Sermon Ideas For Mark 13:24-37 Part 2
Advent has a core theme of expectancy and preparation. One traditional, thematic approach to Advent has been to focus on "The Four Last Things," as implied in the historic creeds. "I believe (look for)...The Resurrection of the Body...the life of the world to come. Amen." The Second Coming and the last things have been grouped as Death and Resurrection, Body and Soul, the Last Judgment, Heaven and Hell, the Return of Christ.1 Barrett and Casserley classify the four last things as (1) End of the World, (2) Death after death, (3) Heaven and Hell with the theme of "Judgment," and (4) The Kingdom Come.2 These essays will incorporate this thematic sub-text into the consideration of the appointed texts.
The end of the world seems to be described in Mark 13, sometimes called "The Little Apocalypse." Only passages from Revelations can seem more ominous. The text begins, "In those days, the sun will be darkened..." The very foundations of creation, our preconceptions, and all we hold dear will be shaken to the core. Paul Tillich addressed the uncertainty of our age around the theme, The Shaking of the Foundations, and named ours as The Age of Anxiety. An upset church member is concerned. He doesn't want the Church to change since so much in the world and his life is in flux. Beneath his anxiety there is veiled anger. He needs a certain anchor.
As a counselor I have become increasingly aware of the increased number of persons overwhelmed by anxiety in the form of panic attacks and diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder. Together with depression, it is the predominant mental health issue. Many times panic attacks are a cover for some deeper, depressed issue. Long held anger at a parent or spouse, fear of speaking plainly one's own feelings, or sexual abuse in childhood with repressed memories and overwhelming feelings bubbling up irrepressibly are instances more common place than we wish to admit. Anxiety and depression are pastoral issues to be addressed in the pre-Christmas time when the disparity between what we really feel and what we understand we ought to feel becomes overwhelming.
"In those days the sun will be darkened,...They will see the son of man coming in great power and glory," reads the text. It speaks the contrast between the first and second coming of Christ. We are led to expect the return of the Hero who is to be unveiled. We enter the theme of myth, movies and MTV where the hero is revealed in the midst of turmoil and tragedy. This is written at the time of primaries and the presidential race. Each candidate advances himself as the saving person, as each plays to our longings and our anxieties. The pages of history are filled with the efforts, accomplishments and failures of our heroes to save us. The Gospels record the one "failure" who saves us all.
The Advent message is of hope for a fuller life than what the world offers, of hope even when the world falls apart, of hope in the face of our anxieties.
The Christian hope resides in the midst of tragedy and loss. Dark times are always with us. There will be enough data in current headlines to illustrate the point. "Learn from the fig tree," our text continues, "When you see these things, He is near—at the gates— Heaven and earth will pass away. My words will not pass away." The witness of Scripture and the ages provides the core message of hope in the face of our anxieties. While the Theology of Hope no longer is in vogue, the timeliness of its message remains: The permanence of God in the midst of human transitoriness and mortality.
In Advent, the beginning of the Church year, we talk about the end of things. T. S. Eliot begins "East Coker" with, "In my beginning is my end. In succession houses rise and fall, crumble."3 He canvasses the dreary landscape of the world he sees at the beginning of a world war. With an eye of faith, however, he concludes, "In my end is my beginning." We affirm Jesus as Lord, who is Alpha and Omega, for whom beginning and end are one. Although the seeds of death are sown at our birth, life becomes real as we come to terms with our mortality. At the moment of death, when the world ends, full life begins. In my end is my beginning.
What is the root concern which triggers our anxiety at the prospects of the end of the world? One aspect seems to be our fear that someone will discover the empty sham of our lives, our pretense—the pretense we are in control of our lives; the pretense that we are all knowing, all powerful, all perfect. Arthur Miller portrays Willie Loman as such in Death of a Salesman. Shakespeare speaks of us as bit actors who strut about life's stage and are gone; T. S. Eliot identifies us as "The Hollow Men" who face the world's end, "Not with a bang but a whimper."4
What are the counter images the preacher can hold up to counter balance what judges us? Psalm 80 speaks to our cry for help, "Stir up thy might and come among us." The psalmist reminds us that the Lord did bring a vine (Israel) out of Egypt. Our Advent hope is for the Second Coming of Jesus who has dwelt among us. The text from Isaiah 64 is of like faith. The Lord God revealed himself at Mt. Sinai, and "works for those who wait for him." The promises of faith are based on the experience and testimony of people who found themselves helpless and without hope, but then discovered there was help and hope. Isaiah uses the image of the potter and clay. Although we are vessels of clay—cracked pots at times—he fashions us to be vessels of his love and redemption, even to the end of the world.
Anxiety and depression can be countered with the assurance that, despite the uncertainty of our world and our own shakiness, there is the certainty of love in Jesus Christ. We do not have to hold our worlds together. Our call is to watch expectantly and live faithfully. "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away." Such is the word of love.
Louis C. Fischer, III Pastoral Counseling Services Central Virginia
1. Roger L. Shinn, Life, Death, and Destiny (Westminster, Philadelphia: Library of Congress # 57-5764, 1957). 2. George W. Barrett, J.V. Casserley (Greenwich: Seabury Press, 1955). 3. T. S. Eliot, "A Song for Simeon," in The Complete Poems and Plays 1909-1950 (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1952). Library of Congress # 52-11346, in Four Quartets, pp.123, 129. 4. The Hollow Men, p. 59. Ron Rash expresses this useless pursuit of order in his poem "The Cancer Years":
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