New Life Emerges From The Dark – A Sermon On Mark 13:24-37

Sermon, Advent 1B, Mark 13:24-37, Apocalypse, Darkness,
Photo by Cherry Laithang on Unsplash

The First Sunday of Advent, Year B – Mark 13:24-37

“In those days … the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see.”

Sermon, Advent 1B, Mark 13:24-37, Apocalypse, Darkness,
Photo by Cherry Laithang on Unsplash

This is one of those Sundays I’d prefer to skip. Today’s gospel (Mark 13:24-37) isn’t just about “those days,” it’s about these days too; the darkness of these days, the darkness of your life, and the darkness of my life. And I’m tired of the darkness. I’d prefer not to hear about or face the darkness. Maybe you don’t want to either. 

It’s like this every year on the First Sunday of Advent. It doesn’t matter whether we read from Matthew, Mark, or Luke, every year it’s about darkness; signs in the sun, moon, and stars; not knowing; and keeping awake, paying attention, staying on guard.  

These kind of stories are called apocalyptic and we often read them as end of the world stories. Some will use the imagery in these kind of stories as signs by which to predict the future. But that’s not what these stories are about and to read them in either of those ways is to misread them. 

Apocalypse is a Greek word meaning to “uncover,” “reveal,” “disclose.” In that regard, apocalypse is about possibilities, and hope in the future. Apocalyptic literature like today’s gospel isn’t meant to scare us. It’s a wake-up call that uses dramatic poetic imagery and language to sharpen our awareness of God’s presence in and promise to us and the world. It’s not about focusing on some other world but about paying closer attention to this world. (Norris, Amazing Grace, 318-319)

Today’s gospel, like all apocalyptic literature, takes us to those threshold moments that leave us wondering whether things are falling apart or falling into place. By now most of you know me well enough to know that my answer to that is, “Yes. Yes, they are.”

It’s a threshold that leaves us betwixt and between, neither here nor there. It’s that space between what has been and what will be, the old that is no longer and the new that is not yet, life as it was and life as it might be. It’s the space between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It’s the wilderness between Egypt and the promised land.

We come to that threshold in a thousand different ways. I remember a man who said to me, “I sold my ranch and I now no longer know who I am,” and a friend who spoke about having stopped drinking but not yet being sober. Those were threshold times, Advent times, of life for them. 

I remember the struggles of adolescence and hearing my mom say, “He’s not yet a man but he’s no longer a boy.” My wife and I lived on that threshold when our younger son joined the Marines, and again later after our older son died. I came to that threshold when I let go of certain ideas and beliefs about God that no longer worked or made sense. It left me not sure about what I believed, or if I even believed. Today I stand on the threshold between old images and practices of who and how I was as a priest and new images and practices of my priesthood that I cannot yet clearly see or understand. 

These threshold experiences are times of change and transition, invitations to self-reflection and growth, and openings to something new and unknown. They are scary and often painful times. 

I’m betting every one of you could tell a story about a threshold time in your life. I wonder what that threshold is for you today. What happened? How did you get there? What has left you asking and not knowing whether your life is falling apart or falling into place? Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

For most of us those thresholds are places of darkness, uncertainty, and not knowing. In the darkness “I don’t know” is our refrain. “I don’t know what to do.” “I don’t know how to get through this.” “I don’t know what will happen.” “I don’t know what will become of me.” “I don’t know if I can do this.” This is the day and hour about which no one knows. 

The sun is no longer a light upon our path. The moon is no longer the nightlight in our world. The stars by which we oriented our life have fallen. The usual sources of illumination no longer shine and we can’t see. We’re in the dark and it feels as if all is lost. 

It would be easy to believe that because we can’t see there is nothing to see, because we don’t know the way forward there is no way forward, and because we can’t control our future there is no future. To fall into those beliefs is to fall asleep, the very thing Jesus tells us not to do. 

“Keep alert,” “be on the watch,” “keep awake,” Jesus says. Why would Jesus says this unless the darkness holds hope and a promise that we can never see by the light of day?

What if darkness is not an enemy to be feared? What if darkness is a friend and a teacher giving us night vision? What if darkness is not the end? What if darkness is a new beginning? What if darkness is giving us “a horizon further than [we] can see” (Whyte, “Sweet Darkness,” River Flow, 348) and offering possibilities we never imagined or dreamed of?

