What are the children doing?
Today I brought with me some ways to measure time.
· Sand timer—if this was bigger, it might be called an hourglass.
· Time Timer—measures minutes like a stopwatch, and you can see it counting down.
· Alarm clock—turn the switch to wind it up, and it has a loud alarm to wake you up if you’re sleeping!
Look around up here at the front of the church: there’s another way to measure time! What do you notice is new in here? The banners have turned blue, the color of Advent, the time before a big holiday—Christmas! And here is the way we measure time until Christmas: the Advent wreath. There are four candles here, one for each Sunday until Christmas. We lit only one candle today, but next week, how many candles will we light? Two! And the week after that, three! And the week after that, we’ll light all four candles! And then we get to the candle in the middle, and that’s the one we light for Christmas, when we celebrate the time when Jesus was born as a baby.
The candles grow brighter, we light more of them until we get to Christmas. At the same time we’re counting with candles, and it gets brighter and brighter in here, maybe you’ve noticed the sun goes down a little earlier every day. It’s so dark in the evening now. The daylight grows shorter where we live, but the light is still getting brighter. This will keep happening until December 21st, which is the winter solstice, when the night is the longest it can possibly be, and after that, the days begin getting longer.
But we always remember that Jesus said he is the light of the world. And someone else said Jesus is the light that shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not even understand the light. The light is what helps us to see, reveals what is true, doesn’t let us hide—those are things that Jesus does, because God loves us and wants to be with us.
Let’s pray together. Dear God, thank you for always being with us. You hold all of time in your hands, and you hold us in your hands, too. Help us to notice time as a precious gift you give to us. Amen.
A flood arrives suddenly, sweeping away people and animals and buildings. People being snatched away in the middle of doing their daily work. Thieves stealing things in the middle of the night.
On the first Sunday of Advent, my true love gave to me: a Scripture from a horror movie.
Seriously, Jesus is warning about the end times—where does this fit into our narrative? Aren’t we supposed to be getting ready for a holiday, for a celebration? Or what about happy waiting and expectation, like waiting for a baby to arrive, or waiting for the big party or the big festival or the big family gathering or the big concert or the big wedding?
Why can’t we be talking about waiting for happy stuff?! Isn’t daily life difficult enough without reminding us all the reasons to be afraid? Why isn’t Jesus painting a rosy picture of the future, giving us something to look forward to?
Jesus is not about fake happiness or positivity for its own sake. Jesus is about the struggle for justice. No false peace until there is true fulfillment. We’re not all-the-way free until everyone is free.
For those of us who live our daily lives pretty much expecting that things in the world will work for us, Jesus’s words are a bit of a downer. But for those of us who know what it is to struggle, to worry about finances or to worry about health or bodily safety every time you leave your home, these same words from Jesus are a beacon of hope—life will not always be like this!
When Jesus says “Keep awake,” that doesn’t mean “never go to sleep.” This isn’t a threat. It’s an invitation to be aware, to be attentive to life. Don’t sleepwalk your way through life. Don’t live your days on auto-pilot. Don’t numb yourself to the pain of life, and don’t give up your humanity insisting that pain is acceptable for some groups of people.
Let’s not lie to ourselves: this is hard work. It is spiritually difficult work to keep yourself rooted in God’s goodness when abuses are being hurled every which way in our world of violence. It’s important to remember this is nothing new—humans have always had the capacity for incredible hatred toward one another, it’s just that sometimes we weren’t really paying attention to the pain we were causing each other. Some of us have been, well, kinda asleep.
James Baldwin was a Black American writer who attempted to help white people wake up. In 1964 he wrote an essay titled “The White Problem”—that might get your attention—and in that essay he explained the lie at the heart of our country’s founding:
“The people who settled the country had a fatal flaw. They could recognize a man when they saw one. They knew he wasn’t…anything else but a man; but since they were Christian, and since they had already decided that they came here to establish a free country, the only way to justify the role this chattel was playing in one’s life was to say that he was not a man. For if he wasn’t, then no crime had been committed. That lie is the basis of our present trouble.”
Eddie Glaude, Jr. writes about James Baldwin’s influence during and after the Civil Rights movement, and in Glaude’s words, Baldwin was “bearing witness to a time when many thought the nation was poised to change, only to have darkness descend and change arrested. Grief and trauma joined with disappointment as Baldwin watched white Americans turn away from the difficulties of genuine change, often embracing a nostalgic appeal for simpler days, when black people knew their place and weren’t in the streets protesting, in order to justify their refusal to give up the lie.”
In other words, it’s more comfortable to simply remain asleep to the needs of people who are seeking justice. This is why Jesus’s apocalyptic words are powerful statements of hope for people who are working to see the end of injustice, waiting for a new order.
And this is why it remains so powerful to tell the truth and to be honest about what’s broken in our society—this is the jagged edge where healing can happen. If we trust in God who is big enough to send Jesus to live and die and rise again, then doesn’t God have the power to heal the brokenness around us?
Where do you notice the broken stuff in the world? And where do you notice the healing?
In this season of Advent, as the days grow shorter over the next few weeks, don’t neglect to care your body—get plenty of sleep, rest in God’s goodness, because you’re gonna need that energy to steadfastly resist evil. Be honest about the good in this world AND the stuff that needs attending.
God isn’t trying to get rid of the good stuff but to make space for the good stuff to expand. God isn’t taking away your presents or your gifts; God is making space for a world where theft isn’t necessary, and as the prophet Isaiah so poetically puts it: where spears and swords are repurposed as tools useful for harvesting crops, instead of ending or endangering human life. Imagine a world where guns don’t even need to exist.
Be awake and be watchful for where the reign of God is breaking into this world. Look for the helpers, and look for the peacemakers. No one knows when Jesus will return—not even Jesus knows—but we continue to confess our belief that Jesus will return. The day of salvation is near. Keep watching for it.
 First published in Robert A. Goodwin’s 100 Years of Emancipation, quoted here from Eddie S. Glaude, Jr. Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and It’s Urgent Lessons For Our Own, New York: Crown, 2020, page 9.  Eddie Glaude, Begin Again, page 16.