Mark 13:1-2, 7-8, 14-19, 24-27, & 32-37 CEB
As Jesus left the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Teacher, look! What awesome stones and buildings!” Jesus responded, “Do you see these enormous buildings? Not even one stone will be left upon another. All will be demolished.”
When you hear of wars and reports of wars, don’t be alarmed. These things must happen, but this isn’t the end yet. Nations and kingdoms will fight against each other, and there will be earthquakes and famines in all sorts of places. These things are just the beginning of the sufferings associated with the end.
“When you see the disgusting and destructive thing standing where it shouldn’t be (the reader should understand this), then those in Judea must escape to the mountains. Those on the roof shouldn’t come down or enter their houses to grab anything. Those in the field shouldn’t come back to grab their clothes. How terrible it will be at that time for women who are pregnant and for women who are nursing their children. Pray that it doesn’t happen in winter. In those days there will be great suffering such as the world has never before seen and will never again see.
“In those days, after the suffering of that time, the sun will become dark, and the moon won’t give its light. The stars will fall from the sky, and the planets and other heavenly bodies will be shaken. Then they will see the Human One coming in the clouds with great power and splendor. Then he will send the angels and gather together his chosen people from the four corners of the earth, from the end of the earth to the end of heaven.
“But nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the angels in heaven and not the Son. Only the Father knows. Watch out! Stay alert! You don’t know when the time is coming. It is as if someone took a trip, left the household behind, and put the servants in charge, giving each one a job to do, and told the doorkeeper to stay alert. Therefore, stay alert! You don’t know when the head of the household will come,whether in the evening or at midnight, or when the rooster crows in the early morning or at daybreak. Don’t let him show up when you weren’t expecting and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: Stay alert!”
Holy Disruption opens with a story about Harold Camping. Harold, “a Christian radio entrepreneur, predicted that the world would come to an end on May 21, 2011.” Camping had determined through his own close reading of scripture that this would be the exact date of the apocalypse, complete with a rapture for faithful believers and destruction for all the unfaithful. He raised “tens of millions of dollars from his listeners to pay for five thousand billboards and millions of pamphlets translated into sixty-one languages.” People believed in his prediction with many quitting jobs, racking up debts that would not have to be repaid, and some even got married while others took their own lives. Well, the end did not come, surprising everyone, including Camping. In the season of Advent, we find ourselves anticipating the coming of Christ too. However, we usually find ourselves anticipating the birth, not the apocalypse, and yet, Mark’s gospel has Jesus talking about the end times. Mark 13 is often called the “Little Apocalypse,” in it, we can get caught up, like Camping did, in seeing this as the end of everything, the very destruction of the world. However, this message of Christ in Mark would have been received as a message of hope by his original audience, rather than a cause for fear and concern. Mark’s Little Apocalypse can still be a message of hope for us today as we all have our little apocalypses where we hope God will come and reorder what is wrong in our lives, transforming the bad into good.
It has gotten hard in Christian churches today to talk about an apocalypse honestly and spiritually because parts of modern Christianity have bent our idea of the end. When we think of the apocalypse, we think of something fitting visions echoed by Harold Camping and found in the bestselling Left Behind series. We get caught up in the end of things, caught up trying to predict what will happen and when it will happen. We get caught up in a practice that Jesus in Mark warns us not to do, even saying “‘But nobody knows when that day or hour will come, not the angels in heaven and not the Son [as only] the Father knows.’” You see when Jesus mentions hearing about wars, famines, and natural disasters, he is warning his listeners to not let these distract them into thinking that the end is coming because Christ’s return will be just as surprising as his first arrival. Instead, Jesus reminds us to “‘Watch out!’” and “‘Stay alert!’” because “‘You don’t know when the time is coming.’” In other words, Jesus asks us to prepare ourselves, but what exactly are we preparing for when we think about the apocalypse?
