Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
The Episcopal Church »  |  The Diocese of Virginia

First Sunday of Advent, November 27, 2016

I woke with a start to the alarm clock. I knew what time it was – 5:30 a.m. – but I was groggy. What day is this? What do I have to do? Oh yes, it’s Wednesday and I’m going to Lucy’s today for Thanksgiving. I have to get up and get ready. I have to pack, I have to find a neighbor to take in the papers, I have to clean up a few things. And I want to be out by 11:00. That will take up all the time I have. I can’t go back to sleep, not today.

Wake up! The alarm clock says. Wake up! My schedule says! Wake up! My excitement says. Wake up Jesus says. The Son of Man is coming and you have to be ready. Wake up Paul says. The new creation is already begun in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and we are waiting for the fulfillment of that time when Jesus will come to bring the kingdom fully and the creation will be fully transformed. On this first Sunday in Advent, our message is to Wake up! Something good is coming. God’s promise will be fulfilled. Nobody knows when. Certainly not the false prophets, but not even the angels or the Son of Man. Only the Father knows. But we have been promised that Jesus will return and we have to wake up and stay awake. It’s right around the corner.

Well, it wasn’t right around the corner as Paul and Jesus seemed to think. It has been two thousand years and no one has seen any signs of it yet. Oh there have been wars and natural disasters and false prophets and all the things Jesus said would happen, but no sparks have flown from heaven to create a new world order. Yet God has promised. And because God has promised, we need to act. We need to stay awake to the reality that is coming.

When I travel to my sister’s, I have to stay awake, especially this time of year because of sudden slowdowns and crazy drivers. I get bored on the drive and that tends to make me sleepy. Some people do coffee and snacks. I put on the radio or a CD and put the vent on so that I am just a little uncomfortably cold. There is nothing like a nice warm car to put one to sleep.

But this journey we are on is not just a one-day thing. This is a whole life and past thing. How do we stay awake? How can we keep ourselves alert and prepared for what will be, and especially when it has already been such a long time? We can keep ourselves awake in memory, in faith and in hope (ref).

When I travel to Lucy’s I keep myself awake in memory by reviewing the trip in my mind. I remember where the rest areas are and I have the GPS to help me keep in mind the basics of directions and hopefully steer me around any horrendous tie ups.

As we travel toward the Second Coming, which Paul reminds us is closer today than when we first became believers, we remember God incarnate in Jesus. We remember Christ’s birth and his life among us. We remember that he taught us about God’s reign and showed us what it would be like. The reign of God would be filled with love and compassion and mercy. Jesus healed the sick and freed people from demons. He hung out with sinners and tax collectors. He took people to task who were using the rules to hurt people and practicing just the surface elements of their religion. Wake up, Jesus was saying then. Wake up from the despair that you are not loved and will always be an outcast. God loves you and cares for you. Wake up, Jesus says. You who are practicing piety without love are asleep to what is real. You are living in a dream world where you think following all the rules without the underlying love will keep you in God’s favor. Jesus was a walking signpost for the coming reign of God. The people then and shortly after his death and resurrection could remember easily who had been in their midst and what he had promised. It is harder for us unless we do it with intention. We need to read and study the Scriptures and tell the stories of our faith. We need to remember Jesus and God’s overwhelming love for us in sending him.

We need to stay awake in faith. When I went to Lucy’s I had faith that I would get there. I did things I thought would help. I was a careful driver, I was courteous to those who flashed their lights and honked their horns because they wanted to pass even though I was going the speed limit, I kept my cell phone use to a minimum, though I had one emergency call about the engine light coming on to make.

When we journey toward the Second Coming, the way we act in faith is to get up every day and put on the armor of Christ – the armor of light and protection. We need to put away the works of darkness and not do anything that will hurt us or others, or tear the community apart. We are not being asked to do anything spectacular to get ourselves noticed and judged well. We are just to act in our faith in Christ when we do our daily round of tasks. We are supposed to be honorable and do our best at what we do. We are supposed to help people in any way we can. We are supposed to practice our faith. We are supposed to remember that by virtue of our baptism, we are already a part of the new creation and we are to help carry out Christ’s mission on earth until he comes again.

We are to stay awake in hope. I travel in hope, hope that I will get there before too long, hope that there will not be too many tie-ups on I-81, hope that I will see my beloved family. Of course I have a much shorter window of time that we do as we wait for Christ’s appearing. Barring unforeseen circumstances, I will get to Lucy and Jamey’s before dinner. I will get to go to Jamey’s family for Thanksgiving and spend a very nice time away.

But it is harder to stay awake in hope when you have been asked to do that for more than 2000 years. That’s a long time. But we need to look ahead, even if we don’t think the second coming will happen in our lifetime, even if we’re not sure it will happen at all or in the way Jesus says. Hope gives our days an extra meaning, and extra reason to do what we do with care and love. God has promised and we can trust God’s promise that, as Julian of Norwich says, “All will be well and all will be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Staying awake in memory, faith and hope takes intentional effort on our part. We are living in a broken world and there are things that can make us go to sleep. Our feelings are too much to handle so we dull them with alcohol or food. That takes away the bad feelings, but it also takes the good. We can opt for security and fail to take risks that will help us grow in faith and hope. We can do as some Pharisees did and practice our faith by rote, never taking time to reflect on what we are doing.

But the armor of light is our protection against these dangers. It is our gift from God to keep us alert and eager for God’s promises to come true. It is this light that will help us stay awake while we anticipate Jesus’ coming again and will wake us up when we fall asleep. We need to put it on every day and ask God for the grace to be God’s servant – to remember Jesus’ words, to act in faith and to hope for God’s coming in glory. And we can live in the assurance that God’s promises will be fulfilled and be thankful.

Amen

     - Rev. Ann Barker