Awake

ISAIAH 64:1-9

PSALM 80:1-7, 17-19

MARK 13:24-37

I have this habit of listening to sports radio before I go to bed. Most times it’s mindless banter about the day’s sporting events, which is exactly what I’m looking for to empty my mind before falling asleep; a wonderful ‘de-stresser’ if you will. However, every now and again, there is something important on…like the ‘big game.’

The big game may be anything, like a football game that has several of my fantasy football players performing in it (NERD alert),  or in some cases some important playoff games, where the loser of the game is done for the season, and the winner goes on to celebrate.

One night in particular, I remember that the World Series was on the radio (just an aside: this is why I hate these late night weekday starts; who is able to stay up for these except for the West Coast?). ANYWAYS, it was the 9th inning, with the score tied. I remember the coach calling to the bullpen to bring in the closing pitcher…and that was all I remember.

The next day I woke up well rested to my alarm clock, which happens to be the same radio station. The sports talk radio hosts were going on and on about the fantastic finish of last night’s game…and I missed it. I would later see highlights of the rest of the game on the internet, but it’s never the same! I missed being part of the experience of a fantastic World Series game.

Now looking back on this experience, maybe it wasn’t a big deal in the long run, but I was frustrated with myself for missing that moment. But I didn’t help myself that night also; right? It was late at night, I was tired, and I was lying in bed. The whole idea of such a practice as lying in bed is TO FALL ASLEEP anyways! What was I supposed to do? Well, if I were that concerned with the outcome of the game, perhaps I could have taken some steps to stay awake. Maybe I could have gotten back out of bed. Maybe I could have turned on a light. Maybe I could have run around my home in the middle of the cool Autumn evening to get my heart beating again—who knows.  But the lesson was pretty simple that morning: if you want to stay up to experience something, then your actions should account for such a desire.

We have all been there before. We have all fallen asleep either literally or metaphorically at times. Some of us have fallen asleep over little things in life. Some of us may be asleep to the bigger issues of life. Still others may be thinking about falling asleep even now during this sermon!

In my own spiritual life I have fallen asleep at points; sometimes intentionally, and others unintentionally. There have been points where I have gone through the motions of church life. I would be present every Sunday at church. I would dress nicely and smile as I shook hands with other church members…but I was asleep. Have you been there before?

I would attend committee meetings and sit in a room for hours with other Christians, and afterwards I would leave even more demoralized with the affairs of the Church than I had just been a few hours previous. My spirit was falling asleep. Have you been there?

There have been times when I would talk with others in Bible study about God’s justice for the poor and oppressed, and then say nothing when someone wanted to talk about what is happening in Ferguson, Missouri, or Syria and Iraq, or even in Lynchburg, Virginia. I was sleeping.

There have been moments when I longed so much for God to awaken my heart that I have been moved to tears. I think we have all had similar experiences at one time or another. We long to live a life of purpose, passion, and love. We long for God to move our very lives.

Today marks the first Sunday in the Advent season: the time that we as Christians prepare for the coming of the Christ child on Christmas Day. We know what to expect, and we know even when to expect it. But how do we prepare our spiritual lives for this arrival?

In the same way we read about the story of Jesus according to Mark, and we understand Jesus as a man who expects big things to happen, but we don’t quite know when. What he wants from us is to be spiritually ready; to be awake for God to move in this world, and for us to serve as agents of God’s movement. But how do we awaken our sleeping hearts and minds? How do we welcome God into our lives?

The Gospel of Mark is different than the other Gospels. It is the oldest and shortest Gospel; it is a fast moving narrative. Here we are in chapter 13, and Jesus is already in trouble with the religious leaders, and will ultimately be handed over to the authorities to be executed. Chapter 13 is a series of warnings and images about a variety of topics, but mostly about the end of time, and the realization of God’s Kingdom.

Our scripture reading this morning captures Jesus reciting the words of the prophet Joel, who also described the end of time in a series of dark and challenging images. The Gospel goes on to combine a series of teachings attributed to Jesus about the establishment of God’s kingdom.