In Greek, the word apocalypse (apokalypsis) means “‘revelation, disclosure, unveiling,’” and it usually refers to the “final revealing of divine mysteries.” The divine mystery being unveiled in Mark 13 is that when God comes it will not be to simply end things but to reorder the world. What will come to an end in the “Little Apocalypse” will be all the things that are wrong with the world. It’s important to remember that in Jesus’ day, the Jewish people were not in charge, and they were not comfortable. Many of them languished under the taxes and oppression of the Roman Empire. To them, the world was bad enough that they could not wait for the current order of things to be overturned and the wrong to be made right. For us, however, we are often uncomfortable with talking about an end time because we are usually far more comfortable than that first-century audience.
When Jesus says prepare, he is saying the end is coming so you don’t have to live without hope any longer. All the bad things of today are starting to lose their power, and their hold on this world is weakening, so throw them off, and start making a just and right world now! As Jesus says, the master has left the household, and he has “put the servants in charge, giving each one a job to do, and told the doorkeeper to stay alert.” Our world is God’s house and we are God’s servants, so Mark’s “Little Apocalypse” asks whether we will be faithful servants or lazy ones. Will we take on the work that the master has left us or will we simply sleep and let God catch us unawares?
God will right the wrongs, and this is a hopeful message for us today because the truth is that we don’t need to just think about the apocalypse. After all, we all have experienced our own little apocalypses. Tell me, what has happened in your life that “brought an end to your world?” Was it when the doctor returned with bad news? Was it when you lost a friend, spouse, child, parent, or loved one? Was it when you found out you were being laid off? When you or a loved one was grievously injured? Did the world end when you weren’t sure where you would get the money for next month’s rent or when there was not enough food in the pantry? There are endings all around us. While they may not be the end of the world, they are often the end of our world. In those little apocalypses, “we want a big God who can do very big things.” We want a God who will step into the midst of our ruin and brokenness and make right what has gone so wrong! In those moments, Mark’s words “give voice to this very yearning.” We find in Mark the echo of Isaiah 64:1, “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down” (NRSV)! We pray out of our anguish: “God come down! Shake the mountains! Burn it all to the ground! Overturn this world that has brought me pain and death! Make me whole! Heal me! Bind me up!”
The mistake we can make in getting caught up like Camping in apocalypses is that we can assume we know what will happen when God comes. We assume we know how God will enter our worlds and make them right. We should check our assumptions at the door however since the Jewish people had expected a conquering Messiah riding into battle against the Romans to reorder the world through destruction and wrath. Instead, the Messiah showed up as a baby. Jesus did not conquer a soul, instead through a costly life of ministry he sought to transform people through his words and actions. He healed sickness and isolation. He tied together bones and reknit flesh as often as he restored broken relationships and sought to overcome injustice. He redeemed the world, not through its destruction but through his death and resurrection. Perhaps, we should not be surprised if God shows up in a similar way the next time, seeking to transform people and this world through love and grace rather than destroying it.
We can get so disgusted with this world that we want to reject it. We can get angry at the wrongs it has done us, and so we beg God to destroy it all. And yet, Jesus says that all these bad things are birth pangs, that something is being created, birthed through all these apocalypses: namely, a redeemed world, and a redeemed people. We don’t find in the scriptures a God who is willing to turn his back on creation, so if “God does not despise or reject this world, then neither should we.” Instead, like Jesus, we need to enter into the world, into those apocalypses, to be the hope we wish for in Christ’s return this Advent season. We have been called to wait, to prepare, to make ready the house, to be a people of hope that enter into the ruin and destruction around us and through our hands, feet, and lips cry out, “Come, Lord Jesus, Come!” Amen.
 Tracy S. Daub, Holy Disruption: Discovering Advent in the Gospel of Mark (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2022), 11.
 Ibid., 12.
 Donald K. McKim, The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, 2nd ed.(Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2014), s.v. “apocalypse.”
 Daub 2022, 20.
 Ibid., 21.
 Ibid., 22.
 Ibid., 27.
Pastor Paul Grossman