Chris Heavner, Clemson, SC
- Is there a time when your world was turned upside down?
- What words do we associate with such upheavals in our lives? (Devastated? Abandoned? Forgotten? Ignored?)
- Is there a time when you were wanting or hoping that the world would be turned upside down?
- How would you respond to this statement: “Those who are comfortable with the way things are don’t want change; while those who are considered the ‘underlings’ often demand radical change”?
Change is Coming
Our lives can be upended in an instant:
- A friend tells of waking to the warnings that a (seemingly distant) wildfire might reach his area. In January 2022 Louisville, CO, was practically obliterated by those flames. In just a few short hours, his family went from thinking, “Maybe we need to keep an eye on this,” to fleeing so fast they forgot to close the backdoor. The flames skipped over the house; but the interior was buried in the soot which seeped through the crack of that unlatched door.
- In the lands where Jesus lived, loved, healed, and taught, war is now leaving children without parents and parents without homes.
- In Sunday worship service we pray for the thirty-nine year old whose life is upended by a diagnosis of throat cancer. We pray that radiation and chemotherapy will push back the disease.
Political ads offer very little in the way of plans and programs to deal with such disruption. They excel only at warning us how horrible life will be if the other candidate prevails. How our lives will be “upended” if we allow “them” to be in control.
In most instances, we turn to the Church and to our Messiah, hoping they will shield us from the changes which might upend our lives. We turn to God as a protection against any reordering of our common refrain: “Lord, deliver your servant.” But, what if Jesus is the one who is bringing the change? What if the path on which we presently tread is a one which needs to come to an end? How do we interact with a God who insists that all things be made new?
When Martin Luther washed his face each morning he saw this as a reminder that in baptism we have promised to see each day as a new beginning and a new start. Change didn’t happen once, 2000 years ago. It wasn’t something that occurred on the day of our baptism and never again. As we wash our face, we emerge with the awareness that on this day God is calling us to something different from our previous days.
As we begin the Advent season, we speak of how different the world will be when God’s Messiah is among us. The songs and lessons of Advent are petitions to God to “make all things new.” Isaiah 64:1 will be read in many church services this Sunday. “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence.”
What if God isn’t the one who protects or prevents upheavals? What if God is the one who brings it — and possibly requires it?
- Does your neighborhood have those signs along the road calling on you to “Repent”? What does the word “Repent” mean?
- Some hold to the notion of “once saved-always saved.” Do you share that belief? What exactly does that mean?
- How many biblical references can you find in which Jesus tells the disciples to believe a particular thing. How often does he. merely tell the disciples to “follow”? In how many of those stories were the disciples fully aware where Jesus was leading them?
- Is your relationship with Jesus one which holds you firmly in place? Does it also invite you to move in new directions?
- What is the difference between standing firm in faith and using religion as an excuse to avoid needed change in ourselves and society?
First Sunday of Advent
(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings.)
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
Mark 13 is written in the apocalyptic style. You are probably familiar with this type of literature from the final book of our New Testament, Revelation. Daniel is an Old Testament book written in the same style. In fact, many of the images we find in Revelation are repeated images from Daniel. Our reading from Mark 13 includes at least four references to Daniel (Dan. 7:13, 9:27,11:31, 12:11.) Mark’s instruction, “let the reader understand,” (v. 14) is another such reference.
Contrary to what we are often encouraged to think, apocalyptic writings are not intended to frighten or threaten us. Apocalyptic writings are affirmations that God the creator and redeemer is always with us. The world may be turned upside down, but that turning is the very thing which allows us to experience the world God prefers.
Apocalyptic writings affirm the faith community’s confidence that no matter how crushed we might be, God has not abandoned us. No matter how hopeless we might feel, God’s gift of salvation remains.
As the words of Mark’s 13th chapter were being written, the followers of Jesus were experiencing hardships beyond our imagination. Their communities were being destroyed. They faced hunger and oppression for continuing with their family’s religious rituals. The world in which they found themselves was harsh. Religious and political powers threatened anyone who didn’t go along with the status quo.
The faithful followers of Jesus joyfully anticipated the day when Christ would be among them and would right the wrongs they suffered. They looked forward to the world being turned upside down. They lifted their voices to God to ask for upheaval and a reversal of the way things are.
Let’s make sure to note that while Mark 13 expresses these affirmations, the gospel writer warns against trying to predict the day or time when Messiah will come. There is always a temptation to see events as indicators that the change we seek is about to happen. Verse 32 suggests that even Jesus (the Son) doesn’t know. The righting of systemic wrongs must be left in God’s hands. Mark reminds his readers that there is no better place to be than in God’s hands.
We cannot – by our actions or even by our prayers – dictate the hour of God’s arrival. Nor can we determine the contours of the New Earth. Our role is to be ready. Our call is to “keep awake,” to dream of an upended world in which the way of Jesus is known and experienced by all of God’s children. We must not shut our eyes to the way of Christ and the assurances of God’s justice. Keep awake!
- Have you ever heard the word, “apocalyptic”? What more would you like to know about this word and this style of literature?
- Ask yourself whether you agree with the suggestion that God may be the one who calls for an upending of the way things are.
- It is very important to remember that the call for change among the early followers of Jesus was a comfort. In what ways might God’s call for reversal be a comfort to you?
- Are you one who makes New Year’s resolutions? On this, the First Sunday of the new Church Year, what “resolutions” might we make?
- Our Advent songs are more than a memory about something that God did once upon a time. Our songs ask that God’s Promised One will come to us now, here. Where in your life and world is there a need for Christ to be born?
During Advent, many of our congregations make use of Marty Haugen’s Holden Evening Prayer. Experience the beauty of one of the songs in this liturgy, “Annunciation and Magnificat.” Lovely music, powerful affirmation of God’s favor. But, do pay attention to the words. Two options for you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nABzv_TInaI has a printed copy of the words. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=79GlnqXpp1Q is a congregation’s Advent service. Discuss how Mary’s words might touch the upheavals those in your group are experiencing.
O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, enter our lives on this day and reshape us so as to reflect the people you know us to be. Through the assurances of those who have gone before us, allow us to face the new day with the confidence that your will is being done. With boldness let us embrace the change which will make your peace and your justice a reality for those the world would overlook. All of this in your time, O Lord. Amen.