SCRIPTURE Romans 13:11-14 “Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light”
MESSAGE “Wake Up!” James Renfrew, Teaching Elder
I got a job the summer after my first year in college with two friends working at a cardboard box factory in Baltimore. The first day I reported for work my friends and I were 5 minutes late, and our supervisor with a red pen circled my late arrival time on my time card. I got the message: don’t be late. So for the rest of the summer I made sure to set two alarm clocks to make sure I’d wake up on time. It must have worked; I was never late again for the rest of the summer.
What strategies do you use to get up on time? Are you one of those rare people who just knows when it’s time to get up? Or does your dog or cat start scratching at your door looking for breakfast? I used to have an alarm that woke me up by turning on the radio. Or do you count on someone else who’s an early riser to shake you out of bed? I haven’t adapted to this yet, but someone several houses away now has a rooster. This rooster seems to sound off all day, so I haven’t figured out his schedule. Does a rooster wake you up? What other wake-up technique do you use?
There are lots of Bible stories that we could use to begin the Advent season, like the angel visiting Mary or the angel visiting Joseph, or a story about John the Baptist shouting in the desert about the Messiah coming. All good choices, but this year I’ve chosen a different text from the Lectionary readings for the first Sunday of Advent, Romans 13:11-14: “ you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.” It’s good to turn to a less-known reading this morning, because I think it can enlarge our understanding of what Advent is all about.
Advent is usually described as a time of patient waiting. And kids everywhere can identify with this, because Christmas never seems to arrive quickly enough. I remember that as a young boy my friends and I would get into deep discussions about what we expected to get for Christmas, usually starting that discussion sometime in mid-August. What we expected and hoped for often bore only slight resemblance to what we actually found under the tree on Christmas morning. One year I had my heart set on the Johnny Seven, a monstrous plastic gun that included seven different deadly weapons in one, including a grenade launcher. I didn’t find the Johnny Seven under the tree that year, and while deeply disappointed then I now believe that my parents did the exact right thing to not put such a violent toy in my young hands. Thanks, Mom and Dad, for saving me from a life of mayhem and destruction!
So the young people here today may be hoping and expecting this year’s must-have Christmas presents in the same way that my friends and I did in 1962. Some things never change, I guess. But I hope that parents and grandparents are always reminding the children in their lives that giving is the heart of Advent, not getting, and that these weeks leading up to Christmas are not just waiting, but thinking and planning for ways to be generous to others, because that is the deepest meaning of Christmas.
We began by talking about the techniques you use to wake up – alarm clocks, hungry cats, or roosters, but the real message of Paul’s Letter to the Romans is not how you wake up to start your day, but how you wake up to start the next chapter in your life. So, yes, Paul is talking about waking up spiritually.
If I asked you which techniques work best to wake up in the morning you’d have a bunch of helpful suggestions. So now I’m asking you for your best suggestions about how to wake up spiritually. Is there something you can suggest about something to read, something to think about, something to sing, something to pray, something to do that would help others experience that spiritual awakening?
I didn’t tell you the whole truth about waking up spiritually. It’s not just waking up to prepare for Christmas. The first Sunday of Advent is the beginning of a new Christian Year, beginning with Advent and continuing with Epiphany, Lent, Easter and the long season after Pentecost. So my question is how to begin cultivating and nurturing a deeper level of wakefulness for the entire coming year.
If your Advent approach to Christmas is simply repeating what you did last year, the same traditions, the same songs, the same foods, the same prayers I worry that we haven’t really woken up. I remember one time asking a committee at a former church about how we would mark Advent in our worship and other church activities that year, and the first answer was, “Let’s do what we did last year”. An innocent response, for sure, but it indicates that we are in danger of staying asleep instead of opening our eyes to new possibilities.
There was a scene in the TV show Seinfeld when Jerry and his friends are having lunch at their favorite diner. The server looks at George and says, “you’ll be having your usual tuna on rye?” George is stunned by the question, and answers loudly, “The usual? Where has the usual gotten me? I’m unemployed, no girlfriend and I still live with my parents? The usual? Not anymore. Today I’m ordering turkey on wheat toast.” His friends are stunned, they’ve never seen George like this, a routine guy about to do the unexpected. A woman at the counter whips her head around and says, “I love a man who isn’t afraid to order turkey on wheat toast.” You can tell George’s world is shifting.
Advent is more than waiting, it’s waking up to the possibility that there may be more to Christmas than we’ve ever imagined. It’s not a repeat of last year, something new is about to be born, in us, in the world. Can you see it coming? I hope so. But if we don’t wake up, if we sleep through it we’ll miss it!
Dear God, please don’t let us sleep through these important times. Shepherds are listening, angels gathering, wise men pondering gifts, and Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem – because a new hope is at hand. But we’ve heard all these stories before, and while it’s fun to hear the music and enjoy the presents, we often sleep right through the full import of what is about to happen. We know it’s time to wake up! Of course, it’s more than being awake; it’s being attentive and observant; it’s noticing the places where God is at work bringing hope in desperate times … and then joining in! God is ready! We’re ready! Amen!