Stay Alert!

(Mark 13: 21-37)


Well, you’ve already seen the signs to remind you that Christmas is right around the corner.  We’ve already had Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday to remind us to buy that much needed and desired gift while they last at that incredible low, low price.  Don’t wait and put your purchase off until the last minute.  Stay alert!  Don’t miss the signs!  Christmas is coming!


Yeah, Christmas is coming just like it has for me for the last 71 years.  But one day Christmas won’t come as expected.  It’s Jesus Christ who will come instead and we need to be ready.  We need to stay alert and watch for the signs.  And that’s what Jesus was talking about in the thirteenth chapter of Mark’s gospel.  He’s not talking about the annual celebration of his birth in Bethlehem over two thousand years ago.  He’s talking about the promised and guaranteed day of his return.  A day we look forward to but may not be as prepared for as we should.


He starts out by talking about the false christs and false prophets who will appear offering signs and wonders in order to deceive, if possible, those whom God has chosen.  Jesus says: But you, watch out!  I’ve told you everything ahead of time.  I don’t know about you, but that sends chills down my spine.  It does beg the question as to whether it is possible for devout Christians to be deceived?  Fearfully, the answer is yes.  So convincing will be the arguments and proofs from the deceivers in the end times that it will be difficult not to fall away from Christ.  But, if we are prepared, Jesus says we can remain faithful.  However, if we are not prepared, we will turn away.  You see, Jesus knew what the future for his people held.  He knew about Jim Jones and David Koresh and countless others, some we have yet to see, others equally as deceptive and manipulative like them, if not more.  He knew about wannabe dictators and aspiring power-hungry politicians from every corner of the globe who would use fear of the other and inflammatory language to stoke fear and divisiveness among the people in order to advance their agenda at the expense of defenseless innocents.  He warned us about these people and their evil intent, yet it amazes many of us the great number of good people who willingly buy into what they are preaching and what they are willing to give up in order to get it.  Jesus says: In those days, after the suffering of that time, the sun will become dark, and the moon won’t give its light.  The stars will fall from the sky, and the planets and other heavenly bodies will be shaken.  He tells us that after seeing these signs that no charlatan could possibly replicate, we will then see the Human One coming in the clouds with great power and splendor.  He will send the angels and gather together his chosen people from the four corners of the earth, from the end of the earth to the end of heaven.  Jesus, by referring to himself as the Human One, the Son of Man, is pointing back to Daniel 7: 13, 14 where Daniel talks of suddenly seeing one like a human being coming with the heavenly clouds, who came to the ancient one and was presented before him, who was empowered to rule with all peoples, nations, and languages serving him.  His rule would be everlasting, never passing away, and his kingship would be indestructible.


Jesus instructs us to take a lesson from the fig tree that after its branch becomes tender and it sprouts new leaves, you will know that summer is near.  In the same way, he says, when you see these things happening, you will know that he’s near, at the door.  To the modern reader, to you and me who are glued to our television sets night after night, the truth that heaven and earth will disappear is all that much more believable in our age of nuclear power and terrorism, weapons of mass destruction in the hands of madmen. Is that what we are watching unfold now in the Middle East?  Jesus reassures us that this generation, humanity, will not pass away until these things happen.  He says: Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will certainly not pass away.  With all the instability in this world, most if not all manmade, the one thing we can count on is the stability of God’s word, the covenant he made with us through the birth, life, and death of his Son.  It is from that irrevocable promise that we Christians, we Followers of the Way of Jesus Christ, take our comfort, our blessed assurance that all will be as God said it would.


But, Jesus says, nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the angels in heaven and not the Son.  Only the Father knows.  Watch out!  Stay alert!  You don’t know when the time is coming.  Jesus is teaching us that preparation, not calculation is needed, and the way to prepare is to study God’s Word and live by its instructions each day.  Only then will you be ready.  He tells his audience that it’s like when the owner of a household takes a trip and leaves his servants in charge, giving each one a job to do, and tells the doorkeeper to stay alert.  He says that none of the servants know for sure when the homeowner will return.  It could be in the evening or at midnight, or when the rooster crows in the early morning or at daybreak.  Don’t, he admonishes them, let him show up when you weren’t expecting and find you sleeping.  What I say to you, I say to all: Stay alert!


Here, the coming of the Human One refers not simply to Jesus’ vindication in the resurrection, but to the growth of God’s righteous kingdom in the world, the redemption of his people and the restoration of his creation.  Mark’s gospel tells us how to live while we wait for Christ’s return.  As we wait, we are not to be misled by confusing claims or speculative interpretation of what will happen.  We should not be afraid to tell people about Christ, despite what they might say or do to us.  We must stand firm by faith and not be surprised by the persecutions we and others face in Christ’s name.  And we must be morally alert, obedient to the command for living found in God’s word until that day when we see the miraculous signs in the sky that truly tell us that the Human One is coming and to stay alert!


Let us pray,


My Lord, what a morning.  What a morning when the stars begin to fall, we’ll hear the trumpet sound, we’ll hear the sinner moan, and we’ll hear the Christian shout as we look up at God’s right hand, when the stars begin to fall.  Gracious and loving God, how we look forward to that glorious day when your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, returns to take his rightful place restoring mankind and your creation as you promised long ago.  Keep us alert so that we won’t be caught unaware, and by your Spirit, keep us busy in your service so that we may be doing your work and your will right up until that day.  In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.