Scripture - Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 3:1-12
Romans 13:11-14 (NRSV)
11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
Matthew 3:1-12 (The Message)
-2 While Jesus was living in the Galilean hills, John, called “the Baptizer,” was preaching in the desert country of Judea. His message was simple and austere, like his desert surroundings: “Change your life. God’s kingdom is here.”
3 John and his message were authorized by Isaiah’s prophecy:
Thunder in the desert!
Prepare for God’s arrival!
Make the road smooth and straight!
4-6 John dressed in a camel-hair habit tied at the waist by a leather strap. He lived on a diet of locusts and wild field honey. People poured out of Jerusalem, Judea, and the Jordanian countryside to hear and see him in action. There at the Jordan River those who came to confess their sins were baptized into a changed life.
7-10 When John realized that a lot of Pharisees and Sadducees were showing up for a baptismal experience because it was becoming the popular thing to do, he exploded: “Brood of snakes! What do you think you’re doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to make any difference? It’s your life that must change, not your skin! And don’t think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as father. Being a descendant of Abraham is neither here nor there. Descendants of Abraham are a dime a dozen. What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.
11-12 “I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. The real action comes next: The main character in this drama—compared to him I’m a mere stagehand—will ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.”
One: The Word of Life. All: Thanks be to God.
“You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.”
Several months ago, before Genevieve was born, Ben and I were trying to figure out how to manage Michael’s sleep - he’s never been a great sleeper and one of our goals before welcoming Genevieve into the world was to improve his sleep - namely him being able to fall asleep more independently and...having him not wake us up at 5 in the morning. To help deal with the latter, we purchased an “OK to Wake clock”. We bought an owl. You set the time for when it’s OK for your kid to get out of bed. When you squeeze the owl and it’s before the set time, it turns orange, and it plays a little “Go back to sleep now” song and some lullabies. Squeeze the owl after the set time, it turns green and it says “Time to wake up!” and plays some happy wake up music - and that’s Michael’s signal that it’s OK to get out of his room and wake us up (if we aren’t already awake). This OK to Wake clock is the best thing ever and has saved our sleep on more than one occasion (well, at least until Genevieve came along!)
In the Christian life, the season of Advent is like our “OK to Wake” clock. It’s the green light that says, “it’s time to get up now” - because Christ is coming and the kingdom of God is here. For that matter, John the Baptist was like the “OK to Wake” clock for the Jewish people - urging them to live the kingdom life now. His urgent message of repentance drew people to the Jordan river for baptism to wake them up so they wouldn’t miss out on what God was about to do in Jesus. Maybe more than an “OK to Wake” clock - John the Baptist was like an alarm clock, that you couldn’t hit the snooze button on, alerting people that the time to change hearts and lives wasn’t some day in the future, but was here right now.
This is the life that the early Christians lived - this perpetual alertness to what God was doing - because they watched and waited for Jesus to come back and they believed that that day was soon. This is what Paul means when he writes, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.”
It’s OK to Wake now - get ready because God’s kingdom is here.
In Advent, we prepare ourselves and get ready for Christ to come again; for Jesus to be born anew on Christmas, to come once again into our hearts and lives. I don’t know about you, but oftentimes my preparations for Christmas have little to do with waking up to the reality of God’s kingdom in our midst and more to do with whatever Christmas “emergency” has caught my attention. I mean that in the sense of how easy it is for me to find myself caught in the trappings of Christmas because they are things that my time just seems to flow towards without conscious thought - following the blaring sirens to the tree lot, to the mall, to the parties and concerts, to the kitchen in a baking frenzy, to church, to the craft fair, to home again to decorate and oops, I’ve forgotten to mail out Christmas cards again and I’ve forgotten that I really have a choice about how to spend my time in getting ready for Christmas - and to do so in a way fully awake and expecting Christ around me rather than drifting through the season half-asleep to the true meaning of this season.
So perhaps instead of Christmas emergencies - the trappings that pull us toward the perpetual to-dos of festive anticipation, we should think of preparation for Christmas as a time of “emerge-agency” - a time to celebrate and welcome our ability to order time according to what we find sacred and a gift, instead of where the sirens are or whatever feels most urgent or whatever we find distracting or draining.
We get to choose - we get to choose to construct our time in a way that allows us to see our preparations as holy and sacred. We get to have agency and not merely be swept along by the busyness of this season. We get to choose whether we get ready for Christmas half-asleep or fully awake and present to what God is doing in our midst.
Being awake may be something as simple as taking 5 minutes of silent prayer at the beginning of the day. It may be choosing to donate extra food to the food pantry or clothing to Goodwill in a reverse Advent calendar - where you add one item a day to a box for donation. Being awake may be about lighting a special candle in your home as a reminder of God’s presence with you or to remember that each task done in preparation for Christmas can be a sacred one. Being awake for you may be about letting go of certain obligations to focus more on being present to God or to others - visiting or calling those who have a hard time making it out, baking extra cookies for neighbors, offering a helping hand to other people in their own preparations for the season. It could be about working to forgive someone or loving someone who you find difficult to love. Being awake means participating in the things that make up God’s kingdom, it means changing your perspective, it means living a kingdom life, one that is green and blossoming, as we heard from our scripture this morning - not living life as if we were deadwood ready for the fire.
You may have noticed the paper watches in your bulletins. Take those out - and take out a pen or pencil. Think about what takes up your time and attention during this season - especially those things that seem like “emergencies” and write them down on the watch. When you are done, put them on your wrist.
Does everyone have them on?
I invite us to take some time for silent reflection - on the ways God is inviting us to be awake and ready this season - on the ways God wants us to use our time in ways that draw us toward the sacred and holy - on the ways that we can order our time so that it is life-giving and holy.
As you are moved to do so - come up to the front -- take off your watch and offer it here and exchange it for one of these bracelets - as a reminder to be awake - as a reminder that we can choose to spend this season in ways that are life-giving and meaningful...and that we can choose to find the sacred in all things.
[start playing Be Still and Know….as folks are starting to come forward, we’ll start singing it together….]
Let us pray. Thank you, God, for the Emergence of our sacred gifts of Agency in this Holy season. In all the upcoming “nows” we will experience, grant that we may wisely order and inhabit your sacred gift of time - with each other, our families and friends, and with all the many needs that cross our paths. Enable us to resist the pull of the all demands upon our time, drifting from one thing to another, but keep us awake and ready for you. In the name of Jesus, for whom we are getting ready, we pray, Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and almost 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.