Readings: Is. 64:1–9, 1 Cor. 1:1–9, Mk. 13:24–37.
This morning, I would like you to cast your mind back to the story of the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt. What followed the Exodus, was the revelation of God to Moses and the people of Israel, at Mount Sinai, when (to quote Ex 19:18):
“the mountain trembled at the presence of God”
On that occasion, God descended on the mountain. In today’s reading, the prophet Isaiah graphically pictured the very heavens being torn apart by Israel’s God, in his eagerness to come down from heaven, to once again be in the midst of his people.
In describing it this way, Isaiah creates for us, a sense of the immense power of God. Pharaoh and the Egyptians had learned firsthand of this power during the Exodus, and the power that God displayed when he revealed himself on Mount Sinai had made his own people tremble. This new disclosure of God that Isaiah described, would now terrify all the nations of the world.
What is God like though, this God of the Exodus and Sinai, who revealed himself to his people? In one sense, He is the God of the unexpected, as we heard in v. 3, because in so many of the plagues that He brought on Egypt, interrupted the very course of nature. He is also a unique God, for all the other so–called gods are worthless, mere idols made by human hands. In fact, verse 4 of our reading from Isaiah, suggests that no one has ever seen any other God. He is also a God of righteousness, who cares about the obedience of His people to His laws. It is this ethical quality in him, that is revealed over against the sins of his people.
Verses 5–7 of today’s reading present a many–sided doctrine of sin. Sin is a continual practice; it is defiling, it is destructive, and it creates a barrier between God and human beings–both from humanity’s side, for we do not want to pray, and from God’s, because he will not hear us.
Verse 8 suddenly moves from the thought of God as the moral governor, to whom his people are responsible, to the Father, who brought them into being. Isaiah uses the analogy of the potter and the clay; to present God as the supreme ruler in the realm of sin and judgment. And in the final verse (v. 9), the people cast themselves on God’s mercy, calling on him to remember not their sins, but their standing as his people.
In the same way, the apostle Paul reminds the Corinthians of their standing as God’s people. In today’s New Testament reading, Paul is writing to the church at Corinth. It is a church that he founded; a church where he spent 18 months living among the members of the church community, and teaching them about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He has since left Corinth to proclaim the gospel in other parts of the Roman Empire, and he has heard news of division among the members of the church at Corinth. And so he is writing to the church, to try and rectify these divisions that have occurred.
He reminds them of his authority; he has been called by God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and an apostle (from the Greek word apostoloß) is someone sent to proclaim the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He also reminds them of something about both the church, and them as Christians. All members of God’s church, not only those in Corinth, but all people everywhere who have answered God’s call to follow Christ, are sanctified, or holy. They have been set apart by God, specially marked out for His service.
Having clearly established these key points, Paul now reminds them that they have much to be thankful for. God, by His grace alone, and not by anything the Corinthians have done, has bestowed on them everything they need, while they wait for the second coming of Christ.
Our passage today from Mark’s Gospel, now describes in apocalyptic language, similar to the language of the Book of Daniel, which Jewish people would have been very familiar with, exactly what the day of the second coming will be like. The language used, is also not too dissimilar to that used by the prophet Isaiah in our first reading today, who wrote:
“O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence—as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil — to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!” (Is. 64:1–2)
Having described what the people could expect to see, in the time leading up to the day of the coming of the Son of Man, a title used in the Book of Daniel for the Jewish Messiah, which Mark now assigns to Jesus, Mark then tells his readers that they must remain watchful, because nobody except God, not even Jesus himself, knows when that day will be. This is consistent with the message from Matthew’s Gospel in both the ‘Parable of the Bridesmaids’ and the ‘Parable of the Talents’ that we heard in recent weeks.
And just like Matthew’s message, Mark’s message to us is also contained within a parable (Mk. 13:34–36). In this parable, the man going on a journey is Jesus himself, who is about to go on a journey to the Father through death and resurrection.1 Those who believe in Jesus as Messiah are the servants; and they are not to lie about idly waiting for his return.2 Each one has a job to do, but it is the doorkeeper in particular, who demonstrates the watchfulness that is required of all of them.3
So we are reminded once again of the need to be alert and watchful for the second coming of Christ. And what better time to be reminded of this than during Advent, that season of the church year when we wait to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Not only do we celebrate His birth, we also remember what He did for us in His death and resurrection. The gift that He gave to us. The gift of salvation; being reconciled to God with the promise of eternal life with Him. Christmas is a time when we exchange gifts with those whom we love and care for. What better gift could we receive though, than the gift of salvation, that we have received by the grace of God alone.
The Lord be with you.
1 Brendan Byrne, A Costly Freedom: A Theological Reading of Mark’s Gospel
(Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2008), p. 209
2 Byrne, A Costly Freedom, p. 209
3 Byrne, A Costly Freedom, p. 209