December 1, 2019
(Isaiah 2:1-5; Matthew 27:37-44)
Imagine this -- It's been a long, exhausting day filled with work, obligations, meetings, errands and responsibilities. You were up early and plowed through your "to do" list at work, then you got the kids to their activities and threw some sandwiches together to eat on the run. Eventually, you made it home only to find more chores to do. Finally, the day comes to an end, and what do you want to do? Fall into bed, relax as your eyes get heavy, and gently slip into a deep, refreshing sleep. It's Serta time!
But wait! Sound the alarm! Jesus says in our text today, "Stay awake!" Even as we struggle to keep our eyes open for one more moment, Jesus seems to scoff at sleep as he commands us to keep alert and to be ready. Jesus seems to be telling us to be "insomniac disciples." He says, "Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come."
Apparently, there is no rest for the weary. What is a sleep-deprived Christian supposed to do?
How are we meant to stay awake when we already live in one of the most sleep-hungry nations in the world? Our 24/7 society with its endless supply of news, social media and entertainment on-demand allows us to stay up way past our bedtimes as we enjoy games on our phones or watch endless videos on YouTube/Netflix. The lack of sleep is taking a toll. Employers in the United States complain about workers who doze off in front of their computers or who even fall asleep while operating machinery, which endangers them and everyone around them. Job performance is suffering because workers show up overtired. And now Jesus wants us to "stay awake" even longer?! How are we supposed to do that?
We could turn to Toimi Soini in Hamina, Finland who was in the Guinness Book of World Records. She stayed awake 276 hours. In 1989, The Guinness Book of World Records deleted Toimi's record and the "sleep deprivation" category from its record-keeping because of the concern that lack of sleep can cause real harm.
Two hundred and seventy-six hours is about 11-and-a-half days! Most of us are getting weary after 11-and-a-half hours. Which is a good thing, because scientists tell us that sleep is a vital component of overall good health for humans. Although scientists don't know exactly why sleep is good for us, they know why the lack of it is bad for us. Skipping sleep can lead to loss of memory, high blood pressure, obesity, slurred speech, impaired decision-making ability, and an increased risk of heart attacks. (Hmmm, I should be dead.)
So why is Jesus telling us to stay awake?
Well, okay. We know that Jesus is not literally commanding a lack of pillow time. Instead, Jesus is saying, "Wake up! Look around! Be aware!"
He wants us to not go through life like a sleepwalker, without seeing or noticing what's going on all around us. It's time for us to open not only our eyes, but also our spirits so that we can be aware of how God is moving and guiding us through our lives.
Jesus is warning against being "asleep at the switch," an expression that originated in the railroad industry. It refers to someone who has missed something important, has not noticed some critical detail or who might be placing themselves or others in danger because of a lack of attention. If an engineer dozes off while tending the switches (controls) that guide the train, it could easily cause a crash. It's vital to "stay awake."
Jesus calls us to attention with his urgent message, "Stay awake!" so that we will be ready to respond to the needs around us. We need to stay alert so that we can notice God at work in our midst. Advent is a time to wake up our spirits so that we can be aware of God's presence in our lives.
Maybe Jesus is not so much telling us to never shut our eyes as to avoid closing down our spirits. We can easily move through our day as though in a dream. We can interact with screens from morning to night while completely avoiding any interaction with another human being, not to mention the Holy One. We can be plugged into one device or another and fill our eyes and minds with news and images, never leaving room for a whisper of the Spirit or a nudge from a guiding and loving God. We can be lulled into complacency by watching endless loops of music videos or reruns of our favorite TV shows. We immerse ourselves in an ocean of blogs that invite us to click from one link to another. Minutes and even hours can go by before we realize that this was perhaps not the best use of our time. In an age when it is possible to have your eyes glued to some screen or another almost 24/7, it may be time to wake up to other possibilities.
Jesus commands us to be watchful and to expect the unexpected. Jesus talks about a God who will surprise us by coming when we're not looking or arriving in a guise that we do not expect. This powerful Advent passage reminds us to be aware that the God who came into the world as a baby so many years ago still wishes to enter our lives today. Too often we find ourselves with the innkeepers who turn away the Christ with the words, "no room." Our minds are full, our calendars are packed, our expectations are low, so we're not actively looking and seeking for the living Christ in our midst. We're too busy and our minds are too occupied; without even noticing we push Jesus away.
