Scripture Reading: Mark 13:24-37

I’m a fan of cheesy sci-fi movies. Have you ever seen one of these? It’s the likes of movies called “Avalanche Shark” or “Comet from Space” or “Windstorm” where a bunch of low paid actors use dodgy science to save the world from impending doom. Usually the funniest bit is listening to the terrible lines and watching the cheap special effects.

One of the reasons I like to watch these movies is because they are bad movies, usually really bad, and they know it. Because they know it, they milk it for all it’s worth. And after a busy week, it fun to sit down and watch these movies on a Saturday night to help me relax and feel better about the world. It’s a fun distraction for sure.

What’s even more fun is coming up with fun movie plots of your own while you watch them. While watching “Sharknado” I came up with the idea of a trilogy of movies based on other animal attacks. Now if I just had time to write the scripts for these things. Maybe I need to talk to the Board about taking a sabbatical? 3 months might be enough time to write a screenplay. What do you think?

The problem is, they are usually on very late on the weekends. Most nights it seems like I’m doing good to stay up later than the kids, now throw on a Saturday night movie that starts at 10:00 knowing I need to get up early on Sunday morning… well, that can be very much a challenge. It’s not very often I see the end of these movies.

You know what I mean don’t you. It’s a challenge living in the Atlantic timezone. Sure, we get to live on one of the most beautiful islands in the world, but all the good TV comes on too late for us to stay up and watch. And now that our kids are staying up almost as late as we are, even if we record shows we want to watch, when do we have time to watch them?

I just can’t stay up late like I used to. My body is keeps crying out for more sleep. So I guess I need to learn to listen to it more.

Oh, and don’t judge me, I know you all have your own guilty TV watching pleasures!

When we’re tired our bodies just don’t work as well do they? Our brains seem to slow down, we can’t find the words we’re looking for. We get clumsy and sluggish. We forget things. We are not the most productive that’s for sure. We might even miss out on something quite important.

As we begin the season of Advent this morning, we have four weeks of waiting and watching ahead of us. Actually, since Christmas is on a Monday, I guess we technically only have 3 weeks of waiting and watching this year. 3 weeks of parties, food, shopping, wrapping, opening, sharing, singing, laughing, working, planning… it’s a busy three weeks that’s for sure.

I don’t know about you, but aren’t there times when we can’t wait for it all to be over? Don’t you sometimes just long for after the presents are opened and you can sit in your pajamas all day, drink a warm beverage, eat Christmas chocolates and watch cheesy Christmas movies all day (which, to me, is less entertaining than cheesy sci-fi movies).

At some point you just get exhausted and can’t wait for it to be all done with.

I’m not trying to downplay the celebration of the season, not at all. There’s nothing wrong with parties and spending time with friends and loved ones, it’s just tiring that’s all. Especially for the introverts among us.

Part of this month, as Christians, also needs to be dedicated to, what has become known as, “the reason for the season.” Which is of course the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

We’re jumping into the story this Advent is sort of an odd spot. We’re coming in towards the end of the Gospel of Mark in chapter 13. Jesus has entered Jerusalem for the final time before his death and is teaching to the people of the city, as well as dealing with religious authorities who are devising a way to kill him. And in our reading today Jesus is talking about his return. Not his resurrection, but rather his return to earth from heaven.

Now there is a bit of an echo of his birth in what Jesus shares at the start of what we read here today in verses 24 to 27. Jesus is saying the world will be in suffering and darkness, and into this darkness he will return in power and glory.

The world Jesus is born into is also a world of suffering and darkness. One could also argue that he has come in power and glory, although not in the way the world would define it. We certainly don’t see the birth of a child as a sign of power. Yet, the circumstances around his birth point to the power with which he comes. Jesus is born to a virgin. His first guests are shepherds who have been called by angels. Wise men come from far away, led by a star.

This is what I think of when I read in Mark 11:27 when Jesus says, “Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.”

Jesus, even in his birth, is bringing people together from all places, but more than that, he is not discriminate about where they come from. The wise men are foreigners. The shepherds are unclean and generally unwanted. Yet they appear at the birth of the King of the earth, God’s own son!

