Hope rising - A sermon for Advent 1 Yr B based on Mark13: 24-37
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day I can hear her breathing.”
Words from the Indian novelist activist Arundhati Roy in an inspirational speech at the World Social Forum in 2004.
And don’t we all dream of another world? For if we seriously engage with realities that surround us, we become all to well aware of their shortcomings. So time and again as we turn the pages of history we find the dreaming for a new and better world. This has inspired reform movements in every age and today is at the heart of the Occupy movement who seek new answers in an age in which institutions have failed people big time.
Jesus also lived in a world where people dared to dream. He was part of a people who had all too often suffered under the tyranny of others who cared not a jot for them. From childhood he would have heard the stories of exile and occupation. Indeed the stories of violence would not be academic for him as he was brought up in Nazareth just a short journey from Sepphoris where people had fought for their freedom in the aftermath of the death of King Herod the Great only for Roman legions to march in, burn the city down and reduce its people to virtual slavery according to the historian Josephus.
Mark’s community likewise were living in a time of dreams that would be cruelly dashed. Most commentators estimate that Mark’s Gospel was written during the Jewish revolt against Rome which took place from 66=70AD. Many of the signs to which Jesus alludes regarding wars, earthquakes and persecution were present realities for Mark’s community. The social unrest which underlies many of the stories of Jesus had reached explosion point. And so Roman cohorts and their supporters in the Jewish clerical aristocracy were driven out of the city. Debt records were burned. But divisions broke out between various Jewish factions and ultimately the power of Rome prevailed following a vicious scorched earth campaign which culminated in the very destruction of Jerusalem.
Mark faced the challenge which Jesus followers face in every age - how to interpret the Jesus way in concrete situations. Clearly Mark does not feel the rebellion to be wise. Rather than encourage his community to join in as a number of Christians did, his urging is to engage with the way of Jesus and instead to keep watch. And to keep watch by looking to that which Jesus himself accomplishes. The section that speaks of “those days” is not merely about a time in the future but actually sees that future being given shape by the story of Jesus and his Passion. It is in this that the future is given hope and not in the politics of violence which then as now all too often replaces one form of oppression with another. For hope in the darkest hour is found not in the passions of hatred but in the self giving that takes place on a wooden cross.
Like past generation we face our share of challenges today. An economic system has gone to rack and ruin throughout much of the world leaving many peoples’ life experiences severely damaged. Conflicts take place out of religious, ethnic and ideological divisions. The planet itself faces the ravages of environmental neglect to an extent that issues of sustainability are all too urgent. This is hardly a time for people of faith to retreat into bunkers. And Mark would certainly suggest no such thing.
Indeed Mark goes on to recount two parables of Jesus. The first concerning a fig tree points to a future in which the comforts of an old order are no longer to be present. Instead Jesus is close by, at the very gates.
The second parable tells of a man going on a journey who leaves the slaves in charge to carry on the work whilst keeping awake. In this we see perhaps an echo of Gethsemane when the disciples are called to keep awake, something they fail to do.
And in this we see a clue as to what Advent is about. It is as if the whole world has become Gethsemane. As history carries on it often gloomy course, the followers of Jesus are called to be alert, to keep awake not for the purposes of idle speculation but to be on the look out for every sign of genuine transformation that brings hope and dignity into the world so bringing meaning to the very processes of living.
Were another world not possible I think at times we would go mad. But like Arundhati Roy, like a litany of prophets in scripture or indeed subsequently, like those who live in tents we are encouraged to dream of another world, a world in which the humble are lifted up, a world in which the poor are fed, a world in which no human life is treated as disposable. And our dreams find meaning in the story, the presence and the promises of Jesus. For he tells us of a kingdom like no other, a kingdom of justice, peace and joy. He tells us through the Revelation granted to St John of a world in which death, mourning, crying and pain are no more. He is the one in whom the long march of history find its completion.
And so on this first Sunday of Advent, we see the dawning of hope even for a world where hope is all too often a commodity in short supply.