Year. The Christian New Year begins in a time of darkness and waiting. The days are very short right now and the nights are very long. When we read the passage in the Bible today, it talked about the sun becoming dark and not even the moon giving its light. And the person who wrote this book, Mark, is not just talking about the winter season when it feels like the sun hardly gives its light anymore. He’s talking about a darkness as a way of saying what it feels like when people are hurting, when it seems like only bad things are happening all around us, or when we are confused and feel lost. Mark himself lived in a really confusing and dark time. Just before he wrote this book, something really scary happened in the land that he lived in. In Mark’s land, Israel, they had a huge temple that was enormous and covered all over in gold. It was such a huge building made of huge stone blocks and people were very proud of it. It looked like it would last forever. It was like their church. That temple was in a city called Jerusalem. What happened is that people from another place, Rome, came into Jerusalem, and they attacked the people there and destroyed the city. They destroyed the temple, too. They also destroyed people’s homes. Many, many people died and it was a horrible, scary time. In the passage that we read today, Jesus is warning his disciples how this was going to happen in the future. It did happen, 40 years after Jesus was telling his disciples about it.
During the time that Mark is writing, the people were feeling very, very dark. The kind of darkness you feel when people you love have died, when your home is taken away, when you wonder if God isn’t who you thought he was, and when you wonder if he is even really there. The kind of darkness you feel when you’ve lost yourself, when you’ve lost all hope and don’t know the way to go anymore. That’s the kind of darkness that Mark is talking about in this passage, and that is the kind of darkness that the Christian New Year starts with.
We’ve got some long nights here, too, and some deep shadows. Scary things are happening in our world and in our lives. We had a very dry summer with many fires. There are wars in Gaza, in Sudan, in Ukraine and many people are dying. Some of us have lost our homes. For some of us, people we love very much have died and we miss them very much. Some of us are sick. Some of the people we love are very sick in their bodies or in their minds. Some of us look around at things happening in the world, in our hearts, and we feel afraid, we feel lost. We wonder, ‘God, where are you?’ ‘God, how long will this last?’ We wonder, ‘why God, is this happening? Aren’t you going to come and help us?’ These questions are questions that people in the Bible times asked a lot. More than half of the psalms have questions like this in them. So if you ever feel like asking those questions, you are not alone. Just like the people in Mark’s time we can feel confused, lost, and like things are very, very dark.
Jesus went through a time when things felt very dark for him. It happened when it was nighttime. It was the night before Jesus was going to die on the cross, and Jesus was feeling really scared. Jesus and his friends were together in a place called the Garden of Gethsemane. And in this scary, dark time Jesus wanted his friends to do one thing with him. Do you know what it was? It is the same thing that Jesus tells people to do in the part of the Bible we read today, the part about what servants are supposed to do when they are waiting for their master to come home. Do you remember? Jesus says, “Stay awake and watch with me. Keep watch!” This is the thing about darkness and nighttime in the Bible—it’s not a time for sleeping. It’s a time to stay awake, because something big is about to happen, but in a secret way, in a way you might not catch at first if you aren’t paying attention. Those who are watching get to see it first. Sometimes, when really hard things are happening, we can want to give up on watching and staying awake. When the Bible talks about falling asleep, it can mean not paying attention, not seeing what’s really happening under the surface.
When Jesus’ friends were sleeping in the garden, they didn’t see that Jesus needed them, and they didn’t see that God was about to do something amazing, one of the most amazing things he’s ever done. They didn’t see that even though something scary was happening, God was going to be at work in it, God was going to transform the scary thing into a beautiful thing. They didn’t see that what looked like the worst possible thing, Jesus dying, was going to be the way that God destroyed death, it was going to be the way that God turned everything around. Sometimes we can think like we’re asleep, too. Even though we’re awake, we can miss the mystery of what God is doing. We can forget to talk to him, we can forget that he is always at work in ways we can see and in ways that we can’t see. Keeping watch means asking, ‘God, show me where you are at work. Keeping watch means asking, ‘God, please come.’ Keeping watch means asking, ‘God, show me the signs that you are on your way.’
Keeping awake also means remembering that night does not last forever. Morning is coming. Just when the night is at its darkest, that’s the time to really watch, because that means dawn is coming. Morning is on its way. Jesus is on his way. Jesus says, “Keep watch! Pay attention! Look! I’m on my way! I’m knocking on the door! Watch! Wait!”