First Reading: Isaiah 2:1-5
Second Reading: Romans 13:11-14
Gospel Reading: Matthew 24:36-44 & 25:1-13
Sermon: “Wake Up!”
Advent is a time of intentional waiting and preparation. Literally, Advent means “He is Coming”. Who is coming? Jesus Christ is coming. Placed as it is before Christmas, the Advent season reminds us to prepare once again to remember the Incarnation – the time when God took on human flesh, to save us. Yet that event happened long ago – 2000 years ago in fact. For what then do we wait now? Are we just waiting until the moment comes to open Christmas presents? No, there is so much more to the season than that. For Christians, the season of Advent anticipates the coming of Christ from three different perspectives: “Since early times, Christians have spoken of the three comings of Christ: First – in the flesh in Bethlehem, next in our hearts daily, and finally, in glory at the end of time.” This season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah, and to be alert for his Second Coming, while we meditate and rely on his presence in our daily lives, right now.
We begin this season on the first Sunday in Advent with that final coming in mind. Our scriptures point to a time when the Messiah will return to judge the earth and set it right – just as it was intended to be at creation. Matthew cautions us against wasting our efforts trying to figure out exactly when it will happen. Yet he assures us that it will. The Son of Man, as he calls Jesus, will come – but quite unexpectedly. Just like a thief in the night or the flood in Noah’s day.
In our text from Romans today, Paul’s urgent words to the church borrows a metaphor from everyday life – they resemble words that every exasperated parent has shouted at their oversleeping kid many many times – ‘Don’t you know what time it is? Wake up! Get out of your pajama’s and get ready for the day. You can’t go to school looking like that! If you can’t get out of bed in the morning you shouldn’t have stayed up goofing off last night!’ I have both said such things and heard such words many times when I was growing up. I was so bad that my folks bought me a poster for my room. It pictured Snoopy on his dog house looking really, really rough while the sun was peaking up behind him. The caption of the poster quotes him as saying – “I think I’m allergic to morning!”
Listen again to what Paul has to say and hear the urgency and note your reaction to the words – are you a little hurt? Do you understand what he means when he says we must wake up and get busy? Listen: (Romans 13:11-14 NLT)  This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.  The night is almost gone;
the day of salvation will soon be here. So remove your dark deeds like dirty clothes, and put on the shining armor of right living.  Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy.  Instead, clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.
Perhaps you noticed that Paul isn’t talking about physical sleep after all. But its a useful metaphor. When we are physically asleep, our Minds drift and dream, our bodies are disengaged from our thoughts, except for some twitches and maybe a mumbled word or two; we don’t notice what’s going on around us unless its really loud or sudden – of course not – we’re asleep. We might describe being spiritually asleep in much the same way. Thoughts go through our minds without causing any decisions or actions. They might be quite vivid at the time, but result in only a foggy short-lived memory.
When we are spiritually asleep it can be as if we are sleep walking – going through the motions, but not being in reasoning, conscious control. Physical Sleep walking can be very dangerous – so can the spiritual kind. Paul says we have to wake up and be alert. We have to put on our spiritual armor – which is living according to the will of God. Being awake, we can hear the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The still, quiet voice of God reminding us of what scripture has taught us and urging us to apply those instructions to the situations that are before us. We dare not stumble around else we become a danger to ourselves and to others.
Alternately, we might think of being spiritually asleep as the sort of autopilot that some of the new cars have. They have enough sensors and controls to stay in a well marked lane and not run into a slower car ahead. It does just fine in orderly traffic, keeping up and doing what all the other cars around it are doing, but it has no idea where its ultimate destination is or how to deal with emergencies on the way – it can only continue doing what it was doing when it was set. Just a couple of month’s ago, there was a Fox news article about that very thing:
The driver of a Tesla on autopilot appeared to be asleep behind the wheel while whizzing along a Massachusetts highway, new video shows. A fellow motorist captured the driver with his head slumped forward — and his passenger equally zonked out — along I-90 on Sunday. “Some guy literally asleep at the wheel on the Mass Pike (great place for it),” tweeted fellow motorist Dakota Randall with the clip. Randall guessed he and the Tesla were both going about 60 mph through Newton at the time. He said he tried to wake up the daredevil drivers by honking — but “it didn’t work at all,” he told NBC10 Boston.
“I kind of looked over and saw what I thought was somebody asleep at the wheel and I was like that can’t be right, so I did a double-take, looked over and sure enough this guy was just, head between his legs completely asleep,” Randall told the network.
While the autopilot system features advanced safety features, Tesla takes pains to stress that it is “not a self-driving system.” “Autopilot is intended for use with a fully attentive driver, who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any time,” the company states on its website. Randall said he’ll always watch out for Teslas on the road.
Let’s be honest with ourselves: We do indeed live so much of our lives on that sort of autopilot. We just “go with the flow” and let life happen to us. When we just go with the crowd, we miss so much – opportunities to love and care – opportunities to serve and teach. We miss clues to the needs and spiritual hunger all around us. We miss what it means to be the Children of God.
Paul says sleep walking is no way to live our new life in Jesus Christ. The Kingdom of God is near, closer today than ever before – so near that we can sense it and anticipate its coming in the glorious fulness that Isaiah wrote about – A time when the wisdom of God will guide all nations, a time when all will be focused on their God and urge each other to come and learn and worship – wars and strife will be forgotten. We are not on some endless treadmill or circular route without end. We know our destination and it is glorious! Autopilot will not do, we need to be fully engaged, eager and active. Else we miss our exit and it may be a long time before we can make right.
Naturally, if we are on such a trip the next question is “When are we going to get there? How much longer?!?” That is where our readings from Matthew come in. Jesus’ disciples were no different than us. But Jesus says that such things are not for us to know – even he, in his human incarnation, did not know. But then, he told them of instances where sadly people found themselves in situations where it was exactly too late. Times like after the door of the Ark had closed and the Rain had started. Times like after the thief has already come and gone. Times like after the Wedding had already happened and dinner had been served. These things are tragic and not what God wants at all. God has graciously caused both the written word – the scriptures and the living Word – his Son to come into this word and to be available and accessible to any who will but accept them.
My brother-in-law is famous for his expression – “Life is uncertain, Eat dessert first” my sister even needlepointed him a pillow with those words on it. None of us knows what tomorrow may bring, we are not supposed to know. What we do know is who is walking beside us each day if we will only pay attention and follow along closely. So many things glamour for our attention, it is so easy to just set ourselves on autopilot and snooze away. Advent will have none of that. It pokes us and challenges us to wake up and prepare the way of the Lord.