First Presbyterian Church of Urbana, a Member Church of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. and More Light Presbyterians

First Sunday of Advent December 3, 2017

Adult Bible Study – 8:15 a.m.
Worship – 9:30 a.m.
Childcare is available for infants through preschool age, downstairs in Rooms 4 and 5.
Sunday School for All Ages – following worship
Communion at Clark-Lindsey Village – 1:30 p.m.

From the Pastor/Head of Staff

I wonder how many of us look at this iconic Norman Rockwell painting and think perfection? Not in style, or quality, necessarily (many, in fact, see Rockwell as sentimental, unserious; I am not one of those), but perfection in subject matter. Here is the perfect family gathering, apparently at Thanksgiving. No one seems to be arguing. No one appears angry that their favorite dish is missing, nor that, Lord help us, there is meat. Seen in this way, the painting can leave us to feel our families do not measure up.

It will help us to remember that Rockwell’s intention was not to portray the ideal family gathering. This painting was one of four that were commissioned by the Roosevelt administration to portray the Four Freedoms. This painting was entitled, “Freedom From Want.” One problem is that this image appears far too often without that title, leading to misinterpretation. Another problem rests in our tendency to idealize things, and then seek them. The ideal relationship. The ideal family, complete with the ideal home in the ideal neighborhood near the ideal school. The ideal job. The ideal church. As David Lose notes, seeking ideals can be admirable, but very often aspirations turn into envy, and the pursuit of the ideal, no matter the cost, can leave painful wreckage.

On Sunday, the Gospel passage we will hear comes from Mark 13, often called “The Little Apocalypse.” Reading this passage as some sort of prediction about the distant future and how all things will end is not unlike interpreting Rockwell’s painting out of context. Putting the passage we will hear in context we will notice that there is no mention of the end of the world. Nothing about final judgement. No call to flee from the present with all of its responsibilities. What is more, when we take into account what comes after this passage, the Passion of Jesus, we might notice that the markers of time there are exactly the same as in chapter 13: evening, midnight, cockcrow, dawn. And both speak of the sun being darkened and the powers being shaken.

Mark was not pointing to a distant future apocalypse (which means “revealing”), but a present one, for him. The crucifixion and death of Jesus. That is what Jesus was trying to prepare his followers for. That is why he told them to beware and keep alert. Who he is and what he has been about will be revealed in his crucifixion and death. That apocalypse, that revelation, changed everything.

So rather than looking toward some distant revelation of God, maybe we are called to look closer to home, closer to now. Jesus said that he is near. Join us on Sunday as we contemplate this passage, and remember that God always comes to us as we are, where we are, in the present, to find us “imperfect yet beloved, fragile yet important, flawed yet beautiful.

Blessings, David