“Beware, keep alert, for you do not know when the time will come.” Mark 13:33
A few weeks ago, I was interviewed for a podcast about the United States’ political situation. It was just a few days before the presidential election, and tensions were running relatively high. The host of the program asked if I was nervous about unrest following the results regardless of who won. I admitted I was a little apprehensive, but I did not think things would be all that bad since I live in Massachusetts. As the interview continued, I could sense that the host was unsure of where I was going with the answers to his questions. I finally said, “as a person of faith, I have to have hope.”
The First Sunday of Advent’s theme is hope, hope for things to come, and hope for the long-expected Messiah.
The Gospel for this first Sunday comes from Mark 13:24-37, and at first glance, one might not find much hope in the words Mark had written. Mark writes of what is know of the “end times,” the time when Jesus will come as King and ruler of the world. I don’t spend much time thinking about those days because Mark tells us we don’t know when it will happen; only God knows. But we have hope anyway.
My hope is not for the day when Jesus returns and wipes certain people off the face of the earth. Hope does not lie in his “flaming chariot of smoke” or any other apocalyptic language that Mark uses and that some fixate on. My hope rests on the assurance that “God so loved the world.”
The last seven or eight months have been difficult for all of us. Not only have we had to deal with the pandemic, but race relations are at an all-time low here in America. Riots and protests have broken out in most major cities across our country. The political situation has not helped either. As a society, we have become divided along so many different lines; it is hard to keep them all straight, and at times, it is difficult to hold on to this idea of hope. But hold on, we must.
Advent is a time of waiting, of expectation, of preparation, and hope. In the Gospel, Mark tells us to watch for the signs, and he uses the fig tree as an example. When the tender shoots of the fig tree begin to grow, and the first of its fruit begins to show, we know that summer is close at hand. Mark is telling us not to worry about figuring out when things will happen but to be watchful and ready when it does.
This Advent season gives us a time like no other. The pace of our lives has slowed down a little from what we usually go through this time of year. We will not be attending the parties we usually attend nor many of the events. For the most part, our shopping will be online or very limited in person, so we have more time to sit and prepare spiritually for the coming of the Christ Child, which is “the reason for the season.”
As Christians, we have hope because, as the Prophet, Isiah told us, “darkness shall cover the earth, but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.” (Isaiah 60:2) We light the first candle of Advent today, hoping that the light will overcome the darkness in the world. And we have hope that it will.