11/18/12, Be Alert!

Daniel 23:1-3, Heb.10:11-14, 18, Mark 13:24-33

The Day the Earth Stood Still, The War of the Worlds, Planet of the Apes, The Andromeda Strain, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Soylent Green, Soylent Green, The Terminator, Armageddon, The Matrix, The Rapture, Children of Men, Left Behind.

 Does anything on this list sound familiar to you?  It’s a Wikipedia list of just a few of the more than 125 movies from 1950 to the present that have been made with “apocalypse” as their theme.  On the Internet there is a site called 2012apocalypse.net. “The 2012 Apocalypse is predicted by an intersection of Religions, Science, and Prophesies. Many Great Prophets, Religious Scriptures, and Scientific evidence point to a possible apocalyptic event happening in the year 2012.”  But then, there’s an alternate site with all kinds of information about why you SHOULDN’T worry about the end of the world coming this year.  www.wired.com/wiredscience/2012/08/ff_apocalypsenot/all/     I wonder which one Jesus would read? People have always had an enduring interest in the end times.  Considering this contemporary information along with the apocalyptic language and imagery that the Bible uses, it’s enough to make one run for the hills.

           In today’s gospel Jesus gives a message that pictures an apocalypse.  You may have noticed that it sounds oddly like a repetition of the passage from the Book of Daniel.  It sounds a lot like the Book of Revelation too.  These readings describe a time of great suffering and devastation to come, after which God’s people will be rescued.   

Apocalyptic literature emerges from a religious worldview that believes that everything happening on earth represents a larger, heavenly struggle between good and evil. It often tries to make sense of terrible events and experiences by placing them within a story that offers some ultimate purpose in the divine cosmic plan. With this explanation, people who are currently suffering or being oppressed might find some comfort and meaning in their hardship.

Both 13th chapter of Mark and the passage from Daniel were written for Jewish believers who were struggling to make sense of their world and lives. The account  in Daniel is a description of a 167 BC persecution. Violent slaughter of thousands of Jews and desecration of their temple worship at the hand of a cruel Roman leader was underway.  Many scholars place the actual writing of Mark’s gospel at around 70 AD.   The author of Mark borrows language from Old Testament apocalyptic passages in Daniel, Isaiah, Joel and Ezekiel to construct Jesus’ speech. It probably refers to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple that happened between 66 and 70 AD.  Although the passages sound prophetic, like a prediction of things to come, apocalyptic literature actually describes in metaphorical language what’s going on currently. It also hints that there is going to be a dramatic change ahead that makes sense of all this suffering.  In fact, apocalyptic literature seems to indicate that suffering is necessary to bring about the change. 

For readers today, it’s helpful to read this and similar passages in light of the challenges its original readers were facing.  We might ask ourselves how these challenges are akin to some of our own.  Our “Saving Jesus” studies remind us that in the first century some of the Jewish community was evolving into Christian belief even as the traditional Jewish religious tradition was struggling for its own survival.  There was secular persecution from the Romans, but there was also struggle within the Jewish community itself as it sought to sort out the changes in tradition it was experiencing.  As an apocalyptic teaching, Jesus’ words warn us that struggle and pain are often the price that must be paid in order for God’s change to emerge. 

Throughout his speech, Jesus uses phrases like "Watch out." “Be on your guard.”  Be aware!”  Jesus starts with this warning  in verse 5. “Be on your guard… they will hand you over to courts and you will stand before rulers… Do not fret about what you are going to say.  Say whatever is given to you at the time, for it will not be you speaking but the Holy Spirit.  Sisters and brothers will betray each other and parents will betray their children.  You will be hated by all because of my name.  Yet, the one who perseveres to the end will be saved.” Verses 9, 23, and 33 repeat Jesus’ direction to stay alert.  The message is that it’s important for us to pay attention to the significance of each moment. We should to be prepared at all times to live an expression of Christian faith that does not betray in word or deed the truth that’s held inside of us.

This sounds like a melodramatic way of applying today’s reading to our current life of faith, but is there not instruction there for us to heed?  Just as in the first century society and religion were undergoing tremendous change, so are we today in the midst of transition to a changing worldview.  God’s way of working in history is often not understood by humans in the moment.  Jesus says to not focus on the past or try to control the future.  Our job is to concentrate on the present moment, to see God active and alive in people and events right in front of us.  With faith and faithfulness, we are called to engage with the suffering that is always present even as we anticipate the change that lies ahead and be always ready to do our little part to participate in it.   

         As we celebrate this week of Thanksgiving, may our grateful thoughts include all that we have come to know about our freedom in Christ.  We are called to courageously live now, this moment, in a non-anxious state of joy and confidence as we share God’s love with others.  Jesus is alive among us!   In kindnesses shown to us, in the chance we have to help another, in the opportunity to listen deeply to someone’s hurt:  even in apocalypse, God shows up.  Thanks be to God!


By Sandi DeMaster