This blog examines challenges and issues for religious faith, primarily from a Christian perspective. It will focus especially on what it means to be a person of faith living in the post-modern context of the United States. I anticipate exploring questions relating to contemporary science and religion, prophetic witness, religious pluralism, and spirituality.
This Sunday, we begin “Advent,”
that four-week period of preparation for the celebration of Christmas and the
birth of the Messiah. In the
Proclamations during these weeks, I will reflect on the four key themes of
basis for these reflections will come from one of the suggested Lectionary readings
for that particular Sunday in Advent. We
begin with the theme of joy and a passage from the Gospel of Mark—13:24-37.
In order to fully understand this
biblical passage, a bit of background is necessary. It is important to remember that the four
Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—were not written immediately after Christ’s
Resurrection and Ascension. At first,
writing a biographical account of Christ was not necessary because there were
plenty of eyewitnesses who had been with Jesus and heard his teaching. However, as the years passed by and the
eyewitnesses began to die, an urgent need to write biographical accounts of his
life, death, and resurrection arose. Thus,
the Gospels did not begin to emerge until some 70 years after Christ.
Biblical scholars believe that each
of the four Gospels was written within a particular community of faith and that
these churches were geographically dispersed from one another. Each of the gospelers—Matthew, Mark, Luke,
and John—had information about Jesus from within their local community of
faith. As with any other biographer,
each of the Gospel writers had to pick and choose from the information which
they had about Jesus. Although all four
Gospels tell the story of the Messiah, each Gospel is unique because each
gospeler had to make decisions about how to tell the story of Jesus, including
choices about what material to include and what material to exclude. To some extent, these choices reflect the unique
questions and concerns which existed in each of the four gospel communities.
Today, when we study the Gospels we
can deduce what some of the community concerns were by looking at what each
Gospel emphasizes in its biography of Jesus.
Our scriptural passage this week offers a perfect example. The Bible is a diverse collection of
different types of literature, including poetry, history, and wisdom teachings,
among others. Our passage from Mark 13
would be characterized as “apocalyptic,” which means that it describes or
foretells the end-time. Look at how the
passage begins, in verses 24-25:
in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be
In these verses,
Jesus speaks using apocalyptic images, which his disciples would have
understood to describe the end of time.
One of the techniques of apocalyptic speaking is to describe how astronomical
bodies will cease to function as they should.
For example, the sun and moon will cease to provide light, and the
powers in the heavens will be shaken.
(To see how the Hebrew prophets used the failure of astronomical bodies
to function normally in their apocalyptic writings, see Isaiah 13:10 and 34:4, Ezekiel
32: 7-8, and Joel 2:10-11.)
After describing the apocalypse,
Jesus then reassures his disciples that “they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and
glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect fromthe four
winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.” (verses 26-27) After describing his triumphal Second Coming,
Jesus then moves to the description of signs that the end of the age is
imminent. Finally, he concludes by
urging his disciples to be watchful and alert for the coming apocalypse, “Beware,
keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.”
with this background, we can ask, Why
did Mark choose to emphasize these teachings of Jesus in his Gospel? Why not some other story or teaching from
Jesus? Most likely Mark emphasized
these apocalyptic teachings of Jesus because he thought that they would comfort
the Christians in his community of faith.
In other words, Mark would emphasize these teachings because his
Christian friends were experiencing persecution and chaos and crisis. Biblical scholars have several theories about
what Christians in the Markan church were facing. Some believe that it was the persecutions of
Christians after the Jewish revolt against Rome, which resulted in the Roman
soldiers destroying the Temple in Jerusalem.
Other scholars suggest the chaos and crisis occurred when the Emperor
Caligula demanded that the Jews erect a statue of him in their Temple.
actual historical events are not crucial to our understanding of the truth of
this passage. The point is that the Christians
in Mark’s home church were living through a chaotic time, in which they
suffered marginalization, persecution, and sometimes death itself. Because of their situation, these apocalyptic
teachings of Christ are important for Mark to include—even feature—in his
Gospel. By emphasizing these teachings
from Jesus, Mark reminds his Christian friends that despite the chaos which
they must endure, ultimately God is with them through Jesus Christ.
Even though these Christians
must endure chaos and perhaps even death, ultimately they have the assurance
that Christ will come again “with great power and glory” to establish God’s
Reign forever. In the end, God will
prevail. Thus, even in the midst of chaos,
there is joy—and hope.
God’s ultimate control over
our destiny is the basis for Christian hope and joy, especially during the season
of Advent, as we prepare to celebrate Christmas and the birth of the Messiah. That is, each year, at Christmas, we
celebrate anew, as Joy and Hope come again.
live in the Lincoln, Nebraska area and do not have a place of worship, then I
invite you to come and join us at Christ United Methodist Church. This Sunday, in the proclamation, I will
suggest some parallels between the context of the Markan church and our own
time and context. Christ UMC is located
at 4530 “A” Street in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Our two traditional Worship Services are at 8:30 and 11:00 on Sunday
Come, join us. Everyone is
welcome and accepted because God loves us all.