My house overlooks the Seaton Wetlands and I often see birdwatchers in various part of the marshes.
They are truly remarkable people,; not just for the enthusiasm for their hobby, but also for all of the preparation which they do. Getting the right clothes and equipment. Being in good shape. Trekking out into inhospitable territory. Developing keen sight. Watching. Staying awake and alert . Being ready.
But when the moment comes and the call arrives which says that a special bird has been spotted, all the preparation and waiting make sense. All the talking and reading about birds, all the getting up early, sitting in the rain, being bitten by insects, becomes worthwhile.
Now, the early Church had a problem. The first Christians had been taught and believed in the coming of a new age which would transform everything. A few verses before today’s passage starts, this is depicted as the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. However, this hadn’t happened, and the more time that passed, the greater the problem. The gospel of John may be thought to have solved this problem by understanding the return of Jesus as the coming of the Spirit he’d promised. But the other three Gospels take a different view, and hold on to the expectation of Jesus coming again in power when he brings in the fullness of God’s reign at the end of time.
This expectation, as Mark has described it, outlines various historical, natural and cosmic events that must first take place, but always emphasises, the need for the followers of Jesus to keep alert and awake, and to be prepared.
The reason for being prepared, we are told, is that from a human point of view, we just cannot know when all of this will take place. Jesus himself is reported as saying that only God the Father was privy to this information. And of course, just as a bird watcher would miss a rare bird if he or she wasn’t prepared for its coming, so too would the unprepared Christian miss the second coming. A coming which is described here in a way which says that what is to happen will affect the whole of creation and will be cosmic in its significance. And a picture which has been influenced by descriptions of the “day of the Lord” in the Hebrew scriptures, as well as the vision which Daniel was given with respect to the “Son of Man, coming in clouds”.
So we have a dramatic picture of a cosmic closure to time, and a collection of stories and sayings whose purpose was to make sure that disciples will wait and watch and continue to trust in Jesus, above all by staying awake and alert. In verse 34 of t reading Jesus is reported as saying “it is like”. So I think we can be fairly sure that at least as much in Mark’s time as our own, those who heard the stories would also hear them as poetic language used to describe the indescribable. But the essential message for them was “Beware! Keep alert. Something important is about to happen!” And this very same message is also meant for us, today.
Throughout history, the people of God have longed for this time. They have lived through fears and disappointments. Many early Christians thought the new age was near, and groups of them got rid of their possessions in preparation for the predicted day. But it didn’t come as they expected. And still the disciples were told to keep on watching, longing, hoping, staying alert, and waiting.
And you know, when you think about it, there’s a great deal of waiting in the Bible. Waiting for exodus from slavery in Egypt. Waiting to return from exile . Waiting for the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Waiting for the coming of the Messiah, the coming of the kingdom, and the return of Jesus. God’s people hope for salvation and the hope becomes a part of their story. We have to try to understand why God so often doesn’t seem to hear. Why evil and suffering often appear to dominate us. Is God angry? Is it our sin? And yet we are told that God is faithful. The evil will be judged and the suffering redeemed.
Perhaps in some way it’s the waiting that’s important. Maybe it’s in looking for the Kingdom of God and trying to live by its ways that disciples are to become the people God hopes for. Those who will first of all seek the Kingdom of God and its ways of mercy peace and justice. As we hunger and thirst for righteousness so we become a people more just and fair. As we desire that time when all can be loved, so we begin to love our neighbours as ourselves.
So perhaps what we should take from all of this is the importance of our desire to be drawn ever more deeply into the ways of God and the mystery of Jesus Christ. Given the importance of the waiting, maybe this being drawn in is one of the ways in which we should prepare ourselves as we wait.
And just how do we do this? Well, first of all, of course we have to be serious about our faith. There may be a great deal about it which is beyond us just now and so there may be large chunks of it which makes us feel frustrated and angry. This has certainly been my experience. But perhaps we are not even in this position, and for us being a Christian means little more than behaving reasonably and putting in the odd attendance at church. But if this is the case then ask yourself if you can honestly say that you never have the occasional, all be it, fleeting, thought about the meaning of life, Jesus, and all that stuff. There are you are, you see. You are in the position of wanting to want, which is just one step behind wanting.
But for all of us, the first stage is to ask God to draw us ever more deeply into his life. He will do this, but it probably won’t be by means of a thunderbolt. So keep your eyes and ears open for ways in which he will answer your prayer. When you pray, coincidences often happen. You may feel drawn to speak to somebody. To read something. To visit somebody. Perhaps you will feel a strong desire to change the way in which you do something. Maybe your daily routine needs changing. But respond to these things in faith, and as you respond so other things will begin to connect with them. God is indeed answering your prayer and perhaps the miracle is that he is doing it through the common occurrences of everyday life.
So, perhaps we need to hold together the teaching which we find in Mark’s Gospel with that which we find in the Gospel of St. John. Time will end. God’s kingdom in all its glory will arrive. But as we wait and try to do his will; as we co-operate with him and allow ourselves to be drawn ever more deeply into his life then Jesus, through the Spirit, comes to us now.
“Maranatha. Come quickly, Lord Jesus,”