1 Corinthians 1.3-9; Mark 13.24-37
+ Defining moments in our lives sometimes happen in very strange ways. I don’t know if it’s because we’re celebrating the beginning of a new Church Year today, or because we are now officially in the holiday season, or what it is, but I’ve been strangely reflective these last several days. And I found myself reflective on some of those defining moments in my own life.
There have been a few, let me tell you. But, one of my first defining moments—and one that I think still has a lot of consequences in my life, in my own personal perspective on things—was one that happened when I was in the fourth grade.
When I was in the fourth grade, I had a teacher call me out of class one afternoon. We know what being called into hallway means. It’s never a good thing. In this case, this particular called me out into the hall way and proceeded to have a very intense “come to Jesus” moment with me.
“Jamie,” she said. “I just don’t understand you. You seem smart. You seem articulate. You have quick come-backs on things. You read an amazing amount. But none of that reflects in your grades.”
Not so bad, right? Oh, but wait…
“You’re sloughing,” she said. “There’s no other way to put it. Actually, there is. You’re lazy.”
Now, for some reason, that word, “Lazy,” hit me like a ton of bricks. Or maybe I should say, it hit me like a slap across the face. And although I could not or would not admit it then, it was just what I needed. Her words woke me up. I became a more committed student after that talk, as painful as it was.
In our Gospel reading for today, we get a very similar moment. It’s not quite an accusation of laziness on us. But it is a kind of verbal alarm clock. And we hear it in two different ways:
Jesus says it just those two ways in our reading from Mark: It seems simple enough.
“Keep alert” and “keep awake.” Or to put it more bluntly, “Wake up!”
But is it simple? Our job as Christians is sometimes no more than this. It is simply a matter of staying awake, of being attentive or being alert, of not being lazy. Our lives as Christians are sometimes simply responses to being spiritually alert.
For those of us who are tired, who are worn down by life, who spiritually or emotionally fatigued, our sluggishness sometimes manifests itself in our spiritual life and in our relationship with others. When we become impatient in our watching, we sometimes forget what it is we are watching for. We sometimes, in fatigue, fail to see.
For us, that “something” that we are waiting for, that we keeping alert for, is none other than that glorious day of Christ, that we hear St. Paul talk about in his epistle this morning. That glorious day of Jesus comes when, in our attentiveness, we see the rays of the light breaking through to us in our tiredness and in our fatigue. It breaks us through to us in various ways. We, who are in this sometimes foggy present moment, peering forward, sometimes have this moments of wonderful spiritual clarity. Those moments are true moments of being alert—of being spiritually awake.
Sometimes we have it right here, in church, when we gather together. I have shared with each of you at times when those moments sometimes come to me. They sometimes come to me here at this altar.
One of the most common ways they happen for me is when I have broken that break and we are singing the Agnus Dei—the Lamb of God. As we sing, and I have had moments in which I look down at that broken Bread and that chalice, I realize: yes, this IS the Lamb of God. This is Jesus. This is the spiritual goal of my life. This IS the Day of Our Lord Jesus. Jesus has truly come to us this day.
This is what it means to be awake, to not be lazy. Certainly, in a very real sense, today—this First Sunday of Advent— is a precursor of that one glorious day of the Lord Jesus that St. Paul talks about. But the rays of that glorious future day also break through to us now when, in our attentiveness, we recognize Jesus in here at the altar and in those we serve as Christians. Those rays of the Day of Christ break through when we can see Jesus in all those we meet and serve.
In this beautiful Sarum blue Advent season, we are reminded that the day of Christ is truly about dawn upon us. The rays of the bright sun-lit dawn are already starting to lighten the darkness of our lives. We realize, in this moment, that, despite all that has happened, despite the disappointments, despite the losses, despite the pain each of us has had to bear, the ray of Christ’s Light breaks through to us in that darkness and somehow, makes it all better.
But this is doesn’t happen in an instant. Oftentimes that light is a gradual dawning in our lives. Oftentimes, it happens gradually so we can adjust to it, so it doesn’t blind us. Sometimes, our awakening is in stages, as though waking from a deep, slumbering sleep.
Our job as Christians is somewhat basic. I’m not saying it’s easy. But I am saying that it is basic. Our job, as Christians, especially in this Advent time, is to be alert. To be awake. Spiritually and emotionally. And, in being alert, we must see clearly.
We cannot, when that Day of Christ dawns, be found to lazy and sloughing. Rather, when that Day of our Lord Jesus dawns, we should greet it joyfully, with bright eyes and a clear mind. We should run toward that dawn as we never have before in our lives. We should let the joy within us—the joy we have hid, we have tried to kill—the joy we have not allowed ourselves to feel—come pouring forth on that glorious day. And in that moment, all those miserable things we have been dealt—all that loss, all that failure, all that unfairness—will dissipate like a bad dream on awakening.
“Keep alert,” Jesus says to us.
It’s almost time.
Keep awake because that “something” you have been longing for all your spiritual life is about to happen. It is about to break through into our lives. And it is going to be glorious.