Advent I B’23
3 December 2023
Mark 13.24-37
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone <+> 

I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him; in his word is my hope. Amen – from Psalm 130


From time immemorial there have been priests, prophets, oracles, charlatans and scientists, and in one case supposedly, a hen, that’s right – a female chicken, have predicted the precise date of the Second Coming of Christ and the end of the world.

Back in the second century a man by the name Montanus began a movement in Phyrigia (modern day Turkey) that was based upon his predictions of the imminent return of Christ and the end of the world. After several years went by with no returning messiah both the movement and its founder, Montanus, fell apart[1].

In 1831, a fiery protestant preacher by the name of William Miller began preaching that the return of Christ and the end of the world would happen sometime in 1843. When it didn’t happen, Miller declared that his calculations were slightly off and that Christ’s return would happen in 1844. In January 1845 one of his disillusioned followers wrote in their journal these words: “I waited all Tuesday, and dear Jesus did not come … I lay prostrate for 2 days without any pain—but sick with disappointment.”[2]

I promised you a “hen story” so here goes. In 1806, at Leeds, England a domesticated hen fondly referred to in the annals of history as “the Prophet Hen of Leeds.” The infamous hen appeared to be laying eggs inscribed with the message “Christ is coming.” Folks flocked from far and near to visit the hen and to witness this ‘fulfillment of prophecy’ with their own eyes. As they did, they each began to despair of the swift and certain coming of Judgment Day. It was eventually discovered, that the eggs were not in fact prophetic messages but the work of their owner who had been writing on the eggs in corrosive ink and re-in-sert-ing them back into the poor hen’s body. These and many other doomsday prophecies were all doomed to fail.

We get a really good answer today from Mark’s gospel as to why they all failed: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (from Mark 13) The operative phrase is – “No one knows!” Apparently, not even Jesus knows the day or hour.

The notion of an imminent return of Christ is not a new concept, in fact it was a given in the minds of most members of the early Church that Jesus would return in their lifetimes. St. Mark in writing the earliest gospel hits the ground running! It’s the shortest, the most dramatic and most direct of all four gospels. Mark’s urgency was such that he didn’t seem to have the time to even bother with writing a birth narrative of Jesus. He cuts right to the chase beginning with the ministry of John the Baptist and getting straight into the adult life and ministry of Jesus.

Not long after this first gospel was written down, there was a tremendous sense of expectancy that Jesus would be returning soon, in their own lifetimes. It would be with the assistance of St. Paul that the Church figured out that Christ’s return was not going to be imminent, at least not for folks still in the time-space continuum. 

We who are living some one thousand, nine-hundred and sixty-seven years after the writing of Mark’s gospel know that the second coming of Christ could take a while. This knowledge leads us to a question: “How are we modern day followers of Christ supposed to live our lives?”

I was reminded recently of a moment that occurred during the doomsday scare of the year 2000 – referred to as “Y2K.” You know, when all of the computers in the world were supposed to crash, suddenly anything that had a computer chip in it would no longer function. Prison doors would swing open banks would not be able to access their money leading to widespread hysteria, and as one commentator prophesied: people needed to begin stockpiling toilet paper because that would be the currency people would have to barter with. 

Shortly before December 31st   at the psychiatric hospital where I worked, I walked into one of the physician’s offices and found their secretary hard at work on a computer project. I asked what they were working on and they told me, “Well, I’m trying to get ready for Y2K that will be here this Friday!” ‘Oh’ I calmly relied, “yes!” they said, “are you getting ready for it? Have you got plenty of toilet paper, jugs of water and survival food?!” Again, I calmly answered, ‘No, I haven’t gotten any of those things,’ immediately they said, “You’re kidding, I mean Jesus could be coming back and everything!’ To this day I haven’t been able to piece together what toilet paper and the second coming of Christ had to do with each other!

They asked me one more time, “What are you going to do?!” I then calmly told them, ‘I’m going to plant a tree.’ Well, they gave me a look like I had fallen out of a tree. Then I told them this brief story: the great reformer Martin Luther was once asked what he would do if the end of the world was about to happen, he answered, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.”

It’s not about making predictions, or stockpiling toilet paper, or cases of bottled water  – or living in fear. It’s about our relationship with God and us, it’s about our relationship with God and our neighbor and how we treat them. Rather than worrying about something well above our pay grade (like the end of the world) we could stay awake and focus on feeding the hungry, clothing the poor, helping a scared child, listening to an overwhelmed teenager, visiting the lonely, sharing the Good News with those riddled with despair and without hope –  it really is all about love!

“Therefore, keep awake – for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” Amen.