“And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” (Mark 13:37)
Awake? We’ve been awake for some time now. Ever since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic we’ve been watching for something to happen. We’ve certainly seen signs of change: the killing of George Floyd and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protest movement, wildfires in the west and hurricanes in the Gulf coast, a close and tense presidential election and a president who refuses to believe he has lost it. There have been so many weird signs in 2020 that I think we’re ready for Jesus to come back and rescue us all!
So the Gospel for Advent 1, Year B (Mark 13: 24-37) tells us to keep our eyes open for something. What that something is, however, we just don’t know. It’s what former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld used to call the “known unknown.” So what are we supposed to do?
Maybe we should take the example of someone who has been this way before. I’ve noticed that the Sundays in Advent 2020 all fall on (or just before) the commemorative festivals of certain saints. The day after Advent 1, November 30, is the Feast of Saint Andrew the Apostle. Now here was a guy who kept awake. We have to remember that life back in Andrew’s day was every bit as crazy as life in our own time. Israel was under Roman occupation—which nobody liked. There were all kinds of riots, protests, and attempts at revolution. It wasn’t hard to get yourself crucified, and you couldn’t even trust your religious authorities. Anyone with a good speaking voice was claiming to be a prophet, and you didn’t know who to believe. Andrew, the Gospels tell us, was just a blue collar fisherman, but he must’ve been looking for some kind of truth to get him through life in those turbulent times. John’s Gospel says he attached himself to John the Baptist, a preacher who warned everyone to prepare themselves because God was getting ready to send a Messiah.
One day, John tells Andrew, “You see that guy Jesus walking past over there? He’s the one we’re waiting and watching for!” So what does Andrew do? He quits John, meets Jesus, and immediately spends the day with him.[i] He then goes to find his brother Simon and tells him, “We have found the Messiah!”
Andrew is not a particularly spectacular disciple. There’s really not that much said about him in the Gospels and, unlike some of the other apostles, early church history doesn’t attribute any wild and amazing miracle stories to him. All we know is that he was faithful to Jesus and, after the resurrection, went on to spread the Word in foreign lands like the other eleven. And, like ten of the others, he was martyred for his faith somewhere in Greece. Perhaps his most significant contribution was sharing his exciting discovery about Jesus with his brother. Peter gets lots of attention in the Gospels and in Acts as a true champion of the faith in spite of his rather obvious flaws. He wouldn’t have met Jesus, however, if his brother hadn’t told him. Andrew may not have sunk all the winning shots, but he should certainly get credit for the assists.
I think sometimes that crazy chaotic times are time when we are nearer to God. We start to fill with expectation. If we fear something is ending, we have to believe that something new is starting. I don’t think I’m quite ready to start looking for signs of the End Times, but I’m always looking for signs of God’s time. I hope I’m always alert to the opportunity to do what God has planned. This may not be a spectacular work of mission, but it just might be—as in Andrew’s case—an opportunity equip someone else for some wonderful work for the Kingdom.
We are told as Advent begins to keep awake. How? One way is to keep ourselves involved with the scriptures. Another way is to keep our prayers sailing strong and regularly. To keep listening to others, to be present with them, to be open to the Holy Spirit giving us the words which just might change a life. Keep believing that the time of turmoil might be a time of opportunity. So keep awake.
May God’s peace be with you this Advent season!
[i] See the story in John 1:35-42