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"Light Dawns on a Weary World" -- Mark 13:24-37 (First Sunday of Advent)



In this week that has included some significant days – Christ the King Sunday, and Thanksgiving, and the start of Advent, the beginning of a new church year – I’ve been thinking about calendars, how we measure our days; how we track and understand the movement of time; how we place ourselves in the rhythms of time; and how we make meaning out of all that.


There are all sorts of calendars and ways of measuring time. Thanksgiving with its harvest-time roots reminds us of one of the oldest – the agrarian calendar –the flow of the seasons, from planting, through the tending of crops, to harvest, and then through winter plowing in preparation for the spring planting that surely comes next.


There’s the calendar we hang on our walls – for us and a good part of the world, the Gregorian calendar – January through December – as it measures weeks and months – and marks the days of our communal and civic life – a common measurement that places us in time together.


I’ve spent a good bit of my life in the rhythms of the academic calendar – from matriculation, through the steady pace of semesters – Fall Break – Spring Break – exams – on toward commencement.


And then there is the Christian calendar – a way that we’ve come up with over the centuries of marking our movement through our lives in the rhythms of the life of Christ. We start in Advent, anticipating the coming of Christ. And then Christmas, celebrating incarnation – the Word becomes flesh. On into Epiphany – as each day brings new insight into what it means that God is manifest with us and in us.


And then, with Ash Wednesday, we enter into Lent – a season of reflection and repentance and change, journeying with Jesus through the whole of life, on into Holy Week, as Christ enters with us into the suffering of life – even unto death – and then brings us out into Resurrection – life beyond what we thought possible.


Through the Easter season, we celebrate Resurrection life as we make our way to Pentecost – and the Spirit of the Risen Christ coming to life in us, empowering us to live lives that heal and free the world.


And then, we travel through a season called “ordinary time” as we traverse the regular rhythms of life with God and with each other – the challenges, the joys, the struggle, the wisdom – until we come to Christ the King Sunday – and affirm that God is sovereign over all of this, and bringing the world to its good fulfillment – the reign of Christ – a world full of justice, healing, and peace – of love and life – forever and ever.


And, then, we begin again.


As we come back to Advent, after all that, we realize that, in Advent, we’re not just waiting for the coming of Christ in the baby Jesus – we’re waiting for the coming of Christ in all the ways that Christ shows up in the movement of our days – and ultimately for the way that Christ is showing up to bring all things to good, forever.


Advent and this morning’s Scripture invite us to think of time in yet another way – something beyond calendar time – something called Kairos time.[1] The New Testament world has two words for time. The calendars that I’ve mentioned help us locate ourselves in Chronos time – chronological time – as we measure our days – one after the other. But there’s another Greek word and concept for time – Kairos – which thinks of time as an event. Think of when anyone has said to you, “It’s time.” The time is ripe. Time as a happening, a moment – meaning breaking into our lives.


This morning’s Scripture from the Gospel of Mark brings us into Kairos time using what scholars call apocalyptic imagery[2] – now, there’s a lot we could unpack about apocalyptic thinking – but let me just say this: Apocalypse in Greek means a revealing. Apocalyptic thinking senses that something new is breaking forth in the world – something is being revealed. It thinks in terms of Kairos time – and of ages – this present age is coming to a close, and something new is being born. For oppressed peoples, it’s particularly important – this present age, with its oppression is coming to an end – and its powers with it – and a new day is dawning.


So here, in the 13th chapter of Mark, Jesus stands with his disciples, on the threshold of Holy Week, and says, “You see all this. It will all come down. Something new is being born. What you see now is the beginning of the labor pains.” It’s time. It is ultimately a word of hope – but it somehow doesn’t feel like that. The lights in the sky go out – the sun and moon and stars – a dimming of this day in preparation for the dawning of the next.


Jesus offers some images: Think of the fig tree, how its branches soften, ready to sprout leaves – a sign that summer is near – but not yet here.


The work of our lives goes on – like servants of a house not knowing when the householder will return.


