By Rev. Dr. Kimberly Reisman
We’ve entered the season of Advent, that time of preparation for the birth of Jesus Christ. Because Advent is the beginning of the Church year, I find it interesting that the Gospel readings for the first Sunday always begin with the end – the return of Christ. In my mind those are the kind of passages that should come at the end the Church year, not the beginning. And yet, that’s not how it unfolds. Each year, on the first Sunday of Advent, we read about the end, when Christ will return.
This year’s first Sunday Gospel passage comes from Mark 13 and it doesn’t begin with good tidings. Instead, it’s a pretty bleak picture. Reality seems to have collapsed. There’s tribulation, earthquakes, crazy weather. If Mark had mentioned a pandemic, I might have thought it was 2020! But the point isn’t the tribulation – it’s the return of Christ. We may be awaiting the birth of our Savior, but as Christians, the ultimate event we’re waiting for is not the birth, but the return of that Savior.
But waiting is hard – especially in COVID times, especially in times when hurricanes and typhoons and wildfires have devastated so many places in our world, especially in times when violence and oppression and persecution remain such harsh realities. Waiting is never easy, even in the best of times, but there’s a passage from Matthew really helps me. You can find it in Chapter 14, verses 22-33.
Picture the scene. Jesus has put the disciples in a boat and told them to go to the other shore. They’re trying to get across, but evening has come, and the weather is terrible. They’re pulling at the oars as best they can, but the wind is howling and they’re hardly making any progress at all. The waves are breaking over the boat and they’re taking on water. Some of them keep rowing while others try to bail out the water. It’s dark, they’re scared, and it feels like they just might die right there in the middle of the sea.
Then, sometime between about 3:00 and 6:00 in the morning, right before dawn, Jesus comes to them. And he comes to them on the sea.
Did you know that in ancient times the sea was the place of evil? In the Bible, the sea is the home of all the forces that are against us. The enemy of everything we know to be good and right lives right there in the water. And yet, God walks on the sea.
This shouldn’t surprise us! In Job, in Isaiah, in Habakkuk, in the Psalms – it’s God who walks on the storm. It’s God who makes a path in the sea.
There’s a truth here for us as we journey through Advent, awaiting the birth of our Savior. There’s a truth here for us as we fast and pray in these closing days of 2020. The truth is simply this: Only God can walk on the waves.
There’s no power, no storm, no wind, no force (not even disease and death) in all the world that God cannot conquer. When we trust in him, we become more than conquerors through his love for us.
I suppose there really is wisdom in the way the Church year is ordered. I’m glad I finally saw it. Because having our eye on the end of the journey is the very thing that will sustain us as we travel toward it. Indeed, I imagine that’s what the hope of Advent is really all about.
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31, 35, 37-39)