This Sunday is the first day of Advent and the first day of our calendar year. We are awaiting two things: the birth of the incarnate God. And we are awaiting the Second coming of Christ!
The readings this week share imagery of light and the prophecy of Peace. Isaiah famously tells us that in the days to come God will be the great arbiter between nations:
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more.
Isaiah’s final words to us are “Come let us walk in the light of the Lord.”
And in the reading from Romans Paul encourages us to put on our armor of light: wake from sleep; wake from darkness. He says:
“let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.”
That sounds fairly doable, and yet we find ourselves struggling with quarreling - or battling feelings of jealousy. And certainly a war-torn world.
So, How do we follow such instruction?
The Gospel of Matthew goes on to get very personal with this teaching, by suggesting that "being awake to the light" is an internal activity.
The story is puzzling. It tells us “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.”
In our theology we believe in the first coming of Christ as the human Jesus walking among us. The second coming is when God and the earth are completely united. Although it is heralded by calamity, the Second Coming is anticipated with great expectation. Jesus asks us to practice keeping awake to the unity of God and earth made manifest: “when nation shall not lift up sword against nation.”
In the Gospel, essentially, two people may appear from the outside as if they are engaged in identical tasks, yet in Jesus’ metaphor “one is awake” and “one is asleep” so to speak. Keeping awake as Jesus asks, will help us to know who we are and where we are.
We do this in the context of our faith. We believe in a salvific reign of God. Meaning we believe in restoration of our world and of ourselves in the body of Christ. Jesus’ message to “Keep awake" is within the context of this greater vision: The Second Coming.
What am I doing in this moment and how does that connect with my greater identity as God’s beloved? My life here-and -now, and the extension of that reality into the greater realm of God?
“Keep awake” is a term Jesus uses several times. It also coincides with his instruction: “abide in me.”
Keeping awake is a matter of presence. Practicing presence in our lives with our loved ones, with our chores etc., with other people in the workplace, and in daily errands, sheds light on God invisibly moving in our everyday activities.
Whether it's washing our hands, or setting our phones down and looking at the face of our partner or child, practicing presence makes us more deeply connected to the revelation of life: we are here. We are incarnate, and made in God’s image!
This is the Good News of the Gospel. Two things that we are celebrating in Advent: We are made in the image of God like Jesus…and made for a peaceable Kingdom: A kingdom of light that overcomes darkness. Tapping into this light makes us available to others: more compassionate, more discerning, more at Peace! When we are at peace with ourselves, it begins to extend to others.
Throughout this chapter, Jesus goes on with more parables about being ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. Readiness for God is not a quick fix prescribed by Jesus when we see or experience signs of upheaval. Instead readiness is training for this life. It is about seeing Christ in all that we do.
We have a theology of the “already - not yet” Kingdom. We believe the realm of God is already here and yet unfolding. It exists as our foundation; we recognize that we are saved in Christ; and yet we suffer with the knowledge that it has not been fully realized in the World. We still have war. We still have quarrels. We still have violence. The second coming we are preparing for is God’s Peace in the World.
All of Matthew’s parables that follow are about readiness in this "already not yet” reality we reside in. It culminates in the story of the “Coming of the King, The Son of Man.”
At the end of this chapter Jesus explains what it will be like and why he is talking about separation of one woman from another and one man from another. I’m going to read it to you in its entirety because it help explain our passage this morning.
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,g you did it to me.’
Jesus is telling us that Christ’s presence is here with us where we do not expect it, and when we do not expect it… in the poor, in the stranger, and in one another.
Even while we experience the calamity of quarreling and jealousy, so much war, and so much violence, mass shootings, poverty and natural disasters; the church faithfully continues working through all of it, making Christ known in the World through loving, nurturing, outreach ministries and fellowship.
It is within the calamity that we see the work of Christ in one another and for others. And we do this as individuals who make up the body of Christ. Peace begins at home with waking up to our families, to our neighbors, to strangers; tuning life into a stream of prayer, and faithful activity.
This Advent, we are practicing wakefulness. I would ask you (if you don’t already) to say a prayer before you leave the house. Abide in Christ for just a moment. And when you leave the house you will leave wearing the armor of light. And it will touch others, as Jesus touched us, to help us usher in the Peaceable Kingdom.
As Paul says,
You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.