Mining the Same Territory
After spending the last month preaching about keeping awake and preparing for the coming of Jesus, to have Advent 1 start with the exact same message is strangely consistent.
For those of us who use the Revised Common Lectionary, we get a gospel for the first Sunday in Year B which could have been drawn straight from the end of Year A. Which is a bit like celebrating New Year’s Day with last year’s party hats.
It’s too consistent. It is the exact same territory.
This week’s gospel, Mark 13:24-37 theoretically takes place on the same day as the arc we just went through in Matthew: 22-25. Even the reference to putting the slaves in charge and not knowing when the master would return has a strange call-back character to the parables we tackled.
As a preacher, this level of continuity pretty well pisses me off because it puts us into the same mind: a mind which was approaching the Passion. Tuesday of Holy Week. 48 hours before Jesus’s arrest and torture.
Nothing says we’re anticipating the birth of Jesus like walking to the cross.
The lectionary is setting us up for a reason, but I don’t have to like it. And it isn’t one that I take to willingly.
In part because this is such a foreign stream from where we are at as people. And it’s increasingly against the grain of even American Christianity.
Advent vs. Christmas
American Christianity is busy getting ready for Christmas.
But it isn’t Christmas yet. It’s Advent. And many of us church nerds love to let the world know that fact.
How much of this is “sing Advent hymns, not Christmas carols” or schooling one another on proper liturgical colors?
How much of our own expectation for Advent is that it is simply the prelude to Christmas?
We love Luke’s gospel for its long witness to the birth of Jesus, but in year B, when we draw the gospel of Mark, we don’t get that. We get John, then BAM! Jesus is off and running.
Our own expectations rarely strike me as focused on this season any more than cultural Christianity with its music and decorations and Black Friday sales. We’re still talking about Christmas. Just that it’s coming.
We aren’t talking about the season we’re in–Advent, the not-Christmas season.
So what should we focus on? How can we prepare when our minds aren’t on the big day?
The True Nature of Advent
We forget that we aren’t actually preparing for Jesus’s birth. That happened over 2000 years ago.
Advent combines the first and second comings. That’s super-traditional. For those of us with a high-incarnational view, then we’re talking about all the ways we are engaging in the almost/not-yet of Jesus in all aspects of our lives.
In this way, the Little Apocalypse of Mark can be our friend. Because it isn’t about Mary or shepherds or expectant babies. This isn’t guiding us to think about a Jesus who is to come, but a Jesus who came and keeps coming back to us to turn our lives around.
The Big Question
While I love apocalyptic literature, I also know I’m the nerd in the room who loves its poetry. I’m not the one scared out of my mind to get all my junk ready for the random moment Jesus is going to show up to divide us. I’m no prepper; nor do I think God is a tyrant.
For the preacher, the big question is this:
How do you wrestle with the God of these readings? A God who seems absent but appears for judgment while our natural impulse is to preach preparation for Christmas, for the coming baby, to turn our hearts to a season which isn’t already here?
How do we stick to the gospel when American Christianity pulls us away from it?