As Christians, Advent, is not simply the countdown to Christmas, rather it is a very serious season for us, because it enables us to reflect upon the idea of time, and that our lives are lived between two the Advents: Christ’s first Advent, born in the meekness of a manger and death upon the cross, and his second Advent, when he will come again for us in glory to judge both the living and the dead.
Our Gospel reading today from Mark 13 is the climax of Jesus speaking in great detail and vividness about the end of time and his return. And Jesus speaks of the end as something urgent when time ends, it will happen abruptly. This is really hard for us to typically wrap our minds around, because we are use to the end sort of being similar to a dying battery in an old walk-man.
You remember you’d be listening to a tape and all of sudden you’d notice the song sounded weird, followed by this dragged out deep sound of your tape reels spinning very slow. (I have completely dated myself with this illustration). But typically we are use to end of things being a process not happening abruptly: the sun darkened, the moon not giving light, the stars falling form heaven, etc. According to Jesus the end is the end.
So the in the tone of our reading there is a real sense of urgency, which comes from Jesus statement, “Therefore, keep awake– for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” In this passage awake is not about getting up, rather it has more to do with the alertness that a watchman or a guard must possesses as they look after or safeguard a real treasure. This is my first point: Jesus warns us all in our reading today, that the end is coming and you’d better be awake.
The urgency to keep awake usually gets lost in the midst of what we call life
But here is the problem, the urgency to keep awake usually gets lost in the midst of what we call life. In the very next chapter Jesus’ finds Peter, James and John asleep, instead of praying with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane during his most urgent hours. To be awake is unnatural to us, we actually would prefer to be asleep, especially in light of the fact that here we are, not just in the next chapter but, 2,000 years later.
And we fail to stay awake because we so quickly forget about God and his control over time. For example people can be so short sited. They look out over 2000 plus years of civilization-lets be honest really only 50, and see the advances in government, science, technology, etc. and it has been incredible, I love my I-phone and Facebook, but what happens is these advances deceive us into thinking this is all there is, it will never pass away, we are in control, and we are our own Gods, and this lulls us to sleep.
Or they look out over those 50 years, especially in light of last week in Ferguson, and say well have we ever been awake, we seem to be asleep to issues of race in this country or asleep to deeper issues of injustice, whether it be education, economic equality, etc. Or something more personal whether it is a marriage that isn’t working or the fact that you’re still not married, a job that is a nightmare or you still have no job, whatever it is you look out and you wonder, what on earth is God doing, maybe he is never coming back, maybe he is not in control, and this lulls us to sleep. This is my second point: the fact is life, especially because we have been in the last days for 2000 years, is not short, but long very, very, long, and this longevity of life leads us to exchange Jesus’ urgent message of being awake, for sleep.
And the cost of being asleep is enormous. Sleep manifests itself in our lives in the form of settled paralysis, indifference, aimlessness, the list goes on, and the cost of being asleep is enormous because it destroys passion, while all around you any sense of fulfillment seems to disappear, which eventually leads to a sense of no hope. To be asleep is to be lost, to be asleep is to be dead.
Advent reminds us that there is a God, who despite the fact that life is long, has met us and fulfilled his promises
And this is why we don’t rush off to Christmas, but we have Advent. Advent reminds us that there is a God, who despite the fact that life is long, has met us and fulfilled his promises of salvation to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and that as St. Paul writes given us the Holy Spirit as a deposit that he is faithful to his promises, so that we might have hope to look forward to and without shame or fear rejoice to behold his second coming.
Advent reminds us that there is a God who despite the fact that we are all asleep at the wheel in some part of our life, still has it all under control. God is completely aware of the fact that the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken, especially as it occurs right now Ferguson and across this country, especially as it occurs right now in Iraq and Northern Syria, especially as it occurs right now in West Africa, especially as it occurs right now wherever, but especially existentially in our lives. Advent reminds us that while we may not understand everything-and we want to hang on to whatever it is, or just let it all go, God is still in control.
So then what is the solution to our being asleep? Well the world would tell you we got to face our problems and fix it. The Onion had a powerful headline this week, in light of Ferguson, which read, “Nation doesn’t know if it can take another BS speech about healing.” It is so true, on our own we can’t just come together, we can’t just fix it, because on our own we are asleep.
So then what is the solution to our being asleep? The season of Advent tells us it is in the hope of salvation from the God who raises people from the dead. As St. Paul writes in Eph 5:14, Sleeper awake and arise from the dead and Christ shall give you light. You see to be asleep is to be dead and while the world would love to tell you face your problem and fix it dead people, which is what we are apart from Christ, can’t fix anything.
This is my third point: Advent contains the only message, the Gospel, which has the power to wake us up and raise us from dead. And it awakens us and allows us to face the day, the day at hand and be assured with the Gospel that despite what has happened in your life, God in his first Advent shed his blood on the cross for you, to forgive you all of your sins. And by his work has redeemed and reconciled every facet of your life, and will come back for you, no matter how long you’ve been asleep, and declare you completely blameless when he returns to judge the living and dead.
Fr. Jacob Smith is the Priest-in-Charge of the Parish of Calvary-St. George’s in New York City and in a regular contributor to Emmaus via Canterbury.