Advent is the start of the new lectionary calendar in the Church. Advent (from the latin for “arrival”) is the 4 week period before Christmas that we wait for the arrival of Jesus being born. The Church is beginning the “B” calendar this year with specific readings for each week. In the grand tradition of the Church interpreting the scriptures for their time, let’s read through the Gospel readings with eyes in the 21st century.
Our Gospel reading for the first week of Advent is found in Mark 13:24-37:
“But in those days, after that time of distress, the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give its light, the stars will come falling out of the sky and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.And then they will see the Son of man coming in the clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send the angels to gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the world to the ends of the sky. ‘Take the fig tree as a parable: as soon as its twigs grow supple and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. So with you when you see these things happening: know that he is near, right at the gates. In truth I tell you, before this generation has passed away all these things will have taken place. Sky and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. ‘But as for that day or hour, nobody knows it, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son; no one but the Father. ‘Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come. It is like a man travelling abroad: he has gone from his home, and left his servants in charge, each with his own work to do; and he has told the doorkeeper to stay awake. So stay awake, because you do not know when the master of the house is coming, evening, midnight, cockcrow or dawn; if he comes unexpectedly, he must not find you asleep.And what I am saying to you I say to all: Stay awake!’”
The New Jerusalem Bible (New York: Doubleday, 1985), Mk 13:24–37.
Jesus was an apocalyptic rabbi – his message was the radical transformation of the world as they knew it. This passage in Mark is sandwiched between an apocalyptic declaration of the destruction of Jerusalem and his crucifixion. He is warning his listeners that this destruction is coming – and coming soon. They will see the destruction of their city in their lifetime.
Jesus does’t seem to know when this will take place, but knows it’s coming. Whether it’s divine foreknowledge or understanding the geopolitics of his day, Jesus was right. The First Jewish-Roman War began in 66 CE and led to the infamous destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 70 CE. His prediction of the great abomination in the temple (Mk. 13:14) was completed by Roman Emperor Nero.
However, we see what instigated these events. The Zealots, a Jewish political group, had sought to overthrow their Roman oppression. There were Zealots in Jesus’ camp – Simon (also known as Simon the Canaanite or Simon the Canaanean) was a disciple of Jesus. Another Zealot we’re familiar with is Saul – who we know best as the Apostle Paul.
Jesus was not a Zealot. On the contrary, we see Jesus as the antithesis of a Zealot in his trials. In Mark 15, Pilate offers either Jesus or Barabbas to be released from the State. Barabbas, the zealot, was a notorious prisoner who was arrested for insurrection and murder during a Zealot uprising. We know the story – Barabbas was released and Jesus was crucifed.
I don’t think the American Church is under attack. In fact, I think the American Church has been poisoned by power. It is hard to find many similarities with Jesus and the White Church in America. However, we should still stay awake – there are many things we need to be on alert for.
American Christianity has picked the path of the Zealot over the path of Jesus. We choose violence over peace. Christian Nationalism is an easy example of this – the January 6 insurrection was filled with Christian flags and prayers during a violent revolt. I think Barabbas would have been comfortable charging through the Senate chambers.
However, there are subtle ways the American Church has chosen power and violence over the way of Peace. Good-meaning Christians have left the poor and oppressed in need. We constantly choose to enact laws that better ourselves instead of our neighbors. Dr. King scolds the Liberal White Church in his letter from a Birmingham Jail for their lack of action. Over 50 years later, we’re still stuck in the same cycle. This Advent season, let’s stay awake to the needs of the oppressed in our country. Let’s use the power we have to pull the marginalized out of their bondage and invite them to sit at our table.