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Sermon: Gregoreite !


Text: March 13:32-37

(Gary W. Charles, Cove Presbyterian Church,

Covesville, VA, 12-3-2017)

Ready or not, he is back! He has been gone for a while, but now he is back. Mark is back and so is Advent. Not to worry, though, because society simply bowls over Advent in its rush to Christmas. Most Christians skip Advent as well.

Yes, many churches light candles each Sunday in Advent, but they are swimming upstream. By December 1, people want to sing Christmas carols, not the haunting tunes of Advent. People want to hear about a decree that went out from Caesar Augustus; they do not want to hear about the sky falling. So, like our society, many Christians skip Advent and gladly board the Santa Claus Express.

Even those who observe Advent, usually do so in the time-to-get-through- as-fast-as-possible mode. Advent is like those old double exposure photos, when one image would be superimposed on top of another. As a child, Christmas was superimposed all over Advent. As an adult, I am trying harder than ever to keep Advent in focus, to strip away the premature Christmas clutter because I am convinced there is something crucial about Advent that gets buried when the season is only a weak opening act for Christmas.

That brings me back to Mark. Not only is he back. He is toting a chapter that makes him sound like the crazy uncle who sits at the dinner table telling stories that either makes you blush or just shake your head. Chapter 13 is a strange chapter filled with eerie images of coming attractions – persecution, families torn apart, betrayal, nature unleashed, cosmic armies on the march, and life ripped open at the seams. It is Mark’s remake of the Egyptian plagues – minus the frogs! No wonder society skips Advent; no wonder many Christians take a pass.

Thankfully, those who give us our Advent readings give us a break when we arrive at Mark 13. Shifting out of doom-time gear, at the close of Mark 13 Jesus tells another one of his, seemingly simple, parables. A master leaves his house and entrusts his estate to his servants, telling the doorkeeper to “stay awake.” Those in charge must “stay awake” through the four daily Roman watches: evening, midnight, cockcrow, and dawn. They must “stay awake” because it is unknown when the master of the house will return and no one dare be found sleeping.

Up until this parable in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus tells his listeners to blepo, a Greek word meaning to “pay attention.” In this parable, Mark ups the verbal weight and uses the more urgent Greek verb in its imperative mood, gregoreite!, that means to “stay awake,” “be vigilant,” “don’t let your watch down.” Vigilant disciples, says Jesus, do not waste time speculating when the Lord will return, they keep doing the Lord’s business – preaching, praying, worshiping, forgiving, learning, protesting, healing – no matter the century, no matter the month, no matter the day – evening, midnight, cockcrow, or dawn.

Gregoreo is a verb rarely used in classical Greek, and used even less frequently in New Testament Greek. Yet Mark uses it three times in this parable. He uses it three times again in the next chapter as Jesus addresses Peter, James, and John in the Garden of Gethsemene. Six times in two chapters! This is Mark’s version of red ink! He wants listeners to gregoreite! – to stay awake, to get off the couch, to watch out, to live a faithful life!

Gregoreite is the call of Jesus to us to resist looking beyond Advent, to live confidently in the provisions of God every day, even when the Lord seems far away. Notice in the parable that the master gives his servants the authority to do all that is necessary while he is away. Tragically, though, in the next chapter, those best prepared to gregoreite will fall fast asleep, leaving Jesus to face his arrest and crucifixion alone.

What better way to start Advent than to read a story that jump starts us out of our passive, obligatory religious modes? Oh, another holiday. Get the decorations from the attic. Buy a present for someone we barely know. Pretend life is merry, even if it is not.

There is nothing worn or redundant about Advent. It is not a second-string season to get our spiritual affairs in order before Christmas returns. Advent is a time to “stay awake” right now for a God-on-the-loose, for a world that is about to turn. Advent reminds us that our Lord has given us all the resources we need to work his healing and hope, peace and joy in the world, no matter how chaotic, no matter how demonic.

Advent is not a season of yearning for God to do something about all the madness around us; it is a season for us to do something about all the madness around us. It is a season to stop living as if you and I are worthy of health care while millions of our sisters and brothers across the land are not, to stop acting as if we are now color-blind because we elected a black President, to insist that truth is not a piece of putty that can be shaped in whatever form that pleases and advantages us, to insist that Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, people of all faiths and no faith are our sisters and brothers. Advent is a season of coming to our senses that God trusts us not only to stay awake but to act with courage and conviction.

My good friend, Brian Blount, writes: “When we’re down and out, instead of coming to God to look for a pick-me-up, as though God were a spiritual drugstore and we’d written out ourselves a prayer prescription, perhaps we ought to come looking for ways to identify with someone in trouble, and give of ourselves, even when we feel given out. Perhaps it’s in the giving to others that we get the peace we seek” (Preaching Mark in Two Voices, p. 227).

Mark 13 welcomes us into a season that is no opening act or spiritual stand-in for Christmas. Advent is the season that helps us to make sense of Christmas, to recall that before any gift is ever exchanged on December 25, you and I already have enough, will always have enough to gregoreite, to Watch Out! for a Lord who is never far away and who never leaves us bereft.

In that confidence, I offer you then this poem for the season:


You better watch out

Not for stodgy Santas

And rugged reindeer

You better watch out

Lest awe dull over time

And passion smolder in ashes

You better watch out

For courage to act

And faith to trust

You better watch out

Not for pale riders

Or skies that turn black

You better watch out

For a sentry call

To a life of prayer and love

You better watch out

With children’s eyes

For Advent.

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