You know what time it is, how now is the moment for you to wake from sleep.
Now is the moment for you to wake from sleep. I don’t think anyone is still asleep these days. News media consumption has skyrocketed in recent weeks, and expectation is in the air. For some, this expectation is accompanied by a feeling of dread; for others, joy. And why not? Jesus is coming. For many of us, whether fearful or joyful, this is a season of uncertainty. And for many, dread, joy, and uncertainty manage to coexist. Welcome to Advent. It doesn’t help that the first Sunday of Advent is almost always the wettest, darkest morning of the year. But we are not the first people in the history of the world to be united in a state of uncertainty and fear.
All of our readings today remind us that as we anticipate with joy the coming of Jesus among us, our need for God has never been greater. This was true for the people of Isaiah’s time, and Paul’s, and Matthew’s. Both before and after the coming of Jesus, prophets and preachers wrote about the expectation and the longing for a transformation of the world into something that looks like the vision of peace and unity cast by Isaiah, a vision of swords beaten into ploughshares and nations walking together in unity. And we, thousands of years after the first coming of Jesus, look around and see everything but peace and unity.
Peace, unity, justice, hope…Jesus embodied these and that is why we read about them in Advent. But more than embodying them, Jesus came to proclaim peace, unity, justice, and hope, to teach us how to usher in that time when God truly reigns. Our expectation in Advent is partly preparation for celebrating the birth of God incarnate. At the same time, the themes of our readings and hymns are all about what some call the Second Coming, the transformation of the world in Jesus Christ. The end of the world as we know it. It is this that Isaiah looks toward, and it is this that Matthew and Paul describe, each in his own way.
As most of you know, much of the New Testament was written at a time when the early Christians expected the Second Coming to be tomorrow, or next week. Next month at the very latest. With the passage of time we have less and less of that kind of urgent expectation. I don’t think any of us expects Jesus to come tomorrow or next week—certainly not before Christmas, and probably not even then in the way Paul writes about. We have gotten complacent about the transformation of the world into the Kingdom of God. Perhaps we have even given up hope.
Jesus came preaching hope, justice, and love. And he wanted his followers to do the same. Even though he never used the imagery of armor of light the way Paul does, Jesus did talk about being light. He called his followers the light of the world, and said that a light under a bushel does no good. In this season of expectation and waiting—for the near future, which may be an occasion for dread, or joy—or the the long wait for the transformation of the world in Jesus—right now we are called to be light for the world.
It is up to us to put on the armor of light, to be light-bringers. And yes, there is an urgent need for us to do so.
It is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. The urgency with which Paul writes is not the misguided urgency of someone believing Jesus is coming back tomorrow. The urgency we hear in this passage from Romans and which I pray we feel in our own lives is the urgency to go about the business of being Christian, being Jesus in the world, loving God and our neighbors with our whole heart. Being ready. Being light.
As a parish community, we have very real opportunities to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Every interaction each one of us has can be an interaction of love, an offering of light. I’m going to break one of my own preaching rules, which is to avoid quoting from scripture other than the readings for the day. But most rules are made to be broken, and so I invite you to expand this wonderful image of the armor of light by considering the whole armor of God, borrowing from the Letter to the Ephesians:
Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand firm…fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. …Take the…sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
What if fastening the belt of truth around our waist is as simple as learning something we don’t know about shelter or sanctuary? What if the breastplate of righteousness is a huge stack of dirty dinner plates at the end of Tuesday’s Fatted Calf meal, and what if we can love God and our neighbors simply by showing up and washing them? What if the shoes that we need to proclaim the gospel of peace are whatever will help us step out of our comfort zone simply by talking to someone we don’t know? When we do this, we may be bringing light to someone living in darkness. What if the sword of the Spirit is whatever can strike through the barriers between us and people suffering from mental illness and poverty? What if the word of God we speak is a word of advocacy and love?
Daj Hammarskjöld, secretary general of the United Nations in the 1950s, wrote in his journal: “For all that has been—Thanks! To all that will be—Yes.”
It’s hard to say: “yes” to all that will be in a time of anxiety and uncertainty and yet that “yes” is what it means to be fully awake. To be fully awake, to put on the armor of light and to be light is to see every moment as ripe with the possibility of love. Now is the moment to wake from sleep. Now is the time to practice loving our neighbors. Now is the time to be the hands and heart of Christ in the world. Now is the time for unity, justice, peace, and hope. Now is the time for light. Now is the moment of possibility. Now.