When I was a kid, a great deal was more was made of the "Two Minute Warning" that sounded at the end of the many College Football games I attended with my father. That 'warning' has softened a bit in the age of television broadcasts and new penalty violations and endless 'time out' stalls, nevertheless - it still has its meaning.
The "Two Minute Warning" was sounded as a kind of "alarm" that told the crowd "If you're team is way ahead, you might want to head to your car and beat the traffic...," and it told the coaches, "If you are way behind, time to pull out your best play now," and it told the team members, "If you've begun to fade or daze, you best get your head back in the game...you've only got two minutes left!" I can still hear that loud horn over the roaring crowds of Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama.
For those who like to dance, you get a similar sense of urgency from the band leader's "Last Dance," reminder - maybe time to take another twirl, or build up the courage to ask the one you've been waiting all night to ask, (or, well yea, beat the traffic home...!).
On this, the first Sunday of Advent, we also get a "Two Minute Warning." The word "Advent" comes from the Latin "Adventus," meaning "coming." It's a season the Church has used to focus not only on the forthcoming Incarnation of God in Christ, but also a time, when 'warnings' are ushered through Scripture that give us a chance to - well, get our head in the game.
The Lesson for Mark is about the return of Jesus. It is about that 'second coming' of Christ to bring final judgment on humanity and to usher in the final revelation of the Kingdom of God. Much has been made over the 'end times.' Just last May, many sat on the edge of their seats waiting to see if a small religious group was right that had predicted Christ's return at 6 p.m. on May 21st! They were wrong and then revised the prediction to this past October...the fact that I am speaking to you now tells you - they were wrong again.
What are we to make of these kinds of predictions? The Second Coming of Christ is a central theme that runs throughout our Judeo-Christian story. The Old Testament prophets, the Gospels, the Epistles and certainly the Books of Daniel and Revelation have all pointed to a kind of cataclysmic day when the world as we know it will pass away and the perfect and completed Kingdom of God will be ushered in.
My guess is if you were to visit - today - Afghanistan, Somalia, Juarez, Mexico or even some of our inner cities in the US - many people living in those places might say - that from all appearances, history as we know it, is coming to a close.
But our lesson is clear, "But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."
So, what then is the purpose of Jesus telling His followers about this "last day?" He goes on; "Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake!"
Jesus' word was not designed to prompt one so much to fear as it was to action. The "Two Minute" warning does not say the game is "over," it announces now is the time to really play!
What Jesus tries to prod us to get here is that the primary duty of the servant is to care for the house in a way that if the Master were to return today - or a thousand years from now - he would be pleased to find the good stewardship of the servants lived out.
What does that call on you and me to do? Well, if this is true. If this world, our lives, are gifts from God, entrusted to us, then simply, it matters deeply to God that we believe in Him and obey Him; that we proclaim Him in word and deed. It matters that we take seriously the call to follow Jesus - because that was at the core of His teaching. It matters how we treat this world of ours, because God calls us to care for His creation. And it matters - matters deeply, how we treat one another - how we live with our families, spouses, children, friends; how we care for our colleagues and work mates; and how we treat strangers, the hungry, the homeless - the lonely.
The "Two Minute Warnings" we find throughout Scripture tell us that these things matter very much to God. This means that we should live in what I will call a 'heavenly way.' C.S. Lewis once said, "Aim at heaven, and you get earth thrown in, aim at earth and in the end, you get nothing." When we aim only "at earth," when all I am is wrapped up in myself, my world, my issues and my needs, I've lost the meaning of Christ's call.
But when we aim at heaven, life here takes on an entirely different meaning. We begin to see ourselves as servants of God - preparing for His return - we live in an awareness, perhaps even a constant awareness, that each minute is an opportunity, a gift, to receive, to give, to live in a way that says I believe in more than what I see on earth - I believe there is something bigger, someone better, more powerful than any darkness we humans can devise. It says, I believe that someone is Jesus and He has come, He is here, and He is coming again!
Here, I believe, I need to be clear. I believe Jesus' teaching on this point has much more to do with how we live than 'when' this will happen. I feel certain that the Second Coming of Christ is not designed as a way of jerking the carpet out from under inconsistent and imperfect Christians. No, in a sense, I believe Jesus holds this before us as a reminder of who we are called to be and how we are to live in relationship with God and one another.
A moment of honesty here. If humankind, if the Christian family for that matter, is to be judged on our stewardship of the Master's house as it is today - we may be in for a heap of trouble. A quick zip through any major newspaper in the US will tell you that. It tells us we are not perfect and there may be much more of a need to tend to God's world and family than ever before.
But let not the headlines drive us to despair. Mother Teresa often reminded her sisters that Christians were not called to be successful, but they were called to be faithful. The call of Jesus - is not to be perfect...it is not even to have success as the world may measure it; it is, instead to be faithful - to live in a 'heavenly way,' in all times - whether they be the 'end times' or not. All Christ asks of us is that we let Him come - let "Advent" happen - in our hearts - and in doing so, we are empowered to live with our God, our world and our fellow humans in a way that will not cause us to be afraid or worried or even surprised at the Master's return - but overjoyed.
There are several wonderful stories about the great, yet incredibly humble, Ignace Yan Paderewski, the Russian composer-pianist who died in 1941. It seems one evening he was scheduled to perform at a great concert hall. In the audience of black tuxedos and long evening gowns was a mother with her fidgety nine-year old son. His mother brought him in hopes her boy would be encouraged to practice the piano if he could just hear the immortal Paderewski. So, against his own wishes, he had come.
As she turned to talk with her friends, the boy slipped from her side, and without much notice from the sophisticated audience, the boy sat down at the stool, staring wide-eyed at the black and white keys, he put his small fingers upon the keyboard. He began to play "Chopsticks." The roar of the crowd was hushed by hundreds of frowning faces turned in his direction. An angered audience began jeering at the boy, booing and hissing for him to be taken from the stage.
Backstage, the master overheard the sounds out front and quickly put together what was happening. Hurriedly, he grabbed his coat and rushed toward the stage. Without one word of announcement, he stooped over the boy, reached around both sides and began to improvise a counter melody to harmonize and enhance the tune. As the two of them played together, Paderewski kept whispering in the boy's ear: "Keep going. Don't quit son. Keep on playing. Don't quit. I'm right here...don't quit!"
That, my friends, is one picture of Jesus. I do not know, maybe to some of you listening, it does appear we are living at the end of time. Perhaps your own personal world may be coming apart and you are at a loss as to how to go on. Jesus bids you to 'live heavenly.'
As the dawn of Advent breaks once again this day, and as we turn our hearts toward the coming of Jesus, may we pause, take a deep breath, and "aim at heaven." Can we perhaps commit ourselves, again, to the hope that in Christ, life makes sense - even in the darkest of times?
By God's grace, may it be, may this Advent open our eyes to the wonderful hope and joy for us in the coming of Jesus. He has come. And his "Two Minute Warning" is merely a reminder to live knowing that He is here...whispering, "Don't quit. I am right here. Don't quit. Keep on playing...I love you...I am right...here."
Let us pray:
Almighty God, give us grace to cast asside the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.