Sunday, November 27, 2016

“Sleepless Nights” (Matthew 24:36-44 and Romans 13:11-14)

What keeps you up at night?

You have probably heard the Leo Tolstoy’s story about Martin the Cobbler.  Martin is a lonely shoemaker who is promised in a dream that Jesus will come and visit his shop.  The next morning he rises early, gets his shop ready, prepare a meal and waits.  The only one to show up in the morning was an old beggar who came by and asked for rest.  Martin gave him a room he had prepared for his divine guest.  The only one to show up in the afternoon was an old lady with a heavy load of wood.  She was hungry and asked for food.  He gave her the food he had prepared for his divine guest.  As evening came, a lost boy wandered by.  Martin took him home, afraid all the while he would miss Jesus.  That night in his prayers he asks the Lord, “Where were you?  I waited all day for you?”

he Lord said to Martin:

“Three times I came to your friendly door,
Three times my shadow was on your floor.
I was a beggar with bruised feet.
I was the woman you gave to eat.
I was the homeless child on the street.”

As we enter into the season of Advent we need to remind ourselves exactly what the season of Advent stands for.  Advent is a season which kicks off the start of a new liturgical year in the life of the “church” . . . it is the “beginning” of a new year.  It is a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the nativity of Jesus at Christmas.  The term, advent, is a version of the Latin word meaning “coming”.  Latin adventus is the translation of the Greek word parousia, commonly used to refer to the second coming of Christ.  For Christians, the season of Advent anticipates the coming of Jesus from two different perspectives . . . the ancient longing for the coming of the Messiah . . . and to be alert for his second coming.  Thus the season of Advent is a time to prepare and to remember . . . everything points to the “coming” of the Holy on that Christmas Day and in the future.

Or so it would seem.

The season of Advent always seems to begin with apocryphal readings . . . “end times” scripture; and, our start to the Advent season is no different.  This morning we begin with Jesus sharing a familiar bit of scripture about the “end times” and the second coming . . . “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father . . . Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come . . . So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Jesus warns that the time will come . . . so, you better be prepared.  The only problem with the warning is that Jesus never tells anyone when that time will be.  It is a lot like that teacher who tells his or her students that they had better do their homework because there just might be a pop quiz at any time.  Now, that is enough to keep anyone up at night . . . sleepless.  That is enough to create more than a little anxiety in anyone . . . never knowing when.

I seriously doubt if Martin the Cobbler slept much after he was told in his dream that Jesus was coming by to visit him the next day.  I imagine that his mind must have been racing with making a plan to be prepared for Jesus’ arrival at his little shop.  I imagine that he must have thought of a thousand scenarios as to how he thought his encounter with Jesus would go . . . how he would welcome him, treat him, speak to him . . . a million things must have raced through his mind knowing the news that Jesus would be coming to visit him.  Yeah, I doubt if Martin slept a whole bunch that night with all the anticipation that was building up in him.

Anxiety has a tendency to create a lot of sleepless nights in our lives.  I think that we all can share stories of sleepless nights that we have endured in our lives.  I know that I can.  As a parent I can remember the many sleepless nights I put up with when my children were teenagers.  Someone once told me that they were just teenagers and not to worry about it . . . then I remembered my teenage years . . . it created even more anxiety and sleeplessness.  But the fact is that we all know how anxiety and anticipation about something that is to come or to happen can keep us awake at night . . . especially when we have no idea of when it is really going to happen.  It is no fun.  I never knew anyone who enjoyed the suspense of waiting for a pop quiz.

Yet that is the impetus that drives the season of Advent . . . be ready . . . be prepared.  In our remembrance we recall and retell the story of that very first arrival of the Holy . . . of that very first Christmas.  In our preparations we prepare ourselves for what is promised to come . . . we look to the future and all that is promised.  We situate ourselves between the past and the future during the season of Advent.  There in the middle we understand that what is promised in the past can happen at any moment . . . and, thus we are filled with a sense of anticipation and anxiousness . . . anxiety.  An anxiety that can cause us a lot of sleepless nights as we wait for a surprise that we do not know when it will happen . . . but we are suppose to be ready for it.

So, a big chunk of Advent is looking back and looking forward; but, in doing this we forget.  We forget that ours is a living God . . . a God of the present . . . a God who is with us right here and now.  We forget that we are in relationship each and every moment of life . . . that God is always with us.  Because of this there actually is a third possibly for the season of Advent.

What if the real surprise is that when Jesus returns he was always here to begin with?

In the story of Martin the Cobbler, when he questions the Lord about not showing up, he is told quite the opposite . . . he is told that Jesus actually showed up three times . . . in the beggar, in the old lady, and in the lost child.  Three appearances, that in the mind of Martin were nothing more than three everyday occurrences and encounters with the world around him.  The truth was that Jesus was closer to him than he ever realized.  He had entertained the Holy without realizing the Holy was in his presence.  And, without realizing it . . . he was prepared.

That is the part of Advent that is forgotten . . . that the Holy is with us, always with us.  Because the Holy is with us we are called upon to embrace those opportunities and those moments when we can be about the business of kingdom building.  When we give shelter to the homeless, feed the hungry, and guide those who are lost.  The presence of God . . . the presence of Jesus . . . the Holy . . . is all around us.  And, not only do we prepare for the Holy, we live and dance with the Holy because the Holy is with us.

Years later, that is what the Apostle Paul is telling the faithful in his letter to the Romans . . . Paul encourages them not to live stuck between the past and the future, but to live in the present moment.  In this he encourages them to not fall into the trap of idleness . . . those moments that pull one into doing things that shouldn’t be done; but to instead embrace the moment to follow in the footsteps of Jesus . . . to love.  Paul writes: “. . . whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbor.  Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.”

Embrace the Holy that is here, says Paul.  It is all around.  Thus he says, “And do this, understanding the present time.  The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”  And, with that declaration, the surprise of Advent is that Jesus is with us . . . Jesus is here . . . and we are called upon to live in this moment.

During this season of Advent, it is good to remember the stories of that first Christmas . . . good to remember the stories of the faithful of that time.  Also, during the season of Advent it is good to look to the future and to embrace the hope of what is yet to come . . . God’s Kingdom.  And, at the same time, during the season of Advent, it is good that we realize that the presence of Jesus is with us . . . that God is with us . . . that the Kingdom of God surrounds us like a reality waiting to be exposed for the world to see.  Because that reality is there we are called upon . . . not to sit back and wait with great anxiety and anxiousness, but to embrace the Holy that surrounds us in the daily lives that we live.  As the Apostle Paul says . . . “our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”

Our faith cannot change what happened yesterday.  Our faith cannot jump ahead and live in the future.  All our faith can do is to be exhibited and lived in the present moment.  Only in the moment do we encounter the Holy in such a way that it is exposed to the world around us.  Life is going to deal us sleepless nights, but when it comes to our faith . . . well, when it comes to our faith let us embrace the presence of God where we are in this time and place.  Let us use the season of Advent to build the Kingdom of God.  Let us always be prepared to love . . . to love the homeless, the hungry, and the lost . . . to always love.  Amen.

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