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First Sunday of Advent: Keep Awake

Hear the word of the Lord.


"But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.


For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Human One.


For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark,


and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Human One.


Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.


Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.


Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.


But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.


Therefore you also must be ready, for the Human One is coming at an unexpected hour.


- Matthew 24:36-44

The Word of God for the People of God.


Consider this...


Welcome to Advent! When you read the word Advent what do you truly imagine? What is the feeling beneath the word? It would be easy to assume that Advent, which means “arrival,” is about the beginning of something new, maybe the beginning of the Christmas season, but in truth, Advent is about the second coming of Jesus. Therefore, Advent is not simply a memorial of Jesus’ first coming, but a renewal of expectations, a reorientation toward his coming again. 


In all transparency, I enter this Advent Season half asleep - half asleep to my desires, half asleep to my longings, half asleep to what gives life its vibrancy and abundance. And yet to be half asleep is also to be half awake. I am awakened to moments where passion suddenly rises up and surprises me with a burst of desire, emotion, joy and sadness. I am awake enough to know that I’m not fully awake, and mostly this makes me angry. This half-awakeness is seeing, though through dense fog; It is hearing, but unable to make out the words - I feel God near, and then suddenly I don’t, and I don’t know what to make of these dead ends. My emotion, passion and longing are covered by a layer of ice; my ability to feel, to sense, to create are frozen somewhere beneath, somewhere near yet unreachable.


Today, on the First Sunday of Advent Jesus tells us a horror story. Maybe these verses conjure up fear of a Dwight-Shrute-God who likes to whip open doors and catch people in the act, or maybe just reading the phrase, “the second coming of Christ” is enough to send you back into the warm embrace of your Instagram feed. If those things don’t unsettle you then maybe you’ll take issue with a God who drowns people while they do normal things like eating and drinking.


This is a scary story Jesus rehearses for us, and he does not release the tension. He doesn’t turn the story of Noah on its head, but tells us “...they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Humanity.” 

You see, eating, drinking and marrying are things humans everywhere do, but they can, in this story, stand as a metaphor for our numbness, our half-awakeness. They can stand as an image of our privilege, which allows us to forget the poor, the homeless, the prisoner and see ourselves as wholly other than them. Most certainly they stand as an image of what powerful people do in the face of so much global suffering - eating, drinking and marrying while much of the world is thirsting, starving and cut off from relationship.


Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

When I hear the word “Advent” I feel warm, Christmasy, joyful, grateful, and connected with God and others. I want to drink hot chocolate, make cookies and watch football, but I wonder if the invitation within today’s reading is an invitation to sober up. I wonder if before we can feel the warm anticipation of Advent we must first feel the sudden rising of its frigid waters. I wonder if there is not an invitation to feel our own coldness, our own isolation, our fear, even of our own mortality. I don’t think this is an invitation to work ourselves into an anxious mess, but maybe it is an invitation to name the anxiety we keep trying to push out of our periphery. I think it is at least an invitation to feel our humanity - the humanity that the consumption of the Christmas season works tirelessly to intoxicate.


Advent is an invitation is to feel how cold we have become to our neighbors, to feel how alone we truly are in a sea of people we don’t really know and who certainly don’t know us. I wonder if we need to be at the mercy of God again, at the mercy of our own frail humanity and the humanity of our friends and enemies. 

In the gospel of John, after Jesus heals the man born blind, he says this, "For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind."


What if our Advent started with the wildness of a God who could show up like a thief in the night or a judge in a courtroom? Maybe this causes anxiety to even consider. Great! Maybe it is this kind of anxiety that has been there all along, and has you sleepwalking through life. Maybe you spend a lot of your time trying to feeling better than we actually do. What if instead of trying to convince yourself that you can see, what if you just named the blindness you know to be a more honest estimation life right now. 


Advent, the season we wait expectantly for the arrival of the Human One who will restore our own humanity, frozen under the ice. Advent is the season where we hear these ancient words, “Keep Awake!” and we are invited to shed our blankets, to drop our shields, to open ourselves to God and to one another, even if that scares the shit out of us. And this may expose a lot of Grinchly emotions and un-”Christlike” thoughts, but remember it was the Grinch whose heart grew three sizes that day, it was the blind man, not the “Christian,” whose eyes were opened, and it will always be the least, the childlike, the brutally honest among us and within us who is able to connect, love and be loved.


This is Advent, the sudden arrival of the Fully Human One who continually calls forth our humanity even when we’d rather just enjoy Christmas.


In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit,


Amen.