Can any one name a generation since the death and resurrection of Jesus that there have not been “signs” of the apocalyptic end of humanity as predicted in the Bible? The truth of the matter is that every generation has witnessed the “signs” of the end . . . every generation. We have seen it all even in our day . . . the “signs: . . . famine, war, poverty, injustice, violence, suffering, and on and on the list could go. Despite the “signs”, we are still here. When will tomorrow come?
If we, the followers of Jesus, are going to take seriously these words that we have heard in the Gospel of Mark this morning, then we should be an anxious lot as the “signs” of the end are all around us. And, yet, as we hear these words each year at the start of the Advent season . . . we are still here. We are not anxious. Like the villagers in the story about the boy who cried “wolf”, we have heard this warning way too many times to take it seriously. Tomorrow never comes.
Years ago the rock group, Five Man Electric Band, sang a song about signs. Of course the song was not about the end times of Apocalypse . . . it was about the times when signs were used to keep people out because they were different. Hippies weren’t supposed to apply for jobs, people weren’t allowed to trespass on property, and even in the church there were signs. Though the song was not about the end times, the song got the point across the about annoyance of “signs”. The song said in its chorus:
Sign, sign, everywhere a sign
Blockin' out the scenery, breakin' my mind
Do this, don't do that, can't you read the sign?
Aren’t signs kind of annoying? Like the song says, they block out the scenery . . . they weigh us down with rules of what we can do and what we can’t do. I, for one, do not care for signs . . . in particular those signs, like billboards, that litter the landscape screaming for us to visit this place or to buy this product or that product. I find such signs to be eye pollution and wish Montana would do as other state have done and outlaw such signs. But, the fact is that “signs” are annoying . . . especially when they do not deliver on what they are saying . . . sort of like this passage of scripture we hear for the seemingly millionth time. Annoying because it seems as if tomorrow never comes.
How are we to live our lives fully when we are banking on tomorrow and tomorrow never comes?
On this first Sunday of Advent our theme is “peace”. The simplest understanding of “peace” is the absence of conflict and strife . . . it is a state of tranquility . . . a harmony in personal relationships . . . no war. In each of our own minds we have an understanding of “peace” and what it means to us . . . and, for most of us it is based on an understanding that tomorrow will come, thus we do not have to worry about tomorrow. Don’t believe me? How many of you ever go to bed at night and wonder whether or not you are going to wake up? We bank on tomorrow . . . the sun always rises; but, here are the words of Jesus telling us that tomorrow might not come and that it could happen at any moment because “No one knows about the day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son . . .”
With such a launching—apocalyptic visions—how are we to focus on “peace” as its first Sunday’s theme?
Though Jesus was probably never a Boy Scout, he does suggest their motto in all of his warnings . . . “Be prepared.” Being prepared is a big part of what we spend our lives doing. We run through things over and over again so that we know what to do when something happens. We either physically do it or we mentally do it. Psychologists and counselors tell us that we should run through our minds exactly how we would do something before we actually do it. This is real popular among sports teams and athletes . . . they run through how they see the game being played out or the race being run . . . so that they are prepared and know how they are going to act and react in any given situation. To this, Jesus tells us to be prepared.
Be prepared and then to go about your business as usual. Preparation seems to make a difference. I know that by taking a first aid class I am prepared to handle most any situation that arises needing minor medical care . . . cut your finger off? I know what to do. Same thing when I was learning to drive a car . . . I was taught how to change a tire when it went flat. So, when I got a flat tire I was ready. Just knowing that we have prepared ourselves for whatever the future can throw at us helps us to feel a sense of “peace” . . . it relieves the anxiety . . . allows us to function. Preparation is a difference maker in our lives.
None of us knows what tomorrow may bring. None of us knows if tomorrow will ever happen. But, we do know that what we do today can make a difference for how we receive whatever does happen tomorrow. It allows us to go to bed at night and sleep. As it is with our daily lives, so it is with our faith.
Jesus asks us to go about the business of God . . . to work on our relationship with God . . . to work on our relationship with one another . . . to be about the business of kingdom building. Too often we forget that the promise of eternal life does not begin tomorrow, but that it begins that moment we embrace Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior. Eternal life is not tomorrow, but it is now . . . we are living in the midst of our eternity now. Because we are we need to be about that work that God calls us to now. We are to take care of business now. If we take care of business now, why do we need to worry about tomorrow. If we don’t have to worry about tomorrow . . . have we not entered into the realm of “peace”.
Tomorrow never seems to come and so we must deal with what we have been given. We must make our lives a reflection of God’s love for us and for others. We must embrace the gift of life that is ours and make the most of what we have. Let us find satisfaction in the knowledge that the presence of God is always with us, that we are in the midst of the eternal promise, and that we are getting our ducks all in a row between us and God and one another. In this we find “peace”. Who cares what the “signs” say, we now this moment. This moment is all we can truthfully deal with because we never know when tomorrow will come.
At the end of the song Signs the words describe seeing a sign that welcomes everyone . . . to come in, kneel and pray. It is a sign for a church. The singer enters the church, participates in the service, and then the collection plate comes by . . . the singer has no money to put into the plate . . . no fiscal contribution to make. Caught off guard the singer gets a pen and makes up a sign and the sign read:
"Thank you, Lord, for thinkin' 'bout me. I'm alive and doin' fine."
We see the signs around us . . . signs of all the generations before us and those yet to come . . . we hear the call to be prepared in uncertain times . . . and, the best that we can do . . . the best that we can offer is to live today for God and one another. This is the work we have been called to do . . . it is the only we can do. By going about the business at hand and doing the best that we can in loving God and one another we have prepared ourselves for tomorrow. If we are prepared, we are in a place of “peace”.
When tomorrow never comes . . . we can still know “peace”. Let us enter the season of Advent prepared and knowing that we have “peace” whether or not tomorrow ever comes. We are doing just fine. Amen.