“Send us your light.”
God’s people of all eras have recognized the human need for divine guidance. We find and feel ourselves in situations beyond our understanding and control. We ask, “what should we do?” We people of faith recognize God has a claim on us and cares about our behavior and our choices. We people of faith understand God values us and is invested in us. God’s people affirm the hopeful statement in today’s reading from Isaiah:
Many people 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”.
Our vision for the human family is all people might come to know and embrace God’s dream for all of creation. Our prayer is that God will send us God’s light.
Light is an Advent theme, enhanced by the growing darkness surrounding us as the days get shorter and shorter. We pray for light: not sunshine, but spiritual enlightenment – inner light to make us luminous and to help us understand with greater knowledge and clarity what is happening around us, to us, and inside of us so that we can respond in a godly, faithful way.
The Advent theme of light is easy to get our head around. Another theme, especially prominent on the first Sunday of Advent, is more elusive – the theme of time. It always feels odd to begin a new church year by focusing on the end of time.
Jesus’ return is a big deal to the faithful living during the years when the various New Testament gospels and letters are being written. Many people who traveled with Jesus personally vividly remember his promise to return. After the Ascension his followers expect it to happen at any moment, perhaps in a day or a week or in a few months. What will happen, they wonder, if Jesus returns at night and they sleep through it? To use a phrase from today’s jargon, will they be left behind as Jesus guides those awake into his kingdom?
Early on, no one even thinks it important to write down Jesus’ teaching or an account of his ministry. They can not imagine a need to document his life because his return is thought to be close at hand. But a year goes by, then two, then ten and another 10. Some hold fast to the promise of an imminent return, but others give up hope. The theme of time and the question “what time is it?” is woven throughout the various New Testament writings because the faithful are trying to figure it out.
Paul weighs in through today’s reading taken from his letter to the church Rome. He tells them to wake up because the day of salvation is near. He uses the phrase ‘wake up’ not to mean literally stay wake, but more like how we might say, “Snap out of it.” The “snap out” relates to their behavior. They are to shed the darkness of drunkenness, debauchery, licentiousness, quarreling, and jealousy. Lay aside these works of darkness, Paul instructs them, and put on the armor of light.
Our reading from Matthew adds to the discussion. Chapter 24 begins with Jesus describing the destruction of the Temple and a terrible time of tribulation. As I said a few weeks ago, the events which Jesus describes in around the year 30 AD are now current events as Matthew writes his gospel. Jesus states in verse 31 when these dire events are at the darkest point, the Son of Man will return in great glory and “he will send out his angels with a great trumpet sound, and they will gather his chosen ones together from the four winds, from one extremity of the heavens to their other extremity.” Today’s reading picks up at this point as Jesus states no one knows when this will happen, but all should be ready.
Jesus then puts forward four separate teachings and examples of why being ready is important. First, he reflects on the days of Noah and how everyone other than Noah was carrying on as if nothing bad could ever happen. When the flood comes and they are swept away. Next, two men will be in a field. One will be taken and one left. The same happens with two women who are at a grinding meal. It is not at all clear if it is better to be taken or to be left behind, but given the first reference to Noah, those swept away or taken away are the ones who are lost. Finally Jesus describes a homeowner who sleeps through a break in. Had he known when the thief was coming he would have been awake.
What does being awake look like? Should we commit to a lifestyle of neurotic sleeplessness laced with anxiety and fear? Or does staying awake look like something else? Jesus himself gives us the best clue.
Immediately following the passage we read this morning, but as a part of the ongoing discussion, Jesus tells this parable:
Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if that wicked slave says to himself, “My master is delayed,” and he begins to beat his fellow slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know.
For Jesus, being awake is equivalent to being faithful and steady. It is an idea we have named the last two Sundays: enduring in all that is right and good and godly. What time is it? It is time to be who God has called us to be. It is time to live and act in a manner in keeping with the teaching and witness of the One for whom we wait.
In a little less than a month we will gather in this space to celebrate God’s advent – God’s coming – into this world in the person and presence of an infant, God’s only Son. We know when it will happen. The service times are printed in your bulletin. What we don’t know is how God will come to us. As with the first Christmas, God’s advent is always unexpected and always unpredictable, but always welcomed by those who perceive it. Pray for God to send light to guide you and commit yourself to living faithfully, doing what God has entrusted to you to do. Do this and you will be awake when Jesus returns.