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Keep Awake

Mark 13:24-37

The Rev. Jon Roberts

30 November


Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

24 “But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. 26 And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32 “But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Watch therefore—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: Watch.”


Dionysius the Areopagite Converting the Pagan Philosophers by Antoine Caron, 1570-79

There are two wonderfully sacred words that every preacher likes to say, “Keep awake.”

We hear those words in the Gospel of St. Mark today, most prophetic for the coming of Christ.[1] There are also the words from the prophet Isaiah, who uses a symbolic point to when we will see the Christ, when he says, “The sun will be dark at its rising and the moon will not shed its light.”[2] This is an eclipse. If we are preparing to see the star of Bethlehem today, when might we see our next eclipse? According to the meteorological society we will not see a total eclipse of the moon until June 2015 and a total eclipse of the sun until 2019. That is of course in our general location on the western side of Florida. However, if you live on the island of Svalbard, north of Norway and just below the North Pole you will see an eclipse of the sun, end of March, but not here. I always thought that if there is an eclipse of the sun, everyone in the world would see it but that is not the case. In the Gospel Jesus says you will see the coming of the Son of man coming on a cloud in great glory. How many of you have seen and eclipse? How many of you looked directly at it? They say you should never look directly at one. There are little devices you can use to filter the harmful rays, allowing you to see the eclipse. It is a powerful phenomenon that really makes you take a pause to appreciate what is seen in nature.

When we hear that the Son of man will come on a cloud in great glory, this is a reference to an eclipse. Furthermore, scripture says that he will send out the angels and gather the elect from the four ends of the earth. Question: how will people of the four ends of the earth know when that time will be if they are on an opposite side of the globe when the sun is darkened? How will they know. What about the people in Svalbard? Do they get the news the time we get the news? Mark says that someone will be at the door, so that when the master comes we will not fall asleep so we do not miss the signs. Somebody needs to be on guard. Who should that be among us? As disciples we better be ready.
Isaiah says it is during a time of the sun being eclipsed. This is a message we are sending out in Advent, in preparation of Christmas. We have the luxury of a Christian calendar, such as the one we always purchase for our church from Episcopal Church publishing. The whole season is color coded and begins with the time of Advent. It helps us see the messages and be prepared for that coming on Christmas Eve. Be prepared. Keep awake.

There is a true story about a real company where the General Director sent a message that got taken out of context by the time it was given to the staff. The message was a reference to an eclipse, that he sent to the Manager. It read like this. “At 11 o’clock we will observe a total eclipse of the sun. The eclipse is a time when the sun will not be seen for about two minutes in duration. Since this is a rare sighting, we will allow employees to observe in the car parking lot at ten until eleven, when I will deliver a few comments and given instructions on how to properly view it. Safety goggles are available for purchase.” This was the memo he sent to the manager. The Manager took this message and dispatched his version to the Department Head. In it, he wrote, “Today, at ten until eleven all staff should meet in the car parking lot. This will be followed by a total eclipse of the sun that will disappear for two minutes. For a moderate cost Goggles are available. The General Director will give a short speech about it and this is not something you can see every day.” The Department Head read the message and this is what he, then sent to the Floor Manager, “The General Director will deliver a short speech to make the sun disappear in an eclipse. This is not something you will see every day but can be with a moderate cost. He sent this to the Supervisor. Here is what he wrote. “Ten or eleven staff should show up in the car parking lot where the General Director will eclipse the sun for two minutes. This doesn’t happen every day and will cost you.” But wait, it gets better. The Supervisor, in his own words dispatched his version of the memo, that went like this. “Some people will go to the parking lot today to see the General Director disappear. It is a pity we do not see every day.”

This story makes us wonder about the integrity of our story of the Messiah. Passed along from one disciple to another over the course of hundreds, now thousands of year, the story of Christ has endured. Preserved in translations and restored through political and social movements, the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been kept. However, it is a true and sad thing that people may not be as invested in believing the original message. Going back to what Jesus said, ‘The Son of man will come in great power and glory,” to eclipse our sinful nature. We have a calendar to prepare us for Christmas but now there is new light that shines on the importance of preparing ourselves, to keep awake, on guard for Jesus to help remove our sins. Christ died for us when we did not deserve it. He took our sinful nature so that we may live. Daily disciplines, marking our calendars, helping others in distress help us to move away from darkness. Jesus can move our stubbornness, and thick heads, from darkness into light. The husband who refuses to listen to his wife, or the child to their parent, needs the coming of Jesus in great glory to help them see the error of their ways. The sun will be darkened and the moon will not shed its light. That is our landscape when sin overtakes us, whether you live in Pinellas or Svalsbard. Look at Advent being a new day when Jesus comes into the world to be revealed by those who are the watchmen at the door, the chosen vessel. Come thou long expected Jesus. Let light shine where there is darkness and let those two wonderfully sacred words be heard. What are they?
“Keep awake.”

[1] Mark 13:24-37
[2] Isaiah 13:10

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