FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
“What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch’” Mk. 13,37
Fasten your seat belts!!
This is the full alert message of what is called the Rapture Ready Index. You can read it for yourself online.
The Index referred to above is one that is provided for all those Christians who are anxiously awaiting the second coming of Christ – an event that they believe will begin with the “rapture” of all the “righteous believers” from the face of the earth.
“Fasten your seat belts” is the ultimate category on this particular index, just above “high prophetic activity.” According to the Index, we are presently scoring well above the 160 point mark, which is the threshold for when Christians need to “fasten your seat belt” because of all the apocalyptic “signs” present in the world we live in today: wars, famine, disaster, immorality, and false prophets.
What I’ve also discovered is that the Rapture Ready Index is just one of hundreds of sites available to offer Christians more information about exactly when Jesus is coming again. Evidently there are some 300,000 books and movies that relate somehow to Christ’s imminent return to bring an end to the world and to begin the “day of Judgment.”
300,000! Evidently this is a matter of grave concern to millions of people!
The writer of the gospel of Mark is not one of those.
His gospel certainly chides us to “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” But Mark has a different take on staying alert.
Unfortunately, there have been many people who historically have used today’s gospel text to hype the multitudes into a frenzy of fear. Many of you will remember the extremely popular Left Behind series. Or, more recently, you may recall a man named Harold Camping, an 89-year-old California evangelist and radio broadcaster who whipped people into an ecstatic state of anxiety with his prediction that May 21, 2013 would be the date of the Rapture. In fact, a large number of people were so convinced of this likelihood that they sold their possessions and liquidated their pension funds to be ready for the Great Event in the sky.
In contrast to all this anxiety and confusion, however, the intention of the gospel of Mark is just the opposite. It clearly tells us that we “do not know when the time will come.” Beyond that, he assures us, it’s not even important that we know.
We are people of hope. We know that human history is safely in God’s hands. We know that the real power in the world ultimately is not brute force, but the goodness of Christ. We know, Mark tells us -along with all the gospels – that our God is not about fear, but love; not about judgment, but mercy.
And we know all of this because of one thing: Christmas – the story of a God who is so madly in love with each one of us that He decided to participate in every dimension of our lives. And so, He in effect fell from heaven and “pitched his tent among us,” as one translation puts it.
Advent, a word meaning “arrival,” is that special time of the year set aside to remind us once again of what the Christmas event really means. It’s an “on-call” time of the year when we become fully alert, not to a potential ”rapture” event, but to the need for the inner preparation of our hearts, the inner “anticipation” of something profoundly dramatic and life changing, the inner re-assessing of our priorities.
“Watch,” Mark tells us today. “Be vigilant.”
These words are a wake-up call. They’re a “snap-to-it” kind of reminder that all of our rushing about, all of our constant worries about getting this and getting that, all of our anxieties that keep us in a continual state of stress – all of this needs to be calmed down by some dedicated time for stillness, for mindfulness, for quiet before the Lord.
That’s what Advent is for: a time to be quiet in the midst of so many clamors and commotions; a time to become still and reflect.
And among all the things we can reflect upon, perhaps the most important is this: Where is it we will find the child Jesus in the “right now” of our lives? Where is the “manger” that holds him in the world we live in today?
Pope Francis is adamant that the most opportune place to find the Lord of the Universe is the very same place Jesus repeatedly told us we would find him: in the poor, the weak, the vulnerable, the hungry, the mentally ill, the elderly, the homeless.
A beloved spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen, asks a similar question: “How can we come to know God when our focus is elsewhere, on success, influence, and power? I increasingly believe that our faithfulness will depend on our willingness to go where there is brokenness, loneliness, and human need.”
What they’re saying is that Jesus is not to be found in a manger in Bethlehem anymore. Instead, what we need is the right set of eyes so that we can find our God where He himself told us to look: right in front of us – hidden among the powerless and the nobodies.
But to do that, we need stillness; we need reflection; we need the time to be quiet before our God so that we can come to see that we aren’t called to a rapturous exit from this world, but a courageous immersion in it.
That’s what the gospel today means when it says: “What I say to you, I say to all: Watch!”
Then, when we do discover Him, the true “rapture” will begin.
Ted Wolgamot, Psy.D.