And as Jesus talks, the closest he comes to encouragement is his admonition, again and again – keep on watching – keep on being alert – keep on being awake.


In terms of Kairos time, the moment is pregnant with possibility – not yet here. On this first Sunday in Advent, this Scripture places us and leaves us in this liminal moment just before the dawning of a new day, and we are left watching, and waiting, and hoping.


I don’t know if you’ve ever watched for the dawn – early in the morning – waiting for dawn and then the sunrise. I’ve got a lot more experience watching for sunsets – settling in at the end of a long day, as the shadows start to lengthen, and the sky becomes a carnival of color – reds, and oranges, and yellows – sometimes pinks and purples – and you watch as the sun sinks slowly, slowly – and the clouds move and the colors change – until the sun reaches the horizon and makes that last plop, as it disappears from view.


Waiting for the dawn is different from that – I’ve only done it a few times. Perhaps the biggest difference is that you start in the dark – if it’s a new moon, in complete darkness – and often in the chill of night. And the first thing you notice isn’t an explosion of sunlight, but just that you can see. Something. But not much. At first, it’s just lines and shapes – in the monochromatic grays of the fading night -- that twilight time that’s neither dark nor light before sunrise. At night there’s a poetic word for that twilight time -- “the gloaming.” The Resurrection stories have this great Greek phrase that the women go to the tomb in the “deep dawn” of the third day. In the deep dawn, the light comes slowly – the world around you emerges – figures, faint color – and then you can see where it looks like the sunrise may emerge – but it’s in no hurry – and a long expanse of growing light comes, before the sun crests the horizon.


Advent can feel like that – in the fading days of autumn and winter, a season of waiting in the deep dawn, for the coming of just a glimpse of light, and then another. Watching and waiting.


The watching and waiting of Advent has always felt a little unnatural to me – an abrupt shift from the forward thrust and hubbub of life. But I don’t know – this year – I’ve grown accustomed to days and weeks and months of watching and waiting – days of sheltering and restraint – a troublous, challenging world swirling around us – watching and waiting for some light, any light –

waiting for... a movement to the next color-coded public health level –

waiting for... a vaccine

waiting for... some good news.


I could say that, in some sense, 2020 has already felt like one long Advent.


Maybe this Advent we are primed for the practice of this season – already well-versed in waiting and watching – already quietly alert.


Standing with this Scripture, waiting in the deep dawn of Advent this year, I want to notice three things, each of which suggests a practice for Advent – a practice for this coming week. The first noticing is this:


The world is weary. We are weary. It took the Worship Team about 10 minutes to settle on our Advent theme – it resonated so deeply. It comes from the song we sang at the beginning of worship – Light Dawns on a Weary World. The world is weary in so many ways. We are weary from pandemic, from the profound loss in the world, from vigilance, from illness, from our collective work to move through all this as safely as we can in a world of uncertainty. We’re weary from the disruptions in our ways of living, particularly in our ways of connecting with others. We’re weary from the loneliness of these days. We’re weary from the news, and from an election year that won’t come to an end even after a fair and clear vote. We’re weary from work, and from schooling. We’re weary from the regular stuff of life – the hard work of relationships and family, from sorrow, from the long grind of days.


A couple weeks ago, I stumbled on a new Advent devotional book by Kathy Escobar that she’s titled “A Weary World[3] – so at least one other person is seeing this too. She finished writing the book in the first months of pandemic so it feels fresh and true. Kathy Escobar says, “We’re in good company in the weariness of this year. We’re not crazy, we’re not faithless, we’re not weak. We’re just human.” We are weary together, and we are weary, each of us, in our own particular ways. As a practice for Advent, Escobar invites us to name our weariness, because “being honest about our humanity is always better than hiding.” She suggests, particularly this year, that Advent is a season for “honoring our weary hearts in a weary season in a weary world.”


So that’s the first practice for Advent and this coming week: Name our weariness. Maybe take some time to sit in quiet and feel it in your body. Where are you weary? Where do you feel the weariness of the world in your bones?


