To say that this past week was an extraordinary one seems almost redundant given the many world changing events and after weather-breaking stories of courage and hope we’ve lived through in the last several years. This week is just another among many. Can this week top the many other event-laden weeks that have preceded it? So what’s happened? Well, we’ve seen tensions increase and armed missiles fly between Palestinians and Israelis and then a truce; Storm Sandy victims still displaced due to their homes destroyed – nearly a month after the storm and yet expressing deep appreciation for the hot Thanksgiving meals they received; a 100 car pile up on Wednesday in Jefferson County, Texas that claimed at least two lives and injured more than 80 people; U.S. service men and women eating their Thanksgiving feast in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
That’s just a bit of what we’ve heard this week. We get the news instantly – good, bad, or indifferent. Whether we want to hear the news from around the world or not, we get it. Information moves at lightening speed globally and we’re caught in a spin of tech-driven communications that may leave us with a deadened response – a ho-hum…pretty mundane, “been there done that” kind of attitude. We’ve seen it or at least, we think we’ve seen it all.
If the world is coming to an end, and at times it may feel that way, we’ll know it but I do wonder, have we become so jaded by all we hear and all we have lived through that if the world were ending, would we know enough, care enough to react? If you and I have heard it all, seen it all, witnessed to the extraordinary, is there really anything that could surprise us, alarm us, ignite our “fight or flight” response?
Well, there’s always something. Every generation has it moments of revelation – that end-time speculation. We see this message in today’s gospel from Mark. The first audience to hear these words would have been Jews in conflict with Rome. The period is between 66-70 C.E. The Jewish Temple, symbol of Jewish authority and hope would fall at the end of this period and by the hand of Jewish enemies…the Roman Empire. The conflict was a last ditch effort by the Jews to restore the power of David’s kingdom. But it wasn’t to be; Rome would not let this happen.
By the time Mark wrote his gospel, the Temple might have already come down…”not one stone…left upon another…” It was, for the Jews, a time of fear and despair…for them, the world did seem to be coming to an end. Their symbol of national pride and glory lay in ruins. This was Mark’s audience and so he writes Jesus’ words, prophesying the end of one age and the beginning of another, assuring the fearful Jews that God knows of the destruction of the Temple, that God knew it would fall and that this must happen in order for the birth pangs of new age to be generated. One thing must happen in order for another to result.
Commentator Bryant writes:
“All of chapter 13 [in Mark] is rooted in Jewish apocalyptic thought [end time prophecy], and central to such thinking is the belief that God controls history, that the world has become so evil that only God can save it, and that God will rescue the world from evil at the time of God’s own choosing, establishing a new creation in which righteousness characterizes everyone in it.”
What has always puzzled me is the transition we make in our church calendar from this dire prediction of the end time to the preparation we make, in just another week, as we begin our journey to Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus. And now I get it. It makes perfect sense. Christ is the means by which God will rescue, has rescued the world from the results of perpetual evil. There is hope – the hope of the world lies in the coming of Christ. In Christ, there is eternal life. We come full circle. From life, to death, to life again. It is as it should be.
The Berlin Wall came down in 1989. That same year, my grandmother died and I entered my first appointment as an ordained deacon in the United Methodist Church. I have pieces of memories from each of these events: a small remnant of the Berlin wall sits on a shelf in my kitchen china closet and in that same closet, I have some miniature cups and saucers my grandmother collected and left me. In yet another closet hang the stoles I was given the year I was ordained by the very church that initiated my ministry and nurtured it. Just pieces of a lifetime, stone upon stone held together by Christ’s life in me. You have memories as well and without too much thought each one of you could put a version of your own story together out of the pieces of a life lived and perhaps, like me, you could gather those remnants of life and recognize that in all, Christ is present and that God has always been in control of your history too. We all come to the sure knowledge that in the most difficult moments of our lives, something new waits to be born. Out of the pain of a dying nation, a Temple destroyed, a people scattered, and stones tumbling one upon another, Christ came and still comes to us. We give thanks and put our trust in God’s eternal life in us. Amen.
 Feasting on the Word, Robert A. Bryant, Year B, Volume 4, 309.