Monday, December 4, 2017

Sermon for Advent 1: "Stay Awake"

Mark 13:24-37

            I remember Christmas Eve in our house when I was young. 
            We would have the gift exchange with our extended family, and then come home all excited that Santa Claus would be arriving over night.  
            My sister and I shared a room back then, and we had a hard time going to sleep on Christmas Eve. 
            We’d turn off the lights and whisper to one another, waiting for night to be past.  Our parents had the room just across the hall, so we tried really hard to be quiet. 
            We tried to sleep, too.  We counted to 100 several times, and thought that it must be getting close to morning (100 is a big number right?). 
            One year  it was so hard to sleep that we decided to try to pass the time by playing the new “Twister” game that we had gotten from our grandmother. 
            It was a great idea, we thought, and so we quietly took the game out, and started to play. 
            Things were going pretty well, until our mother was standing in the doorway.
            “Santa Claus has not come yet,” she said.  “And he won’t come unless you GO TO SLEEP.”
            I guess we weren’t as quiet as we thought.
            “Stay awake!”  Jesus says to his disciples as we begin the advent season.
             It makes me remember that time when anticipation made it hard to sleep, because I was waiting…. Waiting…. For Christmas to come. 
            It was so easy then – it was harder to fall asleep – because we were so convinced of the good things to come.

            Today -- It’s the beginning of the Advent season for us – which means we are lighting the candles and preparing for Christmas
             – in so many ways. 
            It’s a time when many of us are busy too – busy getting all the things ready – the Christmas programs and the feasts and the presents and the company… and so these particular words in the gospel of Mark might seem odd to us. 
            There’s a sense of foreboding and a sense of warning that we might not associate with the Christmas season – with the joy of children – with the tinsel and the carols and all of the good things of the season.         But these words are a reminder – they are a reminder to us that we are not just waiting for Christmas. 
            We are waiting for Christ.  Not the Christ of Bethlehem, but the Christ who comes on the clouds.   

            “Stay awake!”  Jesus commands, for the stars are about to fall, and God’s chosen ones will be gathered to him.  He is coming – again. 
            And it could be awhile, it’s true – but it could be any minute now. 

            Jesus’ second coming – that is what we are waiting for as we begin this season. 
            Not just the baby in the manger, although we are surely waiting for that day – but we know the time and date for that.
             We are waiting for the day and time we do not know, when he will come again.   
            And I will confess to having – at times – some ambivalence about that
            – because the second coming of Jesus has been associated in my mind with fear and destruction and suffering – with “the end of the world”
            – and – when I first heard the term – as a teenager – “the end of the world”  -- I didn’t want the world to end. 
            It was a beautiful world  out there were I wanted to be a part of it.           
I loved Jesus, don’t get me wrong – but I just didn’t want the world to end. 

            And what about now? 
            Stay awake, Jesus tells us, because I am coming soon. 
            And I will tell you that some days – I am awake, but I’m not sure that it is in the way that Jesus means.
             I am awake because of the things I see in the world, because of worries and fears, some small, some big.
             I am awake because of rumors of wars, and because of violence, even in churches, and because I love the children so much but I worry about their safety and their future
            – all of them, in all of their beautiful diversity.  
            And so it’s sometimes hard to sleep, but I don’t think that’s what Jesus means by “Stay awake.” 

            And this as well. 
            Sometimes I’m awake because of the weight.  The weight of responsibilitiy. 
            The weight of things to do. 
            The weight of all the suffering.  Sometimes it’s small things that keep me up, like trying to make a perfect Christmas, and sometimes they are big things.
             How to do the right things.  What are the right things to do.  
            What can I do?   What can I do?   To make the world a better place.           These things keep me up at night sometimes, but I don’t think that is what Jesus means by “Stay awake” either. 
            Not exactly.

            The day after that terrible church shooting in November, I stopped over to the school. 
            I stopped into a class of three year olds. 
            I don’t have them in chapel yet, so I don’t know them as well.  it was great to have some time to talk to them, and their teacher, and find out what they are learning. 
            We talked about how they are feeding their brains as well as their tummies, and learning numbers and the alphabets. 
            They had so many colorful things on the walls – all of the things they are learning.
             And – their teacher told me. 
            They are learning about God, too. 
            They are learning to look for God.  They are learning to look for God – everywhere. 

            I remembered thinking that it was hard sometimes – and maybe just because of the day it was
            – the day after – but I didn’t say anything, and the teacher told me how the children see God in the birds and in their families, and in everything around them.   
             The birds say, “Praise God!” – you can hear it if you really listen – and so do the trees. 

            And I think that this – this – is something like what Jesus means by “Stay awake!” 
            Look for God.  Look for God. 
            When it’s easy.  And when it’s hard. 
            When there is joy – and suffering. 
            In the songs of the birds, and the leaves of the fig trees, there are signs of his coming.
             Be on the lookout always – Jesus is telling his disciples, for I am coming to you.  I am coming to you to heal the world, to bring peace, to make the world right.  
            Stay awake!
             Be on the lookout – and not only that – be on the lookout – for the ways we can be there for the people who need the grace, the peace, the healing that he brings. 
            Stay awake for the sake of the children who wait for him with pure hearts.
             Stay awake for the sake of the hungry and the stranger – stay awake and look for him there.

            He’s coming – and we don’t know exactly when – but, like the children on Christmas eve – we know that he is bringing good things, good things for the world. 

            But not only that – stay awake – because he is here now today.
             He is coming in glory that’s for sure, but he is among us now, in small and hidden ways. 
            And if we can see him now – in ordinary people and things – in bread and wine, in hands outstretched, on a cross,
            in small acts of grace and love
             – we will have a better chance of seeing him in his glory when he comes.

            Come Lord Jesus be our guest
            Let these gifts to us be blest
            Wake us up that we may be
            Signs of love and grace from thee.



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