I am astonished by the presumption of the creators of the lectionary. The shortsighted conspiracy of hype leading those who select Biblical texts to decide the 13th chapter of Mark holds any redeeming spiritual value as text to be read in Christian churches on the first Sunday of Advent is beyond comprehension. Using Mark’s gospel as an Advent text may be the worst religious decision since Franklin Graham was invited to pray at the most recent Presidential inauguration. Like Graham’s prayer; it pretends to be timely, it is tone deaf, and it alienates more people in the long run.
By now, United Methodists are well into the “Christmas” spirit, Advent is an afterthought (even for most Christians), and the church is about to begin the four Sunday layup announcing the arrival of the Son of God. We do this by giving one week to Mark’s apocalyptic vision of black holes, lunar chaos, a cloud surfing Jesus, and a withered fig tree. Is it any wonder people think churches are out of touch? Through our expert homiletic skill and Emersonian like word play, preachers will attempt to tie Mark’s clear references to the end of the world back to the non-threatening, life affirming coming of the Christ child which, as we know, isn’t intended to scare the hell out of anyone.
Mark’s story of a withered fig tree has nothing to do with Jesus coming as an infant. There is no connection. It’s a weird, off the wall point with no larger meaning or value. It, along with Mark’s celestial references, is the round peg we try to make fit the square hole called “Christmas”. We manufacture the connection and call it Advent 1.
There is no relationship between the events Mark’s Jesus understood to be imminent signs of the apocalypse and the birth of Jesus. While Mark 13 can be read to indicate the second coming of Jesus, an event which largely lacks the friendly undertones of Hallmark movies, shopping trips, and large family gatherings; Mark’s words do not point to a Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. If anything, they orient us toward the certainty of death, the absurdity of pinning Jesus’ return to a particular date and time, and the impossibility of being fully prepared for Jesus’ actual arrival.
We can never be ready. It is a lie to pretend otherwise. We fall for the hype of Mark’s unreal expectations. “Yeah, we’re going to be awake, we’re going to get Christmas right and never miss a thing this year.” (Remember the Aerosmith song, “Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”. Even they missed things.) In an hour, with full stomachs and self-satisfied egos, we’re asleep around our new flat screen televisions. We will fall asleep, down on the job, and miss the critical moment. This is who we are and it is unavoidable. Mark misses the mark. He leaves out the possibility that we don’t need to stay awake because grace, in the form of angels, shepherds, or a homeless man named John the Baptizer will wake us up. The smell of the rotting fig tree is pretty powerful.
We will be dragged kicking and screaming to the manger. Mark, the moody end of the world obsessed teenager, sitting at the back of the manger needs to be ignored. We’re going to get there and no one will be asleep. Mark should get over his dark obsessions and find some conspiracy website to post his musings. I’m sure he’ll find plenty of takers who’ll love his end of the world nonsense. Get over yourself Mark! If we’re asleep, we will wake up! We always do. The stuff about the moon going dark and the black hole you’re predicting; it is just weird. Your data is rooted in first century astrology and has no basis in science. On top of everything else, your depressing end of the world crap turns people off. Please shut up. The joy train is coming to town. The shepherds, angels, and John the Baptist are rolling up on Bethlehem in due course. Check your weirdness, your emotional baggage, and the stupid fig tree at the door.