By L&T Columnist Gary Damron
This last week my brother and I spent a lot of time together, the first time that’s happened in a long time, and it was because our mom has been hospitalized. When I drove him home afterward his two dogs met him and put on a show of complete adoration, bouncing up and down with excitement.
Last week’s article mentioned the people around Bethlehem when Jesus came as a baby. Most of them missed the event, which we find hard to understand. But in the same way, how many will miss his return to earth because they’re asleep, either figuratively or literally.
A sermon I heard this week started me thinking about different ways of looking at the Advent. The pastor chose what appeared to be an unlikely passage for his text, Mark chapter 13. Usually considered a prophecy of the Second Coming of Christ, it was presented with hope for all, even those who are experiencing shadows and pain.
In the passage Mark recounts Jesus’ conversation with his disciples regarding the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. What struck me was how unaware folks were even after hearing the words – and how unprepared we are today for what lies ahead. “’Be on guard! Be alert,’” Jesus urged. He compared himself to a man who goes away and puts his bondservants in charge, with one to keep watch at the entrance. Yet we as the gatekeepers of our own lives may not be standing ready to open the door when Jesus knocks.
The passage is sobering to read, and warns of false prophets or messiahs. The only real safeguard against that is to know him in a personal way before he returns. Even some Christians have become so distracted that a kind of generic god has taken the place of the Christ who was born and died for us. Christian holidays now have little to do with the birth or resurrection of our savior. We see fewer Nativity sets, and an ad received this week for holiday stamps mentioned only those commemorating Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and secular themes.
Jesus further instructs that no one should stop to gather anything before fleeing the abomination. When we left to pastor our first church, we loaded all our belongings in a small U-Haul and took off, but as we’ve grown older we take more with us each move. Refugees leave behind clothing, food, everything valuable, while those unwilling to do that are caught in the fray. We need to think of belongings as an encumbrance and be willing to part with them at a moment’s notice.
The passage in Mark 13 also tied in with a responsive reading from Isaiah 11, with both referencing a holy mountain in which we will find refuge. In many beliefs mountains represent a place where the divine resides, but the neat thing with Jesus is the Mountain has come to us.
The shepherds on the hillsides that first Christmas night initially were terrified, but later returned from Bethlehem glorifying and praising God. May we also be found watching for his coming into our daily lives.