The second thing to notice is what this Scripture suggests for living life in the weariness of this liminal moment. As he’s talking, Jesus places the disciples – and us – in Kairos time – in the dawning of a new day – the labor pains have begun – the fig branch is about to bud – the householder is about to return home. Here we are in this Scripture, with Jesus, pointing us to the new day – and his advice is clear – and repeated:


Keep waiting! Keep watching! Keep alert! Keep awake!


Scholar Courtney Buggs points to these repeated commands throughout this Scripture and describes the invitation here as “a call to attentive living.”[4] Jesus says it again and again:


Watch out for deception.

Watch out for yourselves.

Keep on watching during difficult days.

Keep on being awake.[5]

Or, as Rev. Ruth T West might translate it, “Stay woke.”[6]


So, the second practice for this coming week is an invitation to “attentive living” – What do you notice about you and about our world? As you move through this week: What are you noticing? Where are you longing for the dawn? What glimpses or glimmers do you see?


And the third thing to notice – isn’t easy to say to weary folks in a weary day – but it’s this: Even in our weariness, there is work to do. All this watching and waiting that Jesus is commanding – it’s not passive observation – it’s active engagement with the weary world. Jesus says it’s like when a householder goes away – and everyone who works in the house is left with their work to do – not knowing when the householder will return. Keep being alert – keep working – keep at the work of watchfulness. Courtney Buggs says that, as the days grind on, we might not know what we are watching for, but we know the One for whom we watch.


The alertness that we’re talking about here is staying alert to what God is doing in the world, and finding the part of that that you’re called to do – what Howard Thurman calls our “working papers.” Because in being a part of that work – with Jesus and with each other – we help bring about the dawning of this new day.


So as we enter into Advent, here are three watching and waiting practices:


First, take some time to name where we are weary. Notice: Where are you weary? Where do you feel the weariness of the world in your bones?


Second, move through the week in the spirit of “attentive living.” Keep watching! Keep alert! Keep awake! And notice: Where are you and the world longing for the dawn? Where do you see glimpses or glimmers of light?


And then third: In this watchfulness, keep watch for the work that is ours to do – the work that is yours to do. Look for one thing this week. As we look for where Christ is at work in the world, what is one thing that you can do to help bring the dawn?


As we begin Advent, we are watching and waiting in a weary world. But we’ve been here before. In Advent. In the course and the flow of time. Through the seasons, and our days. Through our life this year. We know what this watching and waiting is like. And as we begin again in Advent, we remember that we are waiting for a dawn that will surely come. We remember – over our time – the weary years, and our own longing, and the new day that brings the hope of Christ. We remember – and we notice anew – all the ways that God’s love for us in Jesus Christ shows up – in our bones, in our bodies, in our flesh. Christ before us. Christ beside us. Christ within us.


Sometimes we even sing it:

“A thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices.

as yonder breaks, a new and glorious morn.”[7]


We sing what we remember, as once again,

“light dawns on a weary world.”


© 2020 Scott Clark

[1] See Herman Waetjen, A Reordering of Power (Portland, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1989), p.203. [2] This sermon’s reading of this text is informed primarily by Herman Waetjen, A Reordering of Power (Portland, OR: Wipf & Stock, 1989), and Courtney Buggs, Commentary, Working Preacher, https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/first-sunday-of-advent-2/commentary-on-mark-1324-37-5, and generally by Pheme Perkins, “The Gospel of Mark,” New Interpreters Bible Commentary, vol.viii (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995), and the commentaries in Feasting on the Word, Year B, vol. 1 (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Publishing, 2008). [3] Kathy Escobar, A Weary World: Reflections on a Blue Christmas (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2020). [4] https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/first-sunday-of-advent-2/commentary-on-mark-1324-37-5 [5] Id. [6] See https://www.buzzsprout.com/5748/episodes/6387208-stay-woke-1-thessalonians-5-1-11-rev-ruth-t-west-preaching-24th-sunday-after-pentecost [7] Lines from the Christmas hymn, O Holy Night.

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