November 17-18, 2012
It was an anxious time to live in Great Britain.
It was 1939 and the beginning of the second world war.
People were preparing for a possible Nazi invasion.
Britain’s Ministry of Information was charged with creating propaganda
to improve the morale of the people.
One of the items they produced was a poster.
The poster was bright red and had a picture of the British crown on it.
It read simply,
“Keep Calm and Carry On.”
Keep Calm and Carry On…
that was the message of encouragement and of hope in the midst of impending war.
And it’s a good summary Jesus’ words throughout the 13th chapter of Mark.
Keep Calm and Carry On.
Jesus and his disciples are sitting on the Mount of Olives
on the outskirts of Jerusalem.
From their vantage point they can easily see the temple and its massive stonework.
Jesus tells his disciples that nothing is as permanent as it seems.
Sometimes they fall because of natural disasters,
And sometimes they fall because of human disasters.
Jesus says to his disciples that even these enormous temple stones will one day fall to pieces.
Four of the disciples(Peter, James, John, and Andrew) pull Jesus aside
and ask him when this all will happen.
It’s interesting that they seem reluctant to ask this question in front of everyone.
Are they worried that it will show their lack of faith?
Are they wondering how they might use the inside information for their own benefit?
Are they concerned about creating a panic among the people?
Jesus doesn’t answer them right away.
We’ve just heard a few verses from what scholars call the “little apocalypse” in the gospel of Mark.
Jesus goes on to describe a lot more disturbing images of what is to come.
But then in verse 32 he says,
“No one knows when this will happen – not even the Son of God…
so in the meantime watch out and stay alert!”
Keep calm and carry on.
But oh how we humans have tried to figure out a date for when this will happen nevertheless!
It’s been a theme throughout history.
When will the end of the world come?
Back in 1999 as we were anticipating the new millennium,
there was a series on PBS about the apocalypse.
It talked about why humans seem to be so fascinated with the end of the world.
Fascination in the topic started long before Hollywood began to take an interest.
From ancient times, there has been concern about when the world as we know it will stop.
Back in the year 1500 BC, the Persian prophet Zoroaster,
predicted a cosmic battle between good and evil
ending in a new perfect world for all of humanity.[i]
The book of Daniel was written closer to 200 BC
around the time of the Jewish Maccabean revolt,
and predicted a time when God would overthrow the four evil kingdoms.
On this Remembrance Day weekend we can think of Julia Ward Howe’s hymn, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,”
which was popularized during the Civil War.
It uses its own apocalyptic imagery with the words, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord … He hath loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword …”
Why such fascination?
Perhaps because we human beings have always tried to make some sense of the world.
When our world feels unstable;
When everything which makes us comfortable is turned upside down because of disasters and wars;
When we see unimagainable human suffering;
we want to believe that there is still some order in things;
we want to be sure that someone out there is still in control;
we want to make some sense of it.
And as we have seen, much of the literature written about the end of the world gets written during such times of deep struggle.
Scholars believe that the gospel of Mark was written around the year 70 AD.
It was such a time of deep struggle.
The Romans destroyed the temple in that year.
Imagine a faithful people who saw their place of worship utterly destroyed.
How could a loving God possibly have allowed that to happen?
Mark’s gospel offered a word of comfort to the people living during that horrific time.
They could see that Jesus knew it would happen.
And they could hear Jesus’ words of what to do during the struggle…
Keep watch, stay alert,
Keep calm and carry on.
Jesus and his disciples could just have easily be sitting up on the Mount of Olives this week.
If they were looking out today,
they would see signs of destruction.
They would see rockets and missiles striking back and forth between Gaza and Israel.
It’s a scary time.
Two members of our congregation, Becky and Denny are living in Jerusalem right now.
Becky writes that they are safe.
They are staying indoors this weekend and listening to news reports
as well as updates from the American consulate.
Is this unrest in the Middle East a sign of the end of the world?
Or how about the Hurricane Sandy…
Was that a sign?
What would Jesus say to those of us living in Israel-Palestine?
What would Jesus say to those of us living in New York or New Jersey?
In Mark, Jesus says, we don’t know the time of the end of the world.
But we do know this…
as scary as these times feel,
the end of the world as we know it not meant to bring hopeless destruction.
It is meant bring new life!
Jesus says these signs we experience are merely birth pangs….
birth pangs for new life, new birth, the coming of the reign of God in its entirety.
Now I’ve never given birth, but I’ve been present at a lot of deliveries,
and the word ‘birth pang’ does not begin to describe what I’ve seen!
We have pangs of guilt.
We have pangs of remorse.
But birth is labor – it is work – it is pain – it is suffering,
all of which happens before the incredible joy of a new life can be celebrated.
Jesus says that there will be wars and rumors of war,
nations will rise up against nation,
and kingdoms against kingdoms,
there will be earthquakes…
and yet during the midst of these, we are not to be alarmed,
but to know that these are the pain and suffering which will occur
before something marvelous and miraculous happens.
As the hymn says, “And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song…..”
Jesus will come again.
New life is coming.
Most women I know would rather experience childbirth without pain;
yet their hope and solace comes with anticipation of this new life.
Most of us would rather experience the birthing of God’s kingdom without suffering either.
Our hope and our solace can come with anticipation of new life as well.
What to do in the meantime?
Keep watch. Say alert.
Keep calm and carry on….