I’m asking you and myself to reconsider our relationship with darkness. I’m asking us to let go of our childhood fears of the dark. I am asking us to remember and trust that all new life emerges from the dark: the plant from the dark earth, the newborn from the dark womb, and Jesus from the dark tomb. I’m asking us to consider the darkness as the envelope that holds God’s promissory note to you and me. 

That’s our Advent work: to befriend and enter the darkness – the darkness of growth, maturity, and change; the darkness of healing, hope, and faith. It’s hard work and I know I am asking a lot. But here’s why I’m asking: 

  • “Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was” (Exodus 20:21);
  • “Solomon said, ‘The Lord has said that he would reside in thick darkness’” (1 Kings 8:12; 2 Chronicles 6:1); and  
  • “In the beginning when God created … darkness covered the face of the deep” (Genesis 1:1).

Thick darkness is the place of God’s presence, not God’s absence. The darkness is the beginning and origin of creation, not the end of the world. Why would we ever close our eyes to or turn away from that?

24 comments

    1. I do too. I think the darkness offers a new way of seeing. It’s not comfortable or easy. The darkness can refocus our attention from outside us to within us – and there we discover we already have been given what we need. Grief. loss, and pain can distort that vision – make it more difficult to see – but just because we don’t see it does not mean it’s not there.

      Peace be with you,
      Mike+

      Like

  1. Mike, as you suggest, I think most of us have “been there, done that, and gotten the T-shirt” to show for our times in the darkness. I especially liked the idea of darkness as God’s promissory note of light to come.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for this wonderful and though provoking sermon. You have helped me look at Apocalyptic passages in a new and much more positive way. This is one of the best sermons I’ve heard on Advent.

    I just recently discovered your site and have felt enriched and challenged by your posts and sermons. Thank you for making these available to people outside your church. Your words have been a gift and blessing to me.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Thank you. Your words made me reflect on a threshold where I am. I never thought about interpreting these apocalyptic passages in this way. It brings light to darkness, even though it is maybe dim starlight or moonlight and not the full light of day. I can’t see everything but I can see a bit more than nothing! Thank you and best wishes, Michael

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    1. I’m glad the sermon was helpful. I hope you discover your threshold has a place of thick presence and possibilities. Sometimes a glimpse or a glimmer is enough to take our next step or our next breath.

      God’s peace be with you,
      Mike+

      Like

      1. Thank you, Mike, for this beautiful and thoughtful sermon. What comes to me is the “dark night of the soul” that so many of the mystics talk about on the spiritual path — a time of deep emptiness and challenge, and also rich promise. Again, thank you.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. The dark night of the soul is a good connection here. Thank you Steve. I think St. John of the Cross understood that night as one of change and transition, holding the paradox you named – emptiness and rich promise.

          Advent blessings to you,
          Mike+

          Liked by 1 person

  4. This morning I opened the blinds to see a BIG full moon shining through the trees – a little while
    later went into my den on the other side of the condo, and there through those windows was a beautiful sunrise – a very special in-between time. Thank you, Fr. Mike, for putting all this into an Advent perspective!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Mi Miguelito, Thank you for the sermon. It’s perfect for me. I have been struggling to accept what is going on in the present darkness I am in, and wondering if it will get better. So hard to accept. I k eep praying for it to work,but it seems hopeless. Bob’s trying so hard to take care of me and his dad, but the dad’s in terrible shape. He can’t walk and should be where he has constant help. I am able to care for myself and try not to require much help,but can only do so much. Dale’s by himself in Long Beach and I think doing ok. That is the situation here. I will write more later on. Please pray for us all.

    Much love ❤️ to you and Cyndy, and God’s blessings on you. I am so happy that you are my friend, Tu Abuelita

    Sent from my iPad

    >

    Liked by 1 person

  6. “Thick darkness is the place of God’s presence, not God’s absence.” This sentence at the end of your sermon is such a comfort. I, like many people I have encountered in the past year, am at a threshold, a threshold that feels extended. I can’t quite see the other side and have been laboring to pass over. But it is dark, and the way involves stumbling and groping at times. Thank you for extending your thoughts on this Advent passage and season. I come from a past that views such passages, even the word “apocalyptic,” as totally “end of the world” images of fiery judgment and fear. I am learning that the sacred words of God have meaning for life right now (not just the afterlife) and have messages carried in metaphor but that, nonetheless, call me to repentance, a change of heart and mind, a change of direction. And they call me to hope. Thank you for shining a light on the gift of our darkness.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Debby, what a beautiful and faithful description you give to the nighttime of life. Thank you. Seems life is often a series of thresholds.