As Jesus prepares for his coming death, he talks to those around him and lets them know they need to watch for signs. Even in the darkness, even in suffering there are signs of hope.

He compares this with the fig tree, which I will translate to something we are more familiar with here in Canada. Think of April. There’s no leaves anywhere. The snow is hopefully all melted, but are lawns are wet and muddy, and full of dead grass. The trees look sickly without their leaves. Our world looks dead. Nothing is growing, everything is brown and lifeless.

Yet, throughout April, the days grow longer and warmer. We get some rain. And sure enough, by the end of the month there are little signs beginning to emerge. The world is not dead! Things are beginning to wake up. If you look closely buds are starting to form on tree branches. Summer will return! Hallelujah!

This is the hope Jesus is referring too. Yes, there may be times when all seems hopeless and death is all we see, but there is hope. There are signs of life out there, we just may need to look a little harder to see them.

He also tells us, when we see them, he is ready to move.

It’s easy to look at the news today and feel completely hopeless. Even in our local news, we read about kids being arrested for all the flares set off. We read about fights and even murders over drugs, not to mention the many drug related deaths we have had here in Cape Breton. Exactly how many? I’m afraid to know the answer to that question. But when guys in their 20s tell me they know more of their peers who have died than old people, this tells me we have a serious problem. Add in child poverty, addiction, homelessness… it makes you wonder why we even bother.

We need to look for the signs of hope. We need to look at things like the Hope Project which was also in the news last week, a home for recovering women. This is a project spearheaded by young Christians who want to help people, women in particular, break the cycle of poverty and addiction.

We look at Faith Baptist church in Sydney offering morning cafes to people who need access to professional services, and they can come and get these services for free!

We look at the House of Healing in Dominion, a new church which offers a food bank, hot meals and fellowship to those who need it every week.

There are signs of hope all over Cape Breton, these are just three examples that have popped in the news over the last few months, which just so happens to be church related. Why? Because they are following what they believe Jesus is asking them to do as part of his call to love our neighbours.

These are signs of a greater movement. They are signs that God is on the move here in Cape Breton. Signs that God is up to something big, and he is just getting started. I see it and I believe it, and I hope you do to.

A couple weeks ago we had a training session for Alpha out at Grace Fellowship. There were about 25 people from almost every church in town. And everyone seemed excited for the possibility that all our churches can work together to make this happen.

As a result of this training, we are now praying someone will step up to be our coordinator to keep us on track and moving forward to running a shared Alpha in Sydney Mines.

Signs, signs, everywhere a sign. From Alpha to Church Renewal to Cursillo, there are many opportunities for us to work together as Christians to grow in our own faith and learn to share this faith with others. This is how God’s love spreads to those who are in need of it.

This is how we get and share hope.

As you go about your week, ask God to show you signs of hope where he is working in our communities. It could be in the news, it could be in a conversation you are having with a co-worker. It could be as simple as something you see walking down the aisle of a store as you do your shopping.

God is at work all over the place, but we need to be alert, or as Jesus says, “keep awake.”

It’s true, we have no idea when Jesus will return and save this world from itself. Sure there are people who keep predicting the day when he will return, and many of those days have passed without incident.

In the meantime, while we wait, we watch for signs of hope. Hope that God is on the move in places where hope is needed.

The signs are there. We have abundant reason to live in hope, even if we have nothing more than the promises he makes us in scripture.

To me, that alone is hope enough to get me through the day.

Let us pray,

Lord Jesus,

Thank you for the hope you instill in us with your word, your promise to return with power and glory to call us, God’s children, home.

We ask you, Jesus, to show us the signs of hope of your Father’s work in the world as we wait. As we see those signs, may you speak to our hearts how we too can share hope in a world of suffering. May we be bold to share the hope you share with us through your words.

Lord, may you be our strength, may you be our guide, and may we see the signs of hope all around us in this season of waiting we call Advent. This season which leads us to your birth as God’s gift to this world.

We pray this in your most holy name,
Amen and amen.