On this first weekend of Advent, I want to consider the discipline of refusing to lose hope. Our reading this week is from the gospel of Mark:
“But in those days, following that distress,
‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’
“At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.
Welcome Readers! Please subscribe to Social Jesus Here.
“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.
“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”
(Mark 13.24-37, Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™)
Advent begins a new year in the lectionary. Advent is the first season of the Christian church’s calendar year and comes before Christmas. The word “advent” means arrival. Considering Christianity’s claims for what has already arrived alongside what Christians still look forward to arriving in the future is a life-giving way to shape our focus as Jesus followers and renew our commitments to that focus as another year begins.
First let’s consider the imagery used in this week’s reading. Early Jewish Jesus followers would have been familiar with this language because it appeared repeatedly in the Jewish apocalyptic scriptures.
“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14)
“The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light. The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light.” (Isaiah 13:10)
“I will cover the heavens and darken their stars; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon will not give its light.” (Ezekiel 32:7)
“Before them the earth shakes, the heavens tremble, the sun and moon are darkened, and the stars no longer shine.” (Joel 2:10)
“The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.” (Joel 2:31)
Remember the community these scriptures written for was not only trying to make sense of the crucifixion of Jesus, but were also absorbing the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Early Christians appropriated the imagery and repurposed it for their own time:
“I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.” (Acts 2:19, cf. Revelation 6:12 and 8:12)
In none of these Christian passages does the text read, “As Jesus said,” or “As Jesus told us.” Each reference relies directly on the Hebrew scriptures just as much as the gospel authors did.
Next in this week’s reading, we encounter the imagery of the fig tree. We’ll consider that imagery, next.
(Read Part 2)