      I hope you all are well and having a blessed Advent. May the holy darkness point you to the light to come.

      Mike+

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Once again, I sit here in amazement that you wrote this sermon just for me!! Just what I needed as I journey again through yet another threshold time in my life – and looking back there have been so many! Alas, with the illumination of hindsight I see just how much growth and renewed life came from those dark times – and yet, now again I find myself in one of the darkest threshold moments of my life, and the way forward is still oblivious to this seasoned dark-time traveler! What is with these seasons? Why must so many of them be like the long dark nights of a cold NW Montana winter (when we wonder when the sun finally gave up the fire)???

    But one thing I have learned is that I cannot light and find my way on my own. I cannot rely on my desires to control every inch of my miles-long journey. I must be open to and call upon the Lord. It is so hard to do that sometimes – there is already so much discomfort in the darkness that adding to that with trusting in the unknown path forward seems too much at times!
    Your words, “What if darkness is not an enemy to be feared? What if darkness is a friend and a teacher giving us night vision? What if darkness is not the end? What if darkness is a new beginning?” give me encouragement to keep on trusting and give my fears a good talking to. Maybe instead of fighting the darkness, we need to sit with it in silence, befriend it, and feel its intense intimacy and holiness. I know in my darkest times that is when God draws near. Am I willing to share the space with Him? I pray that I am.

    Thank you for being a light, Father Mike, to this wayward dark-time believer!

    Peace and light to you!
    Erika

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I loved reading your comment. During silent prayer this morning, I actually imagined myself being held in darkness. Surprisingly, I felt comfort.
      Blessings from a fellow believer making her way through the darkness in community and the love of the Christ.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I appreciated reading your comment to Father Mike as well. I too am taking a new look at the apocalypse ( not sure of the plural form of that – but goodness there needs to be one!) and the change that is happening and the revelations that do come – they do! Glad to have you on the journey with me! Knowing that we are not alone – ever – is encouraging – especially in the dark place. Blessings to you, Debby!

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Erika, what you say about befriending the darkness and feelings its intense intimacy is right on point I think. Maybe it’s not that we can no longer know or see, but that we being to know and see in a different way, with the eyes of the heart. I suspect we are all a “wayward dark-time believer.” That’s a good way of describing faith.

      God’s peace and blessings be with you,
      Mike+

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Not sure how many years I have been blessed by your sermons, somewhere over twenty I think, but I’ve always felt that your special talent is in making us feel that ,unlike many priests, you don’t offer easy answers to hard questions or suggest that you are all knowing. Instead you invite us into your life and let us know that you experience the same things that we do and help us contemplate with you.

    Like many people, I’d just as soon skip the Gospel for Advent I. ( I admit that a few minutes into the sermon I retired to the back of my mind and started working on my Christmas gift list.) I retired thirty years ago and for the first twenty five years I was busier than I had been during my working years. There were so many things I was allowed to do! It was a time of continued growth and fulfillment. Then I crossed the threshold into post retirement. A time for which we get no preparation, have no mentors and no communal support. What can I bring to the table now that I can no longer bring what society deems as useful?

    It is often a time of thick darkness and it is good to be reminded that “darkness is the beginning and origin of creation.” So I wait in hope and joyful expectation .Thank you , Fr. Mike for your inspiration and guidance over the years. For helping me to see.

    ellen connelly

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ellen, thank you so much for your kind and encouraging words and especially for sharing your experience of the threshold into “post retirement.” I am grateful for your friendship, presence, and support.

      A wise priest and mentor once told me, “When we speak of God we are always saying more than we really know.” That, I think, is another piece in this dark time experience and I remind myself of it often.

      I hope you are well. Advent blessing to you.

      Mike+

      Liked by 1 person

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