Meditation on Mark 13:24-37
The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4th St., Coshocton, OH 43812
Pastor Karen Crawford
First Sunday in Advent
Nov. 29, 2020
Have you decorated your house for Christmas, yet? Some people have a tradition of decorating on Thanksgiving weekend. I know some of you have because I have seen pictures on Facebook. And when we walk in our Coshocton neighborhood at night, we are already enjoying Christmas lights.
We are planning to pull out the plastic tubs and bags of decorations from the garage and basement this afternoon. It’s a big job, isn’t it? Because you have to clean your house, too! I am hoping, though, that we will have our Christmas trees up by tomorrow. What I keep wondering is what kind of trouble our two young cats, Seamus and Liam, will get into when we put up our trees. I have a feeling we will hear them playing with ornaments in the middle of the night and see the signs of their play in the morning—bits and pieces, scattered here and there. I just hope we don’t hear a crash! And find the trees laying sideways on the ground.
This year, I believe it is more important than ever to decorate for Christmas and shine the light of Christ in every possible way. May we also encourage one another with inspiring stories that lead us to recall the faithfulness of the Lord and the kindness of human beings.
One such inspiring story I’ve heard is about “Rocky the stowaway owl.” Have you heard about Rocky? A worker assembling the large Christmas tree in Manhattan’s Rockefeller Center discovered the little owl inside its branches a couple weeks ago. The tiny Northern saw-whet owl had traveled unnoticed inside the 75-foot Norway spruce 170 miles after the tree was cut down in upstate New York on Nov. 12. The female owl of one of the smallest known species of owls in North America was uninjured, but she hadn’t eaten for at least 3 days. She was sent to Ravensbeard Wildlife Center, where a rehabilitator nursed her back to health. She gave her plenty of fluids and all the mice she could eat. Here are some photos of Rocky, short for Rockefeller.
Rocky was cleared to be released back into the wild to resume her migratory journey south on Nov. 24. An AP story the next day says, “On Tuesday evening, rehabilitator Ellen Kalish held the winsome raptor aloft in a field against a backdrop of rounded mountains. In a video posted Ravensbeard’s Facebook page, Rocky sits quietly on Kalish’s fingers before winding her way over to a nearby grove of pines. “She is a tough little bird, and we’re happy to see her back in her natural habitat,” the center wrote on Facebook. “We are sure that Rocky will feel your love and support through her journey south.”
When I heard this story, I couldn’t help but marvel that this tiny creature would survive, traveling in a tree on a truck bouncing on back roads, highways and in noisy, city traffic for 170 miles. It’s a miracle! And then, she would cling to the branches until someone with a kind heart would discover her—and believe the creature was precious enough to be rescued and restored to health and her natural environment.
What must the owl have been thinking on such a rough journey? She must have been terrified. And yet, the courageous creature clung to what was familiar and life-giving, her Norway spruce home, though everything around her had changed.
The little bird held onto hope.
Jesus, in our gospel lesson in Mark 13, urges his disciples to hold onto hope during dark times, and as they wait for Christ’s return, when,“the Son of Man (will) come in clouds with great power and glory.” And when 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.”
This discussion is prompted by Christ’s prophecy of the destruction of the temple of Jerusalem. “Not one stone will be left here upon another,” he says in 13:2, a prophecy that will come to pass on A.D. 70. This is hard for the disciples to hear; these country folk can’t help but be impressed by Herod’s temple. Says scholar William C. Placher, professor of religion and philosophy at Wabash College in Indiana: “It occupied a platform of more than 900 by 1,500 feet. The front of the temple building itself stood 150 feet tall and 150 feet wide, made of white stone, much of it covered with silver and gold, by far the most impressive building any of them had seen, glowing in the sunlight. Little wonder that they were amazed by it all—and then little wonder at Jesus’ frustration that they had not yet understood his teaching that God was now present in him and not in the temple.”
After this, the disciples want to know more of what’s going to happen. Jesus speaks of false prophets and those claiming to be the Messiah, and how those who follow him will be persecuted; some of the betrayals will be from their own family members, Jesus says.
The Son of Man’s coming will also affect the natural world. Jesus says,“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” But some theologians believe Jesus speaks symbolically, as Isaiah says in 60:19, “The sun shall no longer be your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you by night; but the Lord will be your everlasting light,” and as Revelation 22:5 says, “the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its lights, and its lamp is the Lamb.”
And what of the fig tree lesson?
Though we won’t know the exact day or hour of Christ’s return, we will know that what Jesus has said will come to pass just as we observe the change of seasons in our own environment. Figs trees are important to people in Christ’s time, just as they are to ancient Israel. Fig trees are mentioned numerous times in the Old and New Testaments. So, Jesus has chosen a good example for this parable that is found in three gospels—Matthew, Mark and Luke, revealing its significance! The Promised Land in Deuteronomy is described as, “a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; a land where you will eat food without scarcity, in which you will not lack anything…” (Deuteronomy 8:8-10). Before Jesus uses a fig tree in his teaching in Mark 13, he curses a fig tree so it withers in chapter 12 to demonstrate the power of faith and prayer. Here in Mark 13, Jesus assures us that just as when we see the branches of the fig tree become tender and put forth leaves and we know it is summer, we will know that Jesus is near, “at the very gates.” This is a promise!
On this first Sunday in Advent, we light one candle for hope, determined to live as a people of hope, relying on the Spirit to empower us to live as God intends us. God’s Word reminds us to be ready—each of us—engaged in the work right now the Lord calls us to, watchful for the signs of our master’s return. We can trust that though heaven and earth will pass away, the promises of our Savior are forever—and that Jesus will be our soul’s everlasting home, though everything around us might change.
This season, I urge you to shine the Light of Christ in every possible way—and not just with Christmas decorations, feasts, and gifts that money can buy. Share stories that reveal your faith in times of trial or suffering and how you have relied on your Lord to endure and overcome. Let us consider, as Hebrews 10:24 tells us, how we may provoke one another to love and good deeds and inspire each other to be our best selves! Let us be faithful to help prepare others for the coming of the Lord, reaching out with compassion to those who don’t know Him, whose souls haven’t yet found Christ to be their spiritual home.
Stay alert and keep awake to the needs of all your neighbors, for this is also the work God calls us to do. This means all God’s creatures in need, such as a tiny but courageous owl named Rocky, discovered by a kindhearted soul assembling a Christmas tree.
The stowaway owl held onto hope—until the day she was set free to live as God intended.
Let us pray.
Holy One, thank you that we can trust you are with us now and will come again at a time that only God the Father knows. Thank you for the promise that we will know when your Son is near, at the very gates, and that you will speak to us through our environment, the world in which we live. Help us to be faithful to do the works you have called us to—to shine your light in every way possible and to live as you intend for us to live, caring for neighbors in need, all creatures great and small. Keep us awake and alert to your holy presence, and live as people of hope, like the tiny, courageous owl in a Christmas tree—until the day we see your shining face and are truly set free to live with you for all eternity. In Christ we pray. Amen.