But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 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.
From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
But concerning that day or that hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 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 stay awake. Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake. (Mark 13:24–37)
I wonder if at times you have lived as if God doesn’t exist? Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you’ve abandoned your beliefs. I am sure you have believed in God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I’m sure you have an abiding faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the truth of the Scriptures.
It’s just that I wonder if, from time to time, you’ve lived as if you don’t. You simply forget and your mind gets filled with all the hassle of daily life. Sunday comes rolling around and you realise you’ve not really given your faith a lot of thought during the week. The world continues to turn, the television continues to broadcast gloomy news, and the majority in this country seem to get along just fine without any belief in God at all.
But surely this shouldn’t be the case. I mean, just look at the massive claims Christianity make! We believe in a God who created the heavens and the earth. Who holds all of being in his hands. We believe that at some stage he took flesh and dwelt amongst us. And then died and rose from the dead. We claim that that selfsame God dwells within us in the person of the Holy Spirit, a great presence of the deity within. We believe in these three - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - and yet proclaim him as one!
How can it be possible to forget all this just because you’re distracted by a flat tyre, or the traffic on the back lanes of Woolhope? Might we even say that the very fact that this makes such a little impact undermines the truth of it all? Maybe God is far distant after all. Maybe those deists who believe that God created the world, and then leaves it all alone are right. I hope not, but perhaps...
Today’s passage finds Jesus speaking of great events which seem a million miles away from everyday life. We are told these things are at hand, but also that no-one knows when. He insisted that he will come again “great power and glory”, but also that “you do not know when the time will come”. Yes, these things began before the generation of those listening him died out (the Temple was destroyed in AD70), but they have not come to fulfilment. It’s already begun, but we are not there yet. “Stay awake” Jesus urges! Don’t be found sleeping.
Yet this was so long ago, and the church’s attention has wandered. We’ve built buildings, made dioceses and founded schools. Synods meet, bishops speak and we’ve become so domesticated. Rather than a bugle call, we sometime issue a tiny whistle. Life goes on, and we become sleepy.
“Stay awake” urges Jesus! “Lest he come suddenly and find you sleeping”!
You see, the point is this. Christianity has a particular understanding of history. We don’t believe it to by cyclical, endlessly going around in circles. We hold to a beginning and an end. The Bible begins with “in the beginning” and the penultimate verse cries out “Come, Lord Jesus”! Christ may have ascended, but that does not mean he has gone. The Kingdom of Heaven has begun, but it is not complete.
The task of the Christian - the sometimes difficult task - is “be on guard, keep awake”. It is to consciously live in the presence of God, to listen for his voice and to watch for his activity. He is here, even if we’ve stopped paying attention.
But how? Attention spans are not the strong point of modern society! Let me give you some suggestions in the hope that one or two might prove fruitful for you.
First of all, simply ask yourself this question: if all of this were true, what difference would it make? If it is true that God created all that is around me, might I find evidence of his handiwork in the countryside which surrounds us? If it is true that Jesus died to deal with sin, have I placed my trust him to do just that? Or do I still think that I can earn my way to heaven with enough good deeds? If it is true that God is eternally present, and his Spirit dwells within me, how might that change the way I deal with the stresses of life? Might I be more ready to pray?
Secondly, try and place some speed bumps into the path of your life. Set a regular time aside to read your Bible and pray. It needn’t be long, but it is better that there is a pattern. A certain time of day, or perhaps a particular place. I know of some people who pray whenever they hear a church clock chime, or drive past a church. Others read and pray as they go to bed. Some go for a daily walk and use that time. Whatever it may be, set up a pattern
The more we are aware of the reality of God, the more we consciously live in his presence, the more we meet with God. Jesus urges us to “stay awake”. Don’t sleepwalk through life.