Hope in the Midst of Darkness

Adapted from a sermon originally delivered by Rev. Bob Ball, Senior Pastor of Epworth United Methodist Church.

Lamar Williamson, a former missionary to Portugal, and a professor of New Testament Theology at the Presbyterian School of Christian Education, calls the thirteenth chapter of Mark "A happy hunting ground for persons fascinated by the end of the world." He notes that it figures prominently in books by doomsayers and in sermons by (those) more interested in the next world than in this one.

He also admits that this chapter is largely ignored by pragmatists, activists, and believers in progress, and all who dismiss preoccupation with the end of the world as a juvenile state of human development or an aberration of unbalanced minds.

Mark chapter 13 is called "Apocalypse" because it displays characteristics of apocalyptic thought. All apocalyptic literature shares a deterministic and pessimistic view of history, anticipation of the end of the world in some imminent crisis, a dualistic understanding of human existence, and visions of cosmic upheaval.

The chapter begins with a narrative setting in verses 1-2, which consists of Jesus and the prediction of the destruction of the Temple in response to his disciples, and words of admiration for the Temple as they leave it for the last time. Mark is the Gospel for troubled times. Called the "Little Apocalypse," it addresses a time when life has lost it moorings and all about seems to be threatening and in chaos.

For example, the book of Daniel comes at the time (165 B.C.) when Antioichus Epiphanies profaned and desecrated the temple altar and tried to impose pagan religious practices on the Jews. The book of Revelation comes from the era (95 A. D.) when Christians were being persecuted because they refused to worship the emperor. At the time of the writing of this Gospel, Christians were experiencing persecution. Jerusalem and the temple lay in ruins. Civil strife was in full force and the threats by Emperor Caligula were being carried out. Many Christians were estranged from their families over issues of Faith. Times were difficult.

So in Apocalyptic literature, there tends to be a reflection of strong dualism – good against evil. It tends to present dramatic visions full of symbols – numbers, colors, and animals – codes that must be explained or interpreted. It sees time, not as cyclical but rather as a linear movement toward God's final judgment.

Interestingly enough, several of the movie series that have been box office busters are expressions of this same imagery. "Star Wars" is a reflection of that same struggle between the forces of good and the forces of evil. Luke Skywalker, the symbol for all that is good, wholesome, and right finds himself battling the dreaded Darth Vader who is the symbol of all that is dark, evil, and destructive.

As it turns out, Darth Vader is actually Luke Skywalker's father or one might say, the dark side of his own soul.

In the "Harry Potter" series, once again we see portrayed on the screen the battle between the forces of darkness and the forces of light, the good magic battling evil magic. In this case, the symbol for evil is the feared Lord Voldemort and the young Harry Potter as the expression of innocence, wholesomeness, and goodness.

Finally, a movie that I would encourage all of you to see that will be hitting the screen in December is the movie, "Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe." Once again the big screens have captured the story of the battle between good and evil in this story by C. S. Lewis.

In this case, the Lion is none other than a portrayal of Jesus and the Witch as the portrayal of the demonic. It is a children's story for adults. It attempts to put before us the struggle between light and darkness, good and evil, God and Satan.

Isn't that what the scripture is intent on doing? The Little Apocalypse of Mark is putting forth the challenges of darkness and light; good and evil. In all of these stories, the ultimate outcome is the same as the outcome of the Biblical story. Good ultimately wins over Evil; the light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot put it out.

This is the story of Advent. In fact, this is the story of the Apocalypse. You see, embedded within the story of the Apocalypse is not dread, fear, destruction, and disaster but rather hope in the midst of darkness. Listen once again and find the hope and the assurance embedded within this piece of Apocalyptic writing.

"But in those days, after that suffering, 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 'the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

The story of Advent is a story to encourage the faithful to remain faithful in the face of difficult and challenging times. It is easy to be faithful when things are going your way. When all is well, it is easy to sing praises to God. It is easy to celebrate Christmas when one is happy and everything is good.

The call of Marks Gospel is to those who are facing hard times. He is reaching out to those who are facing uncertainty, confusion, chaos, and darkness. Mark is speaking the words of Jesus to remind the faithful that God is with us in the darkest hour as well as in the light of day.

It was eleven months ago that the Tsunami hit the shores of Southern Asia taking the lives of 200,000 people. It has been a difficult year for those who were lift behind to rebuild their lives. It was three months ago that Hurricane Katrina tore into the lives of families and communities along the southern Louisiana coast. Today, the city that was, New Orleans and the surrounding communities continue to lie in ruins.

How will families who have lost their homes, family members, their communities, their schools, their jobs, their neighborhoods, their style of life and all those sacred objects of memory such as pictures to remind them of who they were: how are they going to celebrate Christmas this year? How will they hear the Good News? Where will they find a Word from the Lord?

Will they hear Marks Gospel calling out to them saying, "The Lord is near?" Will they know that God has not abandoned them? Will they be reassured that Good will come out of this horrible time in their lives?

Is Christmas just a memory of a baby born in a manger or will it be a time to rediscover their faith and trust in the God who promises that He "will not leave you but will walk through all the troubles of life with you?"

And, what about you? In these times of uncertainty when things are changing faster than you are able to keep up with, will you remain faithful? Will you hear Mark's Gospel crying out to you to remain faithful and stay the course?

We are beginning our New Christian Year today with the first Sunday of Advent. I see the spirit of God coming in great power and glory when I see a 7 year old give every penny that she has to help those in need. I know that regardless of what happens, God is with us and will be with us until the end. May this Advent be the beginning of your celebration that the King is coming.

Rev. Bob Ball is the Senior Pastor of Epworth United Methodist Church in Toledo.  Epworth is an exciting, growing, and dynamic church with a heart for missions and a passion to grow in its faith in Christ and service to the world. If you are looking for a church where people are friendly and welcoming, we invite you to try Epworth.

Epworth offers three Sunday morning services: at 8:30a.m., our blended worship service brings together a traditional worship style and a contemporary flair and communion every Sunday. Our traditional worship service begins at 9:45 a.m., followed by the contemporary worship service at 11.  We are located at the corner of Valleyview and Central Avenue in Toledo, across from Wildwood Metropark.

Epworth United Methodist Church
3077 Valleyview Drive
Toledo, OH 43615-2237
Telephone : 419-531-4236
FAX : 419-531-7487

Corner of Valleyview and Central Ave, across from Wildwood Metropark