November 27, 2022, Don’t Be Sleepwalkers, Matthew 24:36-44 – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell
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Today the Church celebrates the beginning of a new year, as we begin the season of Advent. It’s no accident that Advent comes at the darkest time of the year, because Advent is all about hope, and hope shines brightest in the darkest times and places. Irene and MaryEllen and Karen have changed our hangings to blue for this new season, and put wreaths on our Church doors with blue bows, because the color blue symbolizes hope. I think we would all agree that this particular year we are living in is a time where hope is very much needed. The whole world, I think, is ready for hope. I think we’ve seen that wherever Pope Francis has traveled over the past few years – so many people, rich and poor, Christians, atheists, Muslims, Buddhists, are drawn to him as a symbol of a hope and a light that is greater than the darkness that surrounds us. And I believe Francis has had that powerful effect because he has represented Jesus Christ to the world in a way Church leaders have often failed to do.
In Advent, we focus on the coming of Christ. You might remember I’ve spoken more than once about the Advent sermon by Bernard of Clairveaux where he talks about the three comings of the Lord. In Advent, Bernard says, we focus on the coming of our Lord in his Incarnation, born a baby boy in Bethlehem, fully God and fully Man. And we focus on his coming at the end of the ages, to set all creation to rights, to inaugurate the new, unending, incorruptible, unshakeable Creation. And we focus also on the coming of our Lord that is in between the other two comings – his coming into our hearts, his presence with us now, indwelling us, our guide and helper and companion to the end of the age.
I’ve always found it easiest to comprehend the first and third comings that Bernard talks about. I think most of us do. We’ve known and loved the story of Mary and Joseph and the angels and the Wise Men since we were tiny children. We spend much of Advent every year preparing our homes as well as our hearts to celebrate the mystery and the joy of God becoming Man and making his home among us.
And the third coming, the coming of our Lord into our hearts, that is our breath of life and constant strength. In our every trouble we find ourselves calling upon him, who is as near to us as our own breath. We see Christ in the faces of the people we love, and in the beauty of Creation. We hear his Voice in the Word, but also in that still, small Voice within, that guides and comforts us moment by moment. We feed upon him in the Eucharist. If we didn’t know the coming of our Lord into our daily lives, how would we even carry on?
But today, in the gospel reading, Jesus calls us to be ready for the other coming, his coming at the end of time as we know it, at the end of this world as we know it. And to me, that coming is the hardest of all for us to really grasp. We hardly know what it is we are hoping for – is it glorious or is it scary? It’s both, as far as I can tell, but overwhelmingly, the Scriptures tell us it is joy and light and life for all of Creation. Above all else, it’s good. It’s good-ness beyond anything we have ever experienced.
We read in Isaiah, who was holding on to this Advent hope many centuries before Christ’s first coming, that his coming, at the end of all the ages, will finally bring what mankind has desired so very long, and has striven for so fruitlessly and disastrously – the healing of the nations, peace among all peoples. We read these impossibly wonderful words: “they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”
It almost seems too good to hope for: not only the end of the slaughter and destruction in Ukraine, but an end to all aggression and enmity in Russia and every other nation. An end at last to the age-old violence and hatred between Israel and Palestine. The end of powerful nations imposing economic sanctions that increase the suffering of the poor. No more genocides, no more boys kidnapped and forced to fight as soldiers, no more girls abused and raped, no more hate crimes, no more homeless people fleeing their war-torn homelands, no more wanton destruction of our environment for the sake of greed and power. It almost seems too good to hope for. And yet, that, all of that, is our hope!
“But about that day and hour no one knows,” Jesus tells us, “neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.” Jesus describes a world going about business as usual, grown accustomed to the daily onslaught of sorrow and bad news, (and how familiar does that sound?) a world completely unaware that there is anything to look forward to, anything to hope for, anything to strive for beyond the world’s agenda of survival and competition and looking out for our own interests and the good of people that belong to us – and in the end, death.
And it’s not at all easy for us to resist the lure of the world that would keep us sleep-walking along those old familiar paths, all those ways of thinking and acting that we’ve always known, that we accept simply by default. But Advent is the clarion call to remember that the sway of that world is even now passing away; that the powers we see around us – the White House and the Kremlin, NASDAQ and the Dow Jones and the S&P 500, the United Nations and the Taliban – the economic and political and religious powers in the world that seem so overpowering and so inescapable and so impenetrable – Advent reminds us that in reality, they are nothing more than shadows, no more permanent than a child’s castles made of sand. And like sand castles, they will all be washed away when the true King comes to heal and restore his whole creation.
And that is why Jesus is calling us today to wake up and be ready – because knowing that he is coming, knowing and believing that the powers of this world are not going to have the last word – that sets us free now to see beyond the closed and merciless and artificial systems of the world. Being wide awake to the hope of Christ’s coming means we are free to let go of our rights and our cravings and even our needs, because we know there is something so much better and stronger and more real to look forward to. The hope of Advent sets us free to love beyond the narrow confines of our family or community or nation, because we know that God’s plan is for all people, regardless of race or gender or nationality or religion.
At his coming we will all be one family, his adopted children, at peace with one another – as Isaiah says: “In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.”
Christ might not return within our lifetime – and then again, he may! He might return a century from now, or tomorrow, or this afternoon! But as long as we keep awake to the reality of his coming and the solid goodness of our hope, we are set free now, today, from the bondage and hopelessness all around us, set free from what looks like reality but is really only a kind of sleepwalking, just an illusion of life. The hope of Advent sets us free from having to be afraid of the menace and control of the world’s powers, present and future. The hope of Advent sets us free to shake off the burdens of “getting and spending and laying waste our powers,” as the poet so aptly put it. And best of all, the hope of Advent sets us free to love every human being as our brother or sister, without boundaries or categories or limitations.
Today we are reminded afresh of this hope, as we begin another season of Advent. Today we say, “Maranatha! Come quickly, Lord Jesus!” +