Kind of interesting to note the beginning of the Christian Year. While the civic calendar begins on January 1st each year, the Christian Year begins on the first Sunday of Advent.
This is usually the last Sunday of November or the first Sunday in December. Christian Year begins in darkness leading into greater darkness. From midsummer the days get shorter until darkness becomes more pronounced. Sunset occurred at 6:59 p.m. on October 1st and every day the darkness comes sooner. On the first day of the new Christian Year, November 27, sunset took place at 4:56 p.m.
One thing Advent teaches is that people of faith know it will get darker before it gets light. We light new candles in the Advent Wreath, but even as we add their light the darkness increases.
We fully realize the days will get longer, something our ancestors feared would not happen 1700 years ago. We know the days will lengthen just as we know God born in a stable in Bethlehem.
These are the facts of our lives, but so is waiting in the midst of darkness. Anyone who has been desperate for dawn to break following a long difficult night knows that. It will come, but it will not be rushed. We have to wait. As believers we are to be those who wait without losing hope.
This is what Jesus teaches his disciples in Mark 13:24-37. He tells them the Temple and the whole city of Jerusalem will come tumbling down one day soon. The disciples want to know when. How will they know when the center of their universe is about to collapse.
The language of Mark is stirring imagery. It is in the genre of Jewish apocalyptic writings. It employs vivid word pictures to proclaim God’s sovereignty over everything that is and that is to come. Jesus tells the disciples their focus should be to watch and wait - to stay alert, to pay attention - rather than being concerned with the “when”. For some Christians, watching means looking for the literal end of time. Another way Christians have settled down to watch is by allowing their awareness of the end heighten their commitment to the present.
It our own personal walks of faith, the feeling of the world coming to an end can follow a grim diagnosis or the death of one much beloved. Harold Swinger explained to me during the week before Christmas some 16 years ago, as he waited for a traffic light to turn in the midst of a busy shopping district, that all those people walking and driving all around him had no idea the world had stopped and only darkness was all around. I had performed the funeral for his wife of 61 years the day before. All those people and traffic swirling around Harold were going about their business with no knowledge the world, his world, no longer existed.
The one thing our faith makes certain - the One whose coming we mark at Christmas is more powerful than the darkness into which he was born and which, at times, envelops our days. Darkness does not stop him. Darkness does not have to stop any of us, either.