Scripture Readings: Isaiah 64:1–9 | Psalm 80:1–7, 17–19 | 1 Corinthians 1:3–9 | Mark 13:24–37
“And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” (Mark 13:37).
When do you find it the most challenging to stay awake?
After a big holiday dinner? On a long drive home late at night? Sitting out in the sun on a lazy summer afternoon? Or here on a Sunday morning when the sermon seems to be dragging on and on. Sometimes it’s hard to stay awake… for all sorts of different reasons.
I’ve found that often when I am really stressed, I just want to sleep. In those moments, I get so tempted to just lie down and close my eyes… avoiding all the challenges and fears of what might lie ahead by slipping off into dreamland. It doesn’t work, of course… the challenges are always still there when I wake up… and sometimes they’re even worse. Though it takes effort, and courage… and sometimes an extra cup of coffee… it’s better by far in the end to keep my eyes open and face what needs dealing with, than to shut my eyes and try to shut out the world around me.
“And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” (Mark 13:37).
As we know, today we celebrate the start of a new Church Year, with the first Sunday of Advent. A season of anticipation and waiting for the arrival of Jesus Christ our Lord: not just as we seek to re-enter the story of Christmas, and the coming of the Son of God, born of Mary as the Son of Man here among us… but we also await His return… His second-coming, drawing to a close the story of God’s great rescuing love for His creation… a story that culminates in the restoration and reconciliation of heaven and earth forever.
The season of Advent calls us to keep our eyes open… eagerly looking forward in hope for the day when we shall finally see our Saviour Jesus face to face in His glory.
And yet, the world around us seems to be experiencing its own season… not of anticipation and hope, but of anxiety. Wars and violent conflicts that seem to have no end in sight. Add to that, the growing threats to the fate of our planet, and the increasingly unpredictable effects of a rapidly changing climate. Economic instability. Major shifts in societal norms. It’s all left many wondering if the end of everything is drawing near.
And this idea fills many people with dread… both outside and inside the Christian Church… maybe some of us here today… unsure of what might lie ahead, and what we are supposed to do about it… and of where we’re to actually look for hope.
Unfortunately, there has been a lot of fear-filled ideas and teaching over the years about what the Bible has to say about the end of our world’s story. And so, even many of us Christians are more frightened than hopeful about the prospect of our Lord’s return. And if that’s us today, I think we need to ask ourselves the question: what is it that we believe Christ Jesus actually wants for His world? What has He shown us in all of Scripture that He wants for His world? And what is He going to do to bring that about?
Sometimes we forget that the One we are waiting for is the same One we meet at the cross… the same One who laid down His life in compassion and love for His enemies… to turn the world back to the Living God through His death. And the same One who was raised again from the dead to make all things new.
Whatever we may think about the end of our world’s story, as Christians we must remember that we are awaiting the very same Jesus who was sent by the Father to seek and to save the lost… to reconcile us sinners to our Creator… to offer His own perfect life in self-giving love to set us free, and bring us God’s divine forgiveness… and to rise again to bring about God’s New Creation which will never end.
This is the same Jesus who speaks to us in our Gospel reading today… who speaks to His followers of times of sufferings, and real uncertainty ahead. Who draws vivid imagery from the writings of Israel’s Prophets to warn of incredibly unsettling seasons to come… and who tells us flat out: “about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” (Mark 13:32-37).
Keep Awake. No matter how much we might want to fold our hands and close our eyes, and shut out the concerns of the world. No matter how long or short a time we may have until His return, our Lord Jesus has good work for us to do. Keep awake. That is, keep actively putting our faith into practice. Keep walking in the ways of our Master. Keep doing what Jesus has called us all to do… and trust that through His Spirit at work in us, He is with us even now, bringing about God’s great rescue mission… finishing what He has started long ago at the cross, saving this broken world that He loves to the end.
The truth is, our anxious world needs God’s people to keep awake. Our neighbours need to see signs of God’s New Creation at work in us… as broken and confused, and even frightened as we may be at times. They need to be brought into contact with people who have experienced the power of Jesus to forgive… to set free… to generously provide, and graciously embrace the outcast. They need to meet people who have already been given a glimpse of God’s New Creation, and can begin even now to share its blessings with them too.
And when we find ourselves in seasons of anxiety, unsure of what might lie ahead, what we are to do, or where to look for hope, we must remember the One we are waiting for, and what He has already shown us the Living God wants for His world… and for us all: to share in His holy love.
We won’t find hope by fixating on our fears. Or by closing our eyes to the challenges that surround us. But only by putting the holy love of God into practice. I think the theologian Donald Bloesch points us in the right direction when he says: “We find hope when we give ourselves in love – love to God and to our neighbour.”
So today, as we begin this season of Advent together, may we all keep awake… actively sharing the love of God given to us in Jesus Christ our Lord. And as we share His love with one other, and with all our neighbours, may the hope we find in Him shine out and lighten our world. Amen.
 Donald G. Bloesch, The Last Things: Resurrection, Judgement, Glory (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 259.
Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School