The First Sunday of Advent: Year B

“Wake Up and Live”

Sermon by Pastor Jane Jeuland

Jesus says to us today. “In those days, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be aware, keep alert.”

Today is the first day of the church calendar year. It is like our Church New Year’s Day, and it is the beginning of Advent. If it is the beginning of our new year and the beginning of advent, why then are we reading Jesus’ words about the end of days? Isn’t this a time for good cheer, joy and gathering together to celebrate the new year and the coming of the Christ child? Isn’t this a time to be happy and think of good times rather than death and the destruction of the whole existence?

Why are we reading these words of Jesus’ now?

Notice what Jesus says throughout this exhortation. He says: “keep alert,” “keep watch”, be “vigilant” “stay awake.”

In other words snap out of it, pay attention, stop being complacent with your faith.

As we finish our year in the church calendar, Advent is an opportunity to look back at the past year, to take stock on the things we have done and the things we have left undone. To look at how we have or have not loved God with our whole hearts. It is a time to look at how we have treated one another and how we have cared for ourselves.

In the northern hemisphere, December brings with it a deeper and deeper plunge into darkness until the winter solstice, which is happening on December 22nd this year. That is the day with the least amount of light. Before electricity, people eagerly awaited the winter solstice because after that day, the days would begin to get longer and longer and would be filled with more light. The winter solstice was the day eagerly anticipated because it was the day when light would enter the world once more after a period of deep darkness.

In the same way, Advent brings with it this eager and almost anxious waiting in the dark for the light… as we reflect on our past year, all the hurts, all the sorrow, all the war and suffering in our world, we also at the same time wait for the mercy, love, peace, joy and light that Christ brought into the world at his birth, that Christ brought into the world in the beginning of creation, and that Christ sustains the world through his redemption of the world.

When we begin a new year, I think many of us reflect back on our past year and we also make lofty new years resolutions to change something in our lives. Some of us are good enough to make these new years resolutions a permanent change, but many of us follow these new habits and changes for a little while and then when we miss a few days or forget, we start to make excuses and eventually we become complacent and settle back into old routines and habits. After the newness of our commitments have warn off, we can become a bit lax in our dedication to change.

Jesus says as we start this new church year today, be alert, wake up. Do not become complacent. As you look back and take stock of your past year, keep alert, remain vigilant, do not become complacent because nothing in life is guaranteed. None of us know what the future brings, not even the angels in heaven nor the son of the father, only God knows what the future brings, so Jesus says stay alert.

And I actually think this message is such a gift. I’ve often bemoaned the readings that we have for advent wishing we could instead spend more time contemplating the humaneness and divinity of Christ during Advent, but we would miss the gift of this message that Jesus has for us today.

In his book “Being Mortal”, Atul Gwande talks about how our priorities shift when we get much older or when we are faced with a terminal illness. The priorities that we thought were so so important are no longer important.

I know so many of us are starting to collect lists of tasks to do around this time of year. We need to make sure all our projects at work are completed by end of year, we need buy this for this person and make sure we buy those new napkins for Christmas Eve dinner and figure out the travel plans and pick up times. We need to attend those Christmas performances for our kids. For a moment I would like to lead us in a short guided meditation. You may close your eyes now or keep them open and now imagine all the cares and concerns you have at this moment… everything that is on your mind… imagine paper lists or imagine each concern as a word or a box floating up in the air and now imagine all of those gracefully floating down to the ground like a feather or falling leaf and now imagine instead in front of you Jesus standing before you with arms open wide smiling and extending such love to you, imagine your loved ones, neighbors, church family, and friends before you and the love that you share despite any ups and downs. Now imagine yourself taking care of your own needs and honoring who you truly are just as you are. Imagine all of this. If you have closed your eyes you may open them knowing that you can return to this loving environment anytime life gets overwhelming especially this season.

Notice that it is not that the concerns that were floating around in your mind were not important but they are not as important as the love that came before you. The love of God, your neighbors, and yourself.

Bonnie Ware in her book “Top Five Regrets of the Dying” describes the five common regrets that dying express:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Even though these words of Jesus about the end of the world seem so disconnected from the dominant culture of Christmas songs, shopping, and too many cookies and wine, these words today are such a gift because they are a reminder that we must live now.

At the end of passage today Jesus concludes by saying, “keep awake.”

The Greek word for “keep awake” grégoreó is used in scripture to mean “pay attention,” but it literally means wake up from sleep. Sleep often is used to mean death in ancient writing, so the word grégoreó suggests that we must stay alive. In other words Jesus is concluding his sermon to us today by saying, you do not know when your time is up, so live.

Do not wait until the end of your life to have a long list of regrets, live now, dive into your faith now, worship God now, pay attention to yourself and your neighbor now.

So this Advent I encourage you to look back over this past year. What you have done well and what you have left undone, how you have loved God, and how you have loved your neighbors and yourself. As you look back notice any complacency and find ways to wake yourself up, find ways to live. You may wake yourself up spiritually by taking up a daily spiritual discipline for the next 22 days. You can read, listen to, or watch a daily devotional. You can set up a nativity set at home without the baby Jesus and pray before it every day until at long last you place the baby Jesus in the set on Christmas. You can read the daily office in the Book of Common Prayer. You can go for a daily 10 minute walk or set an alarm to pause in the midst of your work day to take a deep cleansing breath and imagine yourself standing before Jesus. You may use an Anglican rosary or you may say a prayer every time your children or grandchildren use there cute little fingers to pry open the chocolates from their Advent calendar.

Take time this advent to reflect, to pray, to wake up, and to live.