Advent begins the church year not with the beginning of Jesus’ life, but the end. Advent reminds us of the source of our hope.
Jesus’ apocalyptic vision in Mark 13 grounds us in hope. In the vision, great suffering leads to the unraveling of creation. God intervenes, angels swooping with compassionate love into the chaos, gathering the beloved. The vision is of unthinkable trouble followed by unexpected good. This is the cycle of hope.
The vision’s context in Mark is vital. Mark 12 recalls Jesus’ welcome by the masses (Palm Sunday) into Jerusalem. His betrayal, trial, and crucifixion immediately follow (Mark 14 and 15). When he dies (unthinkable trouble), his followers lose hope. Then the women learn at the tomb that his death is not the end, but the door to a new beginning (ch. 16).
Jesus’ death and resurrection are for Christians the Way of despair answered by hope. The ground of our hope is not wishful thinking but true reality. Jesus’ willing, faithful death in proclaiming the good news reveals his profound trust in God followed by resurrection and the Spirit’s ongoing presence in all who practice giving themselves over to God.
Mark 13 is an apocalyptic prequel to Jesus’ death and resurrection. We often are quick to interpret these visions of the Son of Man in the first three Gospels as a future event, but they stand alongside Jesus’ death and resurrection as a separate telling of the story of hope, of salvation—past, present, future.
The church has lived through hope informed trauma in early persecutions accompanied by growth. It is also retold in the falling asleep of the church as it forgets that the essence of faith is not success, power, and effectiveness—but perilous trouble overshadowed in faith by great good. The vision of Mark 13 is also told in the story of our lives. Apparent despair consumed by God’s mercy.
Each time we journey through this apocalyptic struggle (trusting the dying and rising love of Christ, light in darkness, hope in despair) we engage the life of God. This is not wishful thinking, but dependably true. This is Advent Hope.