The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 24th Chapter
“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 Son of Man. 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 Son of Man. 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 Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
This summer, before I went on vacation, I went to see Kristen. Kristen is a friend and a spiritual director, for lack of a better and less trendy, official title. My goal in that visit was to find a way to hand off my worries to God… personal worries, church worries, worries about the country and worries about the world. I wanted to hand them all off to God for the next three weeks. Normally, you see, I do all that worrying FOR God, but for those three weeks of vacation, I thought that if I asked nicely, God might do that worrying for me and let me have a break.
Now, the technical, churchy, religious word for me believing that I need to take on all of the world’s, the church’s and life’s worries is… well, SIN… it’s not trusting God to be God. The secular, worldly word for me trying to take on all of the world’s, the church’s and life’s worries is… REALLY DUMB and I know that’s two words but it’s SO “dumb” it earns a free bonus adjective. So, letting go of that worry wasn’t just a way to return to faithfulness… it was also just, plain smart.
So, with Kristin’s guidance, prayer, some meditation and reflection I asked God to forgive my lack of trust and help me to genuinely let go of those worries… but just for the next three weeks. Now, I’m not one who normally hears God out loud with my ears, but in that moment, I think I pretty clearly heard God laughing at me. Not in a mean way, but in a way that basically said, Erik, I love you, and because I love you, I sure wish you wouldn’t keep trying to make your life harder than it has to be. God was telling me, “I’d be glad to take on the world’s worries for the next three weeks, and just as a reminder, I handle the whole world just fine whether you’re worrying about it or not.”
I knew it was true. I know it IS true now. But like St. Paul, I seem to do the things I know I shouldn’t do, like worry about things I can’t control, and don’t do the stuff I should do, like trust that God can fully handle being God without my help. Continually, though it seems that I fall short of that glory.
It appears, however, that I’m not alone in this problem. A lot earlier on in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus tells us we really shouldn’t worry any more than the wildflowers in the fields worry. Then here in today’s Gospel Jesus tells us that NO ONE, not even Jesus, can know about Jesus’ return. Jesus reminds his disciples and you and me that when it comes to the universe and all of creation, God really is in control… and that God, believe it or not, can AND DOES take care of ALL things and because of that, we really don’t have to worry.
We really don’t need to worry. God really does, like the old Sunday School song says, have the whole world in His hands. So, being paralyzed by worry, certainly isn’t a faithful way to live. BUT, there’s alway a “but” isn’t there… but the other extreme of checking out from the needs of those around us and sticking our fingers in our ears and shouting lalalalalalala while our neighbors are in pain isn’t faithful either. There is, however, a faithful, middle way here between pointless worry and irresponsible escape and that is the goal of Advent. It’s a time to focus and practice living in a way that holds the pains of the world around us in one hand, but balances that by holding the infinite power of God’s promise to make all things new, firmly in the other.
THAT’S what it means to KEEP AWAKE. Being AWAKE, is that middle path between being crushed into inaction by the weight of the world’s troubles and pretending the world is trouble free. Being AWAKE is BOTH being honestly aware of the world around you… aware that there are things like injustice, systematic racism, misogyny, and hate AND ALSO not allowing that reality to crush you to a point where you can no longer allow Christ’s light to shine through you and make a difference in the world.
Advent is a time in the church year set aside to focus on and practice that balance. On this early end of Advent we hear stories that make us AWAKE again to the realities that life is unpredictable, often unfair and much too often, painful as well. On this end of Advent we are made AWAKE to the realities that you can be at work one day with your friend and in the blink of an eye that friend has died and your everyday reality has been instantly changed forever. But then, on the other end of Advent, we hear stories that remind us that God's Light shines in the darkness and there is NO sort of darkness that can overcome it! On the other end of Advent we have the truth of Immanuel… God with us… and the unfolding story of a God whose love for us can’t be stopped by anything or anyone… not even death.
So, for this Advent, let’s help one another practice being AWAKE… constantly aware of BOTH the pains of the world, but ALSO aware and buoyed up by the power of God in Christ, continually at work bringing peace, light and life into the world. Advent reminds us that you and I… we are called deeply into BOTH. Each week we receive the Light of the World in, with and under the bread and wine and each week we are called to bring the light we have received out into the world and let it shine through the cracks of our imperfect lives, into the lives of those who cross our paths. When we allow ourselves to be crushed by the weight of the world’s troubles, we close in on ourselves and the light we carry has trouble shining out BUT ALSO if we try to escape the world’s troubles and literally or figuratively pull the covers over our heads and hide away, it’s equally difficult for the light we’ve received to shine into the world.
So spend this Advent practicing being AWAKE. AWAKE to the needs around you AND AWAKE to God in Christ, present and at work in the world. AWAKE, we can faithfully make a difference in the world around us where we can AND at the same time be at peace that God is truly in control and in God’s time and in God’s ways, God will complete God’s work of making all things new. Amen.