Advent comes with the invitation to open our hearts and minds to the arrival of the Christ. If Jesus knocks on the door of our lives, we want to be awake enough to invite him inside. Churches often get lulled into the complacency of "we have always done it that way." Are we going through life the same way? Are we actively looking for the Christ in the person that we greet at the store or on the street or even in our home? Will we be alert enough to recognize the surprising Christ who arrived not in a palace but in a tucked-away manger? How will the Christ come to us, and will we recognize him when he does? What can we do during Advent to be more intentional about welcoming the Christ into our lives?
Just as employers implore their workers to make changes in their lives so that they can be more alert during office hours, Jesus calls us to be aware of the changes we need to make in our lives.
What miracles are we missing simply because we are too distracted to notice? What blessings are we passing by because our minds are consumed with endless details? Are we blindly stumbling through our lives unaware of God's presence all around us?
Jesus is nudging our souls awake and asking us to open our eyes to what is true -- God is breaking into the world. Advent reminds us of the Emmanuel, the Good News that God is with us. Advent can be a time of increased awareness.
We aren't college students -- Jesus isn't telling us to break out the coffee, energy drinks and NoDoz so that we can pull an all-nighter. He is instead calling us and inviting us to be aware both of the needs all around us and of the presence of the living God to help us offer support to those in need. It is a call to action today – to wake up -- now instead of tomorrow. Let's not sleep our lives away but instead roll up our sleeves and answer the call to share the hope of God-with-us.
The extraordinary good news of Advent is that God chooses to be with us. God enters into our world desiring a relationship with us. The bad news is that we are often unaware of this miracle. The season of Advent can be a time when we take Jesus' call to "wake up" to heart. We can turn off our computer and tear ourselves away from email so that we can look for God in the people and the places all around us.
Here is a plan for Advent: Be ready, be awake and look for the God who promises to come to us.
Let us pray.
We are reminded by Jesus in today’s gospel that we should always be awake, for we never know when our loving Father will call us to Him. We pray, Lord, that in our busy lives we always remain alert and be prepared to listen to Your voice and carry out Your holy will. We pray to the Lord.
Today is the first Sunday of Advent, reminding us that preparation should begin for Christmas. We pray that our preparation be a spiritual one and that our real joy be in celebrating the coming of Christ, our Savior. We pray to the Lord.
As we enter into the season of Advent, we look forward in Hope to the birth of our Savior, that he, through his coming, will offer us the means of salvation and life everlasting. We pray to the Lord.
Lord Jesus, during Advent, in hope and confidence we pray that you grant us the wisdom, the time, energy and foresight to review how we each live our life – with our family, our friends, our community, our work and most importantly, with our God. We pray to the Lord.
As we enter a new season for our Church, we pray for those who have been disillusioned through scandal, disappointment or indifference, that their relationship with our loving Savior be renewed afresh. We pray to the Lord.
During this Week of Witness, we pray for Christians throughout the world who continue to be attacked, displaced and murdered for their faith. We pray that they be comforted in their daily lives with Christ’s gift of courage, the grace of witness and the promise of salvation. We pray to the Lord.
For the poor and hungry, who often are neglected during the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, that they may be cared for and provided for throughout the year. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list, that they may find consolation through Christ’s healing presence. We pray to the Lord.
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Merciful God, we long for and need the presence of Christ in our lives. We long for a holy visitation but confess that we are too distracted to notice when it arrives. We long for peace but confess that we will not be still long enough to greet it. We long for the joy of new babies and angelic choirs but confess that we are too frantic to stop and look and listen. Forgive us, Lord. Forgive our misplaced priorities that crowd you out of our Advent worship and our lives. Renew in us a desire for you above all else. You call us to prepare, gracious Savior -- to prepare to entertain angels, to be alert to wait and watch, to be awake for the coming of glory, to receive your presence in our lives. Send your Spirit upon us, we pray, that we might be made ready to open our hearts and lives with gladness. Fill us with the joy of anticipation and make our waiting a sweet time of communion with you. We ask all these things, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA