Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; November 29, 2020
1st Sunday of Advent
Today marks the beginning of a new church year designated as Year B by the Revised Common Lectionary. Thus, during the year, we will often focus on the Gospel of Mark. Each gospel has its own personality—something obvious in the way each one begins. Matthew gets us started with a lesson in genealogy and a picture of Joseph, Mary, an angel, and an unexpected birth. Luke starts us off with both Elizabeth and Mary with child and singing praises to God. John begins with poetic whispers that gently build into a bold declaration of “the Word made flesh and dwelling among us.” But Mark—Mark has no time for such things. Mark does not bother with angels or shepherds, wise men, or baby pictures. Instead, Mark gets right to it, startling us with: “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” and in walks one of the wildest people in Scripture, John the Baptist, clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, living on locusts and wild honey.[i]
From here, things move at a rapid pace in a race to get the whole story out. Sentence after sentence begins with words like, “And then…Immediately…As soon as” which has the effect of rushing us from place to place. It is as if Mark is a news reporter and, sensing that we have the remote control in our hand, he wants to make sure we get all the information we need before we change the channel. But we are not likely to get bored with this gospel account; we are not likely to touch that remote control, because Mark has something to say and Mark knows how to say it. Detail after detail draws us in and invites us to believe in Jesus Christ.
Our reading today comes from a section of Mark known as “the little apocalypse.” A series of warnings are offered, and Jesus advises his disciples to watch, wait, keep alert, for the end of time is drawing near. Although there is much that could be said about the cosmic signs and warnings, we will leave that for another day. What I want us to focus our attention on this morning is verse 26: “Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.” Notice the title: Son of Man.
Throughout Mark, Jesus is referred to in several ways: Christ, son of David, Son of God. But the title that Jesus prefers for himself is Son of Man. The term is used in several places in the Old Testament. It refers to human kind in Psalms; to the prophet in Ezekiel; in Daniel the term is used in a vision Daniel has of a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven to be given dominion over all nations and all peoples for all time.[ii] Maybe Son of Man is Jesus’ favorite name for himself because it best describes who he is AND what he has come to do. It speaks of his divinity and his humanity. It describes the servant role he willingly chooses.
While the Gospel of Mark is known for including “the little apocalypse,” it is also known for having three passion narratives. On three different occasions Jesus warns his disciples of the pending death of the Son of Man. Jesus seems bent on making them understand that it is as a human that he has entered history. The New Adam has come to make all things right, and as a human, he will live and breathe and die just as we do. But let us never forget, it has not always been so. This Son of Man comes from the very heart of heaven, from the side of his Abba Father, from the sounds of the heavenly choir, singing “Holy! Holy! Holy!” He gives it all up to enter the human story; to enter our story.
Yet, Jesus does not refer to himself as the Messiah, the Christ, or even the Son of God. Instead, Jesus chooses the title that describes his human status. Imagine with me for a moment, Jesus comes to the earth as a baby, grows into a man, and eagerly goes about the work of his Abba Father. He enters the story of our brokenness and shame; our hopes and dreams. He joins in the dance of life with us. “See,” he seems to say, “Look at me…look for me…I am here with you…I am here for you…” Through this Son of Man, God works on our behalf. What wonderful love is this!
Because of his divine nature, God grants authority to Jesus to forgive sin. Because of his earthly purpose, he will suffer, die, and rise again. Jesus, the New Adam, uses the title, Son of Man, to claim the authority that is his and his alone, for no other earthly being is willing or able to accomplish the task set before him. Only Jesus has the power to make that which is crooked straight. Only Jesus can take on the powers of darkness to bring hope and light to us all.
In our reading for today, when Jesus speaks of the fulfillment of the end of time, once more he takes up the human mantle: “They will see the Son of Man coming in the clouds with power and glory.” Jesus will come again and when he does, he will bring both mercy and judgment. In the meantime, we wait with eager anticipation. No one knows the day or the hour—only the Father has that information. So, we wait.
As one pastor puts it:
It may seem strange, at first, to begin our anticipation of the birth of Jesus by being exhorted to wait for his coming again. After all, this talk of Jesus’ return seems out of sequence because, in the context of the liturgical year, we are still awaiting his birth. In one important respect, however, it is entirely fitting, because it places us squarely with those who awaited the birth of the Messiah. Neither those who awaited the first coming of the Messiah, nor those who now await his return, know when he will appear.[iii]
We say, “But we know the day he arrives. We light Advent candles. We check off the weeks until we reach that big circle on the calendar marked ‘Christmas Day.’ Our traditions guide us as we put up the tree, hang the greenery, and celebrate.” We are bent on reaching the 25th of December—Christmas Day—but what about Christ? Perhaps on this first day of Advent, it behooves us to remember that there is a difference between waiting for Christmas and waiting for Christ.
Herein lies that great paradox of our faith, the “already and not yet” of which scholar, Oscar Cullman spoke. Already Jesus has made our salvation possible so that we are able to be in right relationship with God. But not yet do we live in complete communion with God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. We live in the “in between times,” but if we have eyes to see, there are glimpses of heaven all around. While we wait for Christ to return in glory and all evil to shut its mouth, we have a calling upon our lives to live justly, kindly, and with great expectation of what Jesus has done and continues to do through the power of the Holy Spirit guiding our hearts, hands and voices.
It is the beginning of Advent. We watch…we wait…for the coming of the Christ-child, lowly and in a manger. It is the beginning of Advent. We watch…we wait for the Son of Man to return in the clouds with great glory and power. Let us begin the Advent journey waiting for Christmas AND waiting for Christ.
[i] The Life with God Bible, Commentary on Mark, Kimberly Clayton Richter
[ii] Daniel 7
[iii] Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol 1. Martin B. Copenhaver, 23, 25.
*Cover Art by Stushie, used by subscription