Advent has begun with ominous warnings. Last Sunday, we heard descriptions of signs of Christ’s return: nations at war, earthquakes, famine, the sun losing its light, stars falling from the sky. After his ominous descriptions, Jesus instructs the disciples to watch for these signs.
This Advent, I have been thinking about the ways we think about time. If we read the passage from Mark as a time-sensitive warning, we can imagine all of these catastrophic events happening in rapid succession: the sign of Christ’s return. However, some 2000 years later, we are still witnessing many of these events and so we might ask, “Are these the signs of the end times?”
In every age, I imagine people asked this same question as they witnessed horrific events happening around them. In every age, volcanoes erupt, forests burn, and earthquakes shake the ground. And in every age, humans treat one another in monstrous ways. If these are warning signs of Christ’s coming again, He is certainly taking his time.
Perhaps this is where we have unwittingly projected our own perception of time onto God’s. Jesus’ instruction to “watch” was not accompanied by additional instructions as in a recipe, “bake for 30 minutes, remove from oven and cool.” The fact that we are still waiting and watching, after all these millennia, may not really be the point. When asked to wait, we want to know, “for how long?”
However, Jesus did not provide a timeframe. He simply said we must watch for these signs.
This watching is not meant as a passive activity. It’s not like watching a movie or a game. Jesus’ words of warning and instruction to watch are intended as an active form of engagement. We are not called to jump into the fray, participate in the destruction, or even seek to avenge what horrifies us.
Our call to watch is a call to stand firm as faithful witnesses, even as our hearts might be breaking and our guts wrenching. This watchfulness is an entirely different way of being in a world that is seemingly unraveling at the seams. It is a fundamental act of faithful witness.
Jesus calls the disciples to be prepared and to watch in order that they will be able to truly see and recognize God’s creative power in their midst. We, too, are called, all these years later, to watch for God’s grace and what it calls us to be and do amid destruction. To watch for God’s love and the ways it continues to heal and transform even in the midst of hateful accusations and actions. To watch for the Holy Spirit and its rising up to vanquish the terror of darkness and silence … to lead us forward into light and life.
We should ask ourselves, “What is the bleak scene out of which we are called to obey Jesus’ instruction to be watchful?” How has our faith – our life of prayer and reflection, our scripture study and common worship – prepared us for this profound act of hope?
To be watchful is to quiet our anxiety through the peace of Christ. To be watchful is to resist the power of fear and disgust, and to instead move toward love and compassion.
To be watchful is to understand that our call as Christians is to resist the forces of evil – to refuse to cancel another simply because they differ from us. To be watchful is to keep our own light lifted as we move, however timidly, to follow the light of Christ – the one “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8)
Jesus said, “And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch.”
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, that we reflect the glory of Your light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to live amongst us in humility; that in the last day, we may rise to life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.