Maybe you remember when we were kids and we played a game called, “What time is it Mr. Wolf?” it was a straight forward game: one was chosen to be the Wolf while boundaries were set out for the sheep or the chickens had to run from one side of the area to the other; one safe line to the other. Each time there was to be movement, the sheep would call out, “what time is it, Mr. Wolf?” the wolf would give out different times on the clock until he or she was ready to pounce. Then suddenly, the wolf would call out, “Supper time!” and the sheep (or chickens) would scatter to get to safety – those who were caught, would become wolves themselves. The process would last until there was one sheep left who in turn would then become the wolf.
The Gospel this week (Mark 13.24-37, Year B) reminded me of playing this game because the Sheep, or in this case, the Church, does not know what time it is; not the angels and not even the Son knows. But if you inspect the lesson closer, there is much said about time. The lesson uses phrases like, “In those days,” and “now learn this lesson” or even, “Keep watch for he may come suddenly.”
This lesson is a passage about apocalyptic eschatology. That is, it is a revelation concerning the end of days. There is an appearance of a divine figure in great glory, there are signs in all the creation (not just on earth, but also the sin, the moon, the stars, the planets that he is coming and there is a time of judgment and punishment or reward, depending on how things shook out. But this is not how things play out in Mark. First, Jesus comes after there are signs that he is coming as King. There are happenings in the world that are signing the presence and the coming of the King with his kingdom. And just as important, when he comes, those who are found to be faithful will be gathered from the four corners of the earth, wherever they may be, into the kingdom. There is no mention in Mark of there being judgment, just of the elect being gathered up into the kingdom.
So it might be necessary to remember that this Gospel and this lesson are written for those who are under going persecution for their faith in Jesus Christ. It was written during systematic persecution of the empire, by the Emperor. It is written to people who need to hear that what they are going through is going to be worth it. People are looking for vindication and for salvation so that things will be made alright again. After all, most of the Christmas movies that are made these days are made about “saving” Christmas and it has to do with saving the Fat Man so that everything gets under the tree which in turn, makes everyone happy. Is that not a cheap parody of what Christmas is really all about? Is the Good News of Advent about the coming of the King to the manger and making his way to another tree that is truly important? Is Advent not about the King coming to his people and collecting them up so that they can join him in the life and the creation that is to come?
So what Advent good for then? Are we not like those servants while the Master is away on business? Every servant has his and her place in the household and they are keeping one eye on the work they are doing and one eye on what God is doing – are they not going about the of the Master? The thing is, we must in the meantime, use our talents and our time productively. We need to bear fruit for the sake of the kingdom and those around us. We don’t know when we are finished. We don’t know when Jesus will be back. We don’t even know what time it is in the kingdom of God! All we can do is what has been asked, keep on mind on our tasks and our eyes on the clouds, looking for him who will come on the four winds. Pray that he comes soon and scoops us up to go with him.