This is not 100% what I preached, but close, as I am writing manuscripts and then preaching beyond them. Oh, after you read this, you might want to set your alarm clock 🙂
1st Sunday of Advent (Year A) – Sunday, December 1, 2013 – Isaiah 2:1-5, Matthew 24:36-44
St. Jacob’s-Spaders and Trinity Lutheran Churches, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Pastor Evan Davis
MMM, bedtime! It’s the time of day you can’t stand until you’re about 22, maybe not ’til 30, it depends on the person, but then it becomes, for many, their favorite time of day. I don’t know about you, but when it’s time to pull over the covers and you know you have 8 beautiful hours of sleep ahead of you, I don’t know what’s better.
The days are growing shorter. The temperatures are growing colder. It was dark and cold and rainy early in our Thanksgiving week. It’s a great time to just…drift into bed. Sometimes, I think that’s exactly what we’re doing.
In a dark world, it’s not very fun to stay awake. And in the darkness that surrounds us, there are times when the church has been content to pull up the covers and close our eyes. It’s hard enough already to see what’s going on in God’s world, through the darkness. When the darkness of fear prevents us from seeing the humanity of our enemies. When the darkness of complacency obscures the suffering of our neighbors. When the darkness of cynicism robs us of a hopeful vision for our own lives, and the life of the world. Sometimes it’s just easier and a lot more tempting to close our eyes and sleep through it all. To hunker down into our little church worlds, our little worlds of family and friends, our minds troubled only with what’s going on inside our walls, pulling over the comforting covers of whatever is familiar, expected, and unoffensive. Sometimes all I want to do is close my eyes and forget about all the things in this world that make me angry, or sad, or hopeless. I want to turn off the TV, shut down my computer, and throw away the newspaper, and just curl up under the covers. Maybe you’ve felt that way too.
We need a wake up call. And you know what? So did the people of Israel. God sent them that wake up call and his name was Isaiah. He was as loud and annoying as the most annoying alarm on your cell phone, and no matter how hard Israel tried to snooze, he kept blaring on. We read earlier the glorious vision of chapter two, but you can only really hear Isaiah 2 when you’ve first heard Isaiah 1.
And what Isaiah blares out in that first chapter is a piercing vision of his reality, jarring enough to wake any of us up from our slumber. When he looked at Israel, what he saw was not a pretty picture. He saw a “sinful nation, people laden with iniquity, offspring who do evil, children who deal corruptly, who have forsaken the LORD.” Waking up to this, I think God’s people Israel were hoping for a cup of coffee first.
Isaiah saw his nation as it was. He said in ch. 1, wake up! “your country lies desolate, your cities are burned with fire!” He says to us wake up! the strip-mined mountain lies desolate! wake up! your cities burn with greed and the poverty and racism! Isaiah said to Israel, wake up! “[the city] […] was full of justice, righteousness lodged in her – but now murderers!” Isaiah says to us, wake up! in the richest nation in the world, founded on the idea that every person is worth something, millions go hungry, while you spend millions on war and meaningless things you don’t need, all while people are shot on your streets every night! Isaiah said to Israel, wake up! “Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not defend the orphan, and the widow’s cause does not come before them.” Isaiah says to us, wake up! just take a look at Congress…but more importantly take a look at yourselves. Where are the widow and the orphan on your agenda? How easily are you distracted by shiny things from the need of your neighbor?
Are you awake yet? Isaiah calls us to keep awake, not to avert our eyes but to look directly into the darkest part of our lives and our society and see what we do not wish to see. But we do not wake only to keep our midnight vigil, but to bear witness that the light is coming.
The dawn of a new age is just around the corner. A new age which began, surprisingly, with the birth of a child. A new age that will be completed when the Son of Man arrives at “an unexpected hour.” In the words of the hymn we’ll sing in a few minutes, we wake because “night is flying [it’s going away, on its way out], the watchmen on the heights are crying; awake, Jerusalem, at last.”
Soon night will be past. The light of the world is coming, scattering the darkness in his approach. We wait now both for that new age and for the little child whose age it will be. Come forth and hear Isaiah as he cries out this glorious vision:
2 In days to come the mountain of the LORD’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains…all the nations shall stream to it. 3 Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
Wake! Awake! Night is Flying! In days to come, all nations will be gathered together. Israel and Palestine. The Syrian rebels and Assad’s government. Taliban fighters and U.S. Marines, together at the mountain of the LORD. And they will be taught together by God…can you imagine, when now we are raised and taught separately to fear each other? It will be as surprising and as unexpected as the Almighty God of all Creation choosing to enter this world through the womb of a poor, virgin girl in the filthy horse stalls of a backwater Jewish town. It will be as shocking as a God who today would enter the world in a drug house on the wrong side of town, who would hang out with gang bangers and even members of Congress. I know, surprising, right?
4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
I want to be awake for that day, don’t you? When Syria, Egypt, and the Holy Land will resound with singing and laughing rather than the sound of guns rattling and bombs bursting. When we will no longer need to teach our children to beware an “active shooter.” When the money and time we devote to the instruments of death will instead be used to feed and clothe the nations.
Advent is a time of keeping awake to keep our vigil. Keeping time, week by week, beginning in darkness and witnessing the approach of the light. And we light our candles, as if placing them in a window to welcome the one on his way.
So wake up church, because that day is coming. We will keep our midnight vigil, knowing that our God is coming to town, a little town called Bethlehem. Wake up church, because while it sure is nice to pull over those covers, there are many neighbors near and far who need us to see them. Wake up church, because God is about to hit the streets. Wake up church, because Christ has stirred you up with a splash of cold, clear water….right here…and Christ is stirring you from slumber so you may be the alarm clock for our community. Sometimes we will need to help each other out of bed. Sometimes as sisters and brothers in Christ, we’ll need to put on a pot of coffee. Sometimes we’ll need to be that wake up call as we speak the truth in love to one another and to people in our lives. But know, most of all, that the one who keeps you, and keeps Israel, neither slumbers nor sleeps, and it is that God who is on the way. Amen.