RISE AND SHINE!

On the day I sat down to write the first draft of this sermon, I was absolutely overcome with the desire to sleep.  I hadn’t slept well the night before, but that alone could not account for the overwhelming need I had to crawl back into bed, pull the covers over my head, and drift away.

 

I kept staring at the computer screen, trying to motivate myself without any luck, when it suddenly dawned on me why I was so sleepy. It was the nature of reality that was pushing my eyelids down.  Reality was making me so tired.  Sleep would provide an escape from my worrying about Ella’s health.  I needed an escape from worrying about my mother’s health.  I needed an escape from the myriad demands and stresses of selling an apartment and buying a house, of saying goodbye and walking into the unknown.  I needed an escape. And so my body responded in its marvelously self-protective way.

 

Maybe you too have been feeling tired recently.  We all need to escape from this non-stop avalanche of bad news.  This country is in such a state of division and anger and lie and machinations, that I can no longer predict a happy ending for this Great Experiment. And I find that thought exhausting.  The endless accusations of widespread sexual harassment and abuse make me want to pull the covers over my head.  The existential threat of global climate change is so overwhelming that all I want to do is sleep. I cannot believe that we are once again contemplating what a nuclear conflict would look like.  And only birds should Tweet. All of this has given me a good case of hypersomnia.  And so I was struck this week by the Gospel’s demand that we stay awake, especially when the circumstances are dire

 

Mark chapter 13 is often referred to as the little Apocalypse.  It is so called because the language here is closer to the book of Revelation than it is to the Beatitudes.  It hardly seems appropriate for the first Sunday of Advent, looking forward, as we are, to the season of peace and goodwill to all.  But this reading contains no angels or shepherds or wise ones.  There is no blessed Mother or Angel Gabriel.  Instead, Mark reports that an adult Jesus said: "But in those days, after that suffering, 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.  Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory.” 

 

What was the cause of such a bleak vision?  Well, scholars believe that Mark wrote his Gospel right after the apocalyptic events of 70 C.E. when Rome ordered the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.  And the cataclysm of that event cannot be overstated.  It was their 9/11.  It was the event that changed everything.  When the Temple was destroyed, so was their sense of continuity with the past. And so was any sense that they had God’s special protection.

 

Every generation has its dark and defining days. Suffering and injustice and oppression and fear and devastation are all well documented throughout human history.  And because life is so precarious, we long for someone bigger than us and stronger than us and smarter than us to rescue us. This is one of the major impulses of religion.  The faithful look to the heavens for an answer.  We cry out to God using words like the ones from the Isaiah lesson today: “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence!” 

 

That desire to be rescued; that notion that some problems require divine intervention has truth in it. The Scriptures refer to it sometimes as The Day of Lord, the culmination of all things, the righting of all wrongs.  But a fuller picture of the Day of the Lord reveals it to be surprisingly participatory.  We have a vital role to play in the coming Reign of Justice, and thus Jesus’s rather stern warning in this passage for us to stay awake, stay alert, be always ready – even if the sun and moon are darkened and the stars fall from the sky!  Stay awake!

 

And all of that makes me think that God is a lot like my mother.  When I was a teenager, my mother used to come into my room on cold winter mornings, when all I wanted to do was sleep. If I ignored her first request for me to wake up, then she would pull back the covers all the way off my bed and say, “Get up, get up, get up!  You’re going to be late for school.” “You’re going to be late for work!”  And my mother would not take no for an answer.  She was relentless.  But not because she was cruel.  She was relentless because she knew that I needed to make my way in the world.  

 

Advent prepares us for Christmas.  And Christmas prepares us for our callings.  At Christmas, we come face to face with the miracle of the Incarnation.  And that seems a perfect rescue story with God doing all the action.  And the church has been content for generations to allow us to be the passive partners in our salvation.  But Scripture does not teach passivity.  Scripture teaches participation.  –The Incarnation didn’t just happen once.  The Incarnation is replicated in us.  We embody the divine.  The great C.S. Lewis once said, “Every Christian is to become a little Christ.” [1]  And Father Richard Rohr, who has had a great influence on my own thinking, wrote: “You are the Second Coming of Christ!” [2]

 

The really incredible news of the Gospel is not only that God loves us enough to come down to us as one of us, but that God also loves us enough to call us to rise up and be all we can be.  And what we can be, with the help of God, is far more than most of us dare to dream.

 

A few months when I was also feeling especially sleepy because of the weight of the world, a friend’s Facebook post shook me awake. It’s an old saying, taken partly from the Talmud, that collection of ancient Jewish wisdom sayings.  And it seems to me to speak perfectly to the give and take, the descent and ascent, the rescue and the rising of our salvation.  And it goes like this:  “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

 

And that, dear friends, is now, and has always been, the Word of Lord.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

 

[1] Mere Christianity

[2] https://cac.org/you-are-the-body-of-christ-2016-10-28/