Keep Calm and Carry On.
Do you recognize this phrase? It is an iconic British phrase that comes from a famous poster. With its block lettering and image of the Tudor crown, the poster has become a global phenomenon and can be found on anything ranging from a cup to a handbag.
The roots of this phrase are not a modern marketing campaign. Its history dates back to World War II and the British Government’s desire to maintain unity and increase morale in the threat of danger.
With Great Britain in the war and facing the prospects of a German invasion, the British Government’s Ministry of Information in 1939 designed three propaganda posters. The purpose was to create something with a positive message that would calm the nerves of the British citizenry. Only two of the posters were released. Those posters said “Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution, will Bring Us Victory,” and “Freedom is in Peril.”
The iconic “Keep Calm and Carry On” was never used. It was only intended to be published if Germany invaded Britain. Since that never happened, the posters were destroyed at the end of the war.
A copy of the poster was found by a bookseller almost 60 years later. The bookseller was looking through books he had purchased at an auction when he came across one of the few remaining original posters. He hung it in his store and it became a hit with his customers. Following the Global Economic Recession in 2009, the phrase’s message became the focal point of attempts to give people some hope. That further increased its popularity to the point where it was prominently promoted during the Olympics.
We can certainly understand why it is popular. It is a message we can support. With fears of falling off the fiscal cliff, the threat of a war in the Middle East, and the destruction of natural disasters, we need the phrase’s message now more than ever. Why? Because it is a message built on hope.
To have hope means to trust in something beyond our own self. It is one of the central characteristics of our faith in Christ, but it is something that can be missed in our present time. We hear the debate about our country’s fiscal condition and become concerned. We read about the hostilities in Israel and Gaza and become fearful. We experience natural disasters and feel discouraged. There are a lot of reasons why hope might be missing in our world today.
Some of us may be inclined to think that these events point to something greater, which is Christ’s return. We hear about these things and wonder if they indicate that the end may be here.
The church’s history is filled with attempts at guessing when Christ will return. It is something of a cottage industry. We have painstakingly attempted to estimate the exact chronological date for Christ’s return. These are all based on their reading of world events. Our modern culture is especially concerned with end time speculation. I think this is because of the start of the new millennium and the Mayan Calendar’s end date of Dec. 21.
Let me be clear: We are living in the end times. Ever since Christ’s ascension, where he took he place of honor at the Father’s right hand, we have been living with anticipation of Christ’s return. But, are we living in the days immediately prior to Christ’s return? Maybe. Maybe not.
Regardless, I believe our passage this morning from Mark 13:1-8 gives us a message of hope in the midst of our current fears. That is: keep calm and carry on.
In our passage this morning, Jesus has left the Temple, where he has given his final public discourse on what it means to truly follow God. He is walking with his disciples when they reach Mount Olive. It is here that they ask him about the end. What they are wanting to know is when they will know that the Day of Judgment, when God’s final order will be revealed, will take place. What signs can they be on the lookout for?
The passage is an apocalyptic and one of the few times in the New Testament that Jesus discusses the end. Matthew and Luke also detail this interaction. When pressed by Peter, James, John, and Andrew to give some details about the end, Jesus responds with a non-chronological announcement of different events. The events that Jesus describes could happen at any time and have occurred throughout human history. What he is trying to convey is a simple message of hope: Watch out! Be on our guard. Don’t panic. Indeed, keep calm and carry on.
Jesus’ call for us to “watch out” is prevalent throughout our passage and Chapter 13. In Jesus’ coming physical absence, he is calling his followers to stay alert. Followers of Christ are called to be on guard for things that could prevent us from growing in our faith. That is because the world is a dangerous place that could hinder our spiritual development in Christ.
Jesus specifically names some of these dangers. He says there will be people who will try to deceive us. What does he mean by this? There will be people who claim to be the Lord. They will attempt to claim they are the true Messiah. History is filled with examples of people who tried to claim that they were Christ. The stories of men and women who have been convinced that these false prophets were the Son of God are heartbreaking. Jesus’ words here for us are to keep our eyes and open and to be attentive to the Shepherd’s voice. As Jesus says, the Lord’s sheep will truly know the voice of their Master.
I wonder if this danger doesn’t feel real to us. We might take confidence in saying we’ve never been led astray by cults and false prophets. Yet, I wonder if we have lowered our watchfulness and bought into the many “false prophets” of our day. There are many false prophets who promise salvation, hope, and peace in the attempt to deceive us from what is true. How often have we been deceived by the promises of an economy that says a little more money will give you peace? How often have we been deceived by the promises of marketers and the media that claim if you are beautiful your life will be easy? How often we have been led astray by those who blindly follow their favorite team believing a win or championship will make everything better? In the midst of the false prophets that fill our world, Jesus calls us to keep our eyes open and to maintain our diligence and desire to grow in our faith.
Jesus also calls us to not panic – to keep calm – in the face of wars and natural disasters. He says for us not to be alarmed when we hear of these things. So often, however, we allow our anticipation to build in us when these events take place. We are quick to say it is proof that Jesus is coming soon. Note what Jesus says later in the chapter when he says that He doesn’t even know the day that he will return. If Jesus does not know the day he will return, how might we ever claim to say as much? Jesus tells us here that the end of time will be associated with Christ’s return and not with specific moments in human history.
Indeed, followers of Christ are to maintain our diligence and anticipate Christ’s return. We are to live in hopeful anticipation that Christ will return soon. Watchfulness, then, means to live each day with the hope that the Lord will return soon. It means to be the the church that lives in anticipation.
In this, we are like the homeowner that Jesus references at the end of the chapter. The homeowner was going on a long trip and gives his workers assignments to do until he returns. The workers never knew the day the homeowner would return, so they were to keep watch and keep doing what they were called to do.
That is our calling as followers of Christ. We are to keep watch by anticipating the day Jesus returns and, in the process, carrying on with the church’s mission of being a living witness of Jesus Christ in our communities and world. The church that goes into its community, spreads the message of Christ, and seeks to bring others to the cross is the church that is carrying on its purposes as it awaits Christ’s return.
It is this reason that Jesus gives us a message of watchfulness and not panicking in the face of danger. That’s our first inclination. When we are faced with trials or hear of crises in the world, our basic instinct is to hide. We go into an immediate protectionism that says if we ignore the issues and dangers in the world then we’ll be safe and kept from being distracted in our walk with Christ. This isn’t the message of Christ. What we sense here is a need for the church to being actively engaged in the world in the midst of these dangers.
Truly, we have a story to tell to our communities and world. It is the message of the hope of Jesus Christ, his love, and his eventual return. It is a hope that carries us out into our communities with a sense of urgency to make sure that people hear about Christ’s love for them. The church must carry on its mission of being the agent of reconciliation and hope to a world that has lost hope and struggles to make sense of these dangers that we all experience.
What Jesus reminds us is that in the midst of the world’s dangers, we have a hope to cling to. Because of this hope, the church must be the church at all times. The church does not get the option to pick and choose when it will carry the message of Christ’s love into the communities it seeks to serve. We must do so with every breath, every moment, and every fiber of our being.
It matters how the church decides to live in these times, because we are the messengers of Christ’s hope in times of darkness and confusion. How we live in this world and in these times will indicate how much we trust in the promises of God and the fact that Christ will soon return.
How might we live in these times?
Keep Calm and Carry On.