In my tee-shirt days, I collected and wore tee shirts with all sorts of clever messages. One of my favorites was one with a drawing of the traditional Jesus with his arms outstretched that even now, you can imagine without seeing it. The music group Timbuk 3 and Holly Near both call this image, “The Standard White Jesus.” You know the dashboard pose.
One Saturday, I quickly grabbed and put on that tee shirt, and dashing off to one of my favorite semi-annual flee markets had one of those experiences we all have, some of us more than others, when someone compliments you on something you’re wearing and you have to look down because you’ve forgotten what you’d put on.
Seemingly from out of the blue, the first of several people in this almost entirely rural conservative, farming community, gestured toward me saying, “Right on brother, that’s right !” I looked around at first thinking, “He couldn’t possibly be talking to me . . . until I looked down and realized what I was wearing and what those words communicated to some . . . the coming of a wrathful, score even–ing Jesus – though on the surface this Jesus always looks pleasant.
Suddenly realizing where I was, I folded my arms awkwardly but strategically to hide the rest of the message to hide the words . . . “Look Busy.”
This was neither the time nor the place to engage this group of people with my well-intended and perhaps even complex humorous message. I picked up the pace and made this my fastest and shortest visit at the flea market . . . ever.
In this morning’s text, Jesus is instructing his disciples in Mark, Chapter 13. This apocalyptic chapter is placed between Chapters that tell of Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem -- the day we celebrate on Palm Sunday, including his subsequent challenge for doing so by the religious leaders and the set of chapters that tell of Jesus being handed over, betrayed and denied by his closest friends, and crucified while they watched helplessly from a distance. Its placement is significant.
From the heights of exulting joy to the depths of despair in a week! Life happens.
Like the unintended conversations I was having with the people in that rural community (and yet not having) Jesus’ message here also communicates on a few levels at once. And similarly, there is the conversation God wants to have with us, about our value systems in which money, might, and power equal success, it is about that conversation Jesus calls us to awaken, this morning.
First, such apocalyptic language as appears in this chapter has been used throughout both the Old and New Testament books such as Daniel and Revelation to communicate a message in secret code to followers so that enemies of The Message could not immediately understand. Such code was typically used by prophets in times of impending captivity, distress, or enemy occupation.
Such “code language” was also used in more modern times . . . by the American slave for example who though stripped of nearly every human dignity sung in Spirituals about the River Jordan (which meant the Ohio River), of the Promised Land, which meant the North. They sang about a chariot swinging low, which was the Underground Railroad and of the one who calls you by the thunder who was the conductor of the Underground Railroad, because it was often in the noise of storm, that by listening intently, one could indeed hear the conductor’s call and steal away. Listen intently.
Here, Jesus is about to be bullied, captured and executed and later, nearly all of them will face a similar fate. When his small little rag-tag band of followers seeing the huge temple, became intimidated, and felt like ants standing beside the big, gleaming new temple, built and controlled by those who claimed to speak for God but who wanted nothing more than to destroy Jesus. Jesus wanted his followers to take confidence in knowing that it is not to these appearances of power to which they should be intimidated; that though he and they may indeed be captured, executed, and blown away in the short-term like specks of dust, that the real power in the universe about which Jesus taught us and for which Jesus was symbol, gathers specks of dust into mighty storms that still come and provide opportunity for movement possibility. Jesus wants his followers to actively and confidently look for glimpses of its coming in daily life.
Jesus uses the metaphor of keeping the night watch during which one can be easily fall asleep to discouragement, fear, depression and doubt; But JESUS tells his followers to remain awake, prayerful, and ready to move because a real shake-up is coming that will change everything – though the time is uncertain . . . and I believe perpetual. The opportunities to bring about real change may come at surprising times and in surprising packages.
How many do we miss?
Jesus tells them that the impressive temple of wonder they see before their very eyes, a sort of World Trade Center marvel of their day that took years to build, would soon be completely destroyed to the point that not one stone will be left standing upon another. Don’t be taken in by the size and seeming permanence of present obstacles, they can and will crumble.
Jesus proclaimed that God was building another temple . . . a temple not made by hands – one that cannot and will not be destroyed!
On another level Jesus was foretelling his own capture . . . Unlike the fall of the temple, his execution and suffering WILL change the world, despite the short-term outlook. Don’t pay attention to the flash, God’s promise is enough, and it is the only sign that matters – even if we suffer for a while . . . God is still building . . . a temple not made by hands. Look for it; proclaim its coming – in good times and bad.
On this first Sunday of Advent, as we celebrate communion we will remember Jesus, and not that gleaming temple that almost no one remembers. Instead, along with Christians all around the world, we will remember the great mystery of our faith that Christians have proclaimed for nearly 2,000 years . . .
That Christ has . . . died!
Christ is . . . Risen!
Christ will . . . Come Again!
God is building another temple . . . a temple not made by hands. Faith begins with expectation, though its foundation stones and plans seem hidden, we are to continually look for it, knowing it’s already there, like the researcher looking for the cure for cancer, AIDS, or Alzheimer’s disease . . . It’s already there!
In our lives, we face trouble, heartache, and disappointment but we are not alone. Advent reminds us that to your situation and mine, Jesus is coming!
We don’t know why the web of human existence gets woven the way it does, why there are disasters in one place, no disaster in another, why one person dies and another lives, why one person who does not value children seems able to have them so easily while another with amazing parenting skills cannot, but no matter what weighs heavily on your heart this morning, know that God can and will build even in the midst of this situation a temple in your life . . . a temple not made with hands. God rebuilds, repairs, restores, gives your life and mine to meaning and purpose that cannot be destroyed. Failure, sin, illness, distress, and no, not even death has the last word. God holds our future and is building . . . a temple not made by hands. Look for it.
Jesus is Coming!