Verse 26 describes the Christ as a victorious heavenly being:

26Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. 27Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

 Then Jesus goes on to use an everyday image to teach about the coming of God’s Kingdom:

28“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. 

 Verse 30-32 have led to many good conversations about the timing of such things. First we have Jesus attributed as saying that the Kingdom of God will be realized with that very generation. And just two verses later, we read that no one knows when this time will be.

30Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

32“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

 But it’s verses 33-37 where Jesus goes on to summarize his message after all of the details and teachings from chapter 13 here in the Gospel of Mark. The message is simple: stay awake!

35Therefore, 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, 36or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. 37And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

The people of Jesus’ time were ready for a savior. They were ready for the Kingdom of God to be realized. Jesus’ message must have been a little confusing and frustrating: ‘I am here; I’m the Son of Man…but I’m not going to make everything right just yet.’

The anticipation of a faithful people has been long experienced amongst the Jewish people.

1   O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence — 

These are the opening words of the Isaiah, chapter 64. Can you feel the emotion attached to these words? The author wants…no, he longs for a savior to come down to assert authority here on this earth.

The author will continue to envision a time when God’s reign will be realized here on earth, and when suffering and injustice will be an afterthought following the establishment of God’s Kingdom.

The Psalmist writes similar words in our morning’s Psalm 80:

Stir up your might, and come to save us!

Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

So here we are: the first Sunday of Advent. Just last week we celebrated ‘Christ the King’ Sunday, as we praised Christ as the one who brings salvation to this broken world. But today is a little different. Advent is a season of both celebrating…and anticipating. It is a season both to live in the light, and to delve into the darkness. We are here as a saved people, yet Advent reminds us of just how broken we truly are.

I wonder if today’s message is twofold, much like Advent itself:

  1. Remain Awake.

As Jesus teaches us, we are reminded to remain awake to the movements of God within this broken world during this season of preparation.

We will soon be celebrating the birth of the Christ Child, and at the same time we wait with anticipation for the Messiah to come again at the end of time. Let us remain spiritual vigilant and get our affairs in order! We have a celebration to prepare for!

And here’s the second message which I’d like us to focus on a little more:

Wake up!

Yes, we are called to remain awake, but this is assuming that we are, in fact, awake. For many of us, we are in need of a spiritual awakening as much as a reminder to stay awake.

  • As we encounter the slumbering effects of endless messages of consumerism and materialism from the 24/7 media cycle with endless advertisements and commercials this holiday season, we are made tired. Awake!
  • As we go through the holiday grind of party after party, community events, school calendars, and endless rehearsals, we show signs of fatigue. Awake!
  • As we hear tragic story after story of lives lost and broken, in places like Syria, Ferguson, and UVA, we become lethargic to God’s presence in the world. Awake!

If you are anything like me, we don’t just want a better Advent & Christmas season; we yearn for God to move in ways that will awaken our very souls as we anticipate God’s Kingdom here on earth.

1   O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence — 

Friends, the Good News is this: God offers us this spiritual awakening here, today, in Jesus Christ. Awake! Open your eyes and heart to all that God is doing in the world, and in your life.

Are you feeling sluggish from a life of repetition? Christ wants you to awake in the new life he offers.

Are you worn out after a long day…or a long life of work and responsibility? Christ offers you rest, so that you may regain your energy to live passionately.

Have you fallen asleep from the lack of voice and courage in the life of the church? Christ is ready to take your hand and lead courageously.

When we awaken our hearts to Christ’s love and grace, then we live with endless possibilities. How are you being called to awake this morning? How is this congregation being called to awake here in this community? How is Christ’s Church being called to awake from the slumber, and to live the passionate life as described in God’s Kingdom?

As we begin our journey into this season of Advent, let us do so with renewed love, energy, and spirit. In Christ Jesus, we are awake to God’s grace here in this world.

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