Proper 28: November 14, 2021
The Twenty-Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
Year B: 1 Samuel 1:4-20; Psalm 16; Hebrews 10:11-14, 15-18, 19-25; Mark 13:1-8
We jump back into the gospel of Mark today. This is the final chapter in the liturgical year of Mark – all that’s left is the passion story, which we heard during Lent. This is the final “regular” Sunday in the Church year – next week is Christ the King, and then, get ready for it – Advent begins. Advent is always a two-fold expectation of Christ’s arrival. It’s no coincidence that we are getting ready to look forward to Jesus’ birth, just as Jesus is telling us to get ready for his coming again.
Birth is an important theme throughout Scripture. Sarah, Abraham’s wife, gives birth to Isaac after years of trying to conceive and her descendants are to be “as many as the stars”. Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, was distraught at not having a child, and after time and prayer she gives birth to Jacob and Esau. The Lord appears to Zorah’s wife and tells her she will conceive. She then gives birth to Samson—the great judge of Israel. Then, in the New Testament, Elizabeth, cousin of Mary, was said to be barren but ends up giving birth to John the Baptist who prepares the way for Jesus, the Christ, son of Mary who “had not known a man”. Throughout scripture, God shows God’s self by answering prayers to give new life when it seems impossible and some of the most magnificent songs of praise come from these women who have given birth.
But it is not Christmas yet and our gospel passage stops us at a different point in the process of new life. Our gospel text points toward the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. This passage comes as a turning point in Mark’s Gospel. We’ve just left the teachings and parables from Jesus’ life and begin to look towards Jerusalem, that will be and is in ruins and the death that Jesus now turns towards. And Jesus teaches this is “but the beginning of the birth pangs”.
Ironically, Jesus makes this prediction of destruction around 30 AD and by the time the writers of Mark’s gospel are writing, around 70 AD, they are in the thick of the destruction—some of Jesus’ predictions have already come true. The event happening for Mark’s community is the Jewish Revolt when Roman armies moved in to take Jerusalem. The Jewish people held off the Romans for some time but, after Roman reinforcements came, this revolt led not only to the loss of their sacred city Jerusalem and most of the temple regarded as the most beautiful structure in the world, but, also, the death of tens of thousands of their people. It is regarded as one of the most catastrophic times in Jewish history. In our gospel Jesus tells his disciples this is not the end—although people in the time Mark was written may have wished it were—but he says this is the beginning of birth pangs. If what is happening around them isn’t bad enough he goes on to say that in this…the good news must first be proclaimed to all nations. What good news comes out of this? What good news can Mark write about when everything seems to be being destroyed?
In private, Jesus teaches his disciples that what is to come is a new kingdom— the kingdom of God. A new creation must come from this time—a city of justice, mercy, and love. They are to hope for what seems impossible. And he likens it to birth pangs.
To be honest, I don’t know what “birth pangs” are like, but I’m told it’s nothing that you can ever prepare for. It is a lot of pain but I also understand that most women moved from the pain of the birth to the joy of giving birth, to the child with them.
Birth, of course, portends of new life and new possibilities, a new day, a new dawn.
Today, we give [gave thanks at Saint Andrew’s] for the baptism of Caitlyn Mae Gibson, a beloved child of God. We celebrate her new life in Christ.
In baptism, the Holy Spirit gives us gifts that are intended to be shared – gifts of generosity, hospitality, and love, offered with God’s help. Caitlyn’s mother and sponsors will make promises, and as a church community we will commit ourselves to being a part of Caitlyn’s life as a Christian. And in making these commitments, here’s the deal if we really want to live in Christ.
In our Baptismal Covenant we promise to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves, respecting the dignity of every human being. What could be more difficult, yet more relevant in today’s world?
In our baptism and in Caitlyn’s baptism we are marked as Christ’s own forever. What is so powerful about Baptism is that whatever happens in the future, the rite of Baptism is never a failure. We, as imperfect humans will make mistakes throughout our lives. We will fall short. But we are not the only actors in this play we call life. We baptize in the “name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” When the Spirit is invoked, the Spirit comes.
As for the Birth pangs described by Jesus. It was a common analogy in Judaism at the time. But what God reassures us of is that despite the pain, even through the pain, we look towards the new creation—the new kingdom of God. We are especially made new in Baptism.
So, what do we need to do to live into our baptism? It’s easy to look at events today and think, ‘surely this must be it.’ We can be fooled by catastrophe and war and rising violence. It’s easy to get caught up in the signs that are only the beginning of birth pangs, and forget to look to where those signs are trying to point us: toward the hope that Christ offers. Not fear, hope. Hope urges us to be ready. Hope calls us to action.
So what do we need to do to be ready? How can we prepare for an event that may be tomorrow or a hundred million years from now?
Christ calls us, first of all, to prepare our own hearts by paying attention to the presence of God, and living the presence of every day. This is where we meet Jesus. This is how we help each other stay prepared for his coming.
And Christ calls is to walk with other believes in the kind of close fellowship that provides encouragement and accountability. When we band together with trusted friends in Christ, we meet Jesus and keep each other faithful to stay prepared for his coming.
We are called to share the good news, no matter how bad it gets before it gets better; there is hope in Christ Jesus.
We are a people of hope in a world that desperately needs it. We are the people Christ sends out to announce the good news that these are the beginning of birth pangs and something amazing is about to be born. Amen.
 Genesis 15:5, New Revised Standard Version (“NRSV”)
 Genesis 25:19-26, NRSV
 Judges 13:1-25, NRSV
 Luke 1:5-25, NRSV
 Luke 1:34, King James Version (“KJV”)
 Mark 13:8, NRSV
 Mark 13:10, NRSV
Before the Covid-19 caused us to cancel services inside our churches, the sermons were usually recorded at St. Andrew’s and uploaded by Kemp Miller, for whose ministry we are all grateful. To access the entire library of audio files for past sermons, CLICK HERE.