Wake Up!

This news story was posted yesterday on Yahoo News –

“Sebastian D’Souza hears the gunfire at (shah-trapati shiv-a-ji)) Terminus from his office across the street at the Mumbai Mirror tabloid.

He follows the sound through the sprawling station, slipping unseen through parked trains. When he first catches sight of the young men, he doesn’t realize they are the gunmen. They look so innocent. Then he sees them shooting.

“They were firing from their hips. Very professional. Very cool,” says D’Souza, the newspaper’s photo editor. For more than 45 minutes he follows as they move from platform to platform shooting and throwing grenades. Often, D’Souza isn’t even 30 feet away. The few police at the station are either dead, in hiding or had long fled.

There are billboards everywhere, signs of India’s economic boom. At one point, he photographs them standing beneath a tea company sign. They appear to be having a calm conversation. “WAKE UP!” the billboard reads.”

“Wake up!” the billboard reads.

The season of Advent is a time of paradox. While on one hand we are preparing for the warm and beautiful scenes surrounding the birth of the Christ child, we are also preparing ourselves for the second coming of Christ. We find ourselves surrounded by this rich color purple, both because it is a symbol of the royalty of our Lord, but also the color for repentance and confession.

It is hard for a pastor to live in that paradox. It is hard to not give in to the cultural emphasis on Christmas – what with decorations and music being found in the stores before Halloween. As I chatted with other colleagues in this past week, we all struggled to take seriously the desperation and the seriousness that the scriptures from this morning call for. It’s almost Christmas after all, and wouldn’t a sermon on the apocalypse be a little too heavy?

We don’t want to talk about the darkness and evil in the world because this is supposed to be a season of joy and light, peace on earth and good will toward all.

“Wake up!” the billboard reads.

Some days the darkness sneaks up on you. Some weeks it is hard to ignore. Most of my pastor friends were up long into the night re-writing their sermons. We simply cannot let the evil of this world go unnoticed this Sunday morning.

There are so many things that are heavy on our hearts this week. The loss of life in Mumbai. The trampling of a woman at a Wal-Mart on this Black Friday. Friends and family that have been laid off or fired. Tomorrow is World AIDS Day and we remember that there are now 33 million people living with HIV worldwide.

What does any of this have to do with Advent? We have to think back to the paradox of the season. You see, we celebrate Advent because we need to remember that God came down to earth as a vulnerable baby. We recreate nativity scenes and put stars on our trees to recall the shining light that led the world to the Christ child. We recite the promises of the prophets and remember that our God is faithful.

But we also celebrate Advent because we must remember that there are still promises left to be fulfilled. There is still darkness and evil in our world. There are still people crying out for healing and salvation. God’s work has begun among us, but it is not finished yet.

“Wake up!” the billboard reads.

A friend wrote yesterday, “can anyone explain to me how any sale can be so good to not only line up at 5 in the morning but then to trample, to death, a worker at the store. And then complain when the store announces it is closing in light of the incident!

That new world, really, is it coming soon? Because some days I really start to lose hope in this one.”

Hope is what this first Sunday of Advent is all about – and yet it is hard to be hopeful.

We are desperate for the coming of the new heavens and the new earth. We are at the end of our ropes. We are waiting O God! When, are you going to act?

That desperation. That bold trust that God will come. Those are the things that this season is all about. That is why we start Advent with an apocalyptic vision:

From our gospel reading this morning we hear, “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… Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory…. When you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates… beware, keep alert, for you do not know when the time will come.

“Wake up!” the billboard reads.

Apocalyptic writings can be frightening to hear. They urge us that the time is coming, and coming soon, when God will set all things right. And they often do so with visions of disaster and tragedy, death and destruction.

Most days, we would hear those visions of apocalypse and have very little to connect us to the reality that birthed these types of prophecies. We don’t understand what could possibly be so hopeful about these terrifying visions.

But what we have to understand is that apocalyptic scriptures are not born out of times of safety and security, peace and well-being, but they are born out of times of desperation. They are written only in times of suffering and persecution. They are born out of a yearning for God to intervene.

As his people were being taken away to exile in Babylon, we hear the words of the prophet Isaiah this morning “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down!… to make your name known to your adversaries!”

In other words – we are struggling down here, O God! Come and set things right!

“Wake up!” the billboard reads.

Just who is it that should keep awake? Who is falling asleep? Who isn’t paying attention? In some ways, I feel like Isaiah is calling out to God to wake up. Wake up! Look at what is happening! Why aren’t you doing something?!

But perhaps Isaiah is speaking to us as well. Maybe Isaiah thinks that we are the ones who need the wake up call. Who need something as dramatic as the heavens tearing open in order to get our heads right.

Maybe the call is not to wake up to the reality of evil and darkness around us – but to wake up to the promise and the hope of our God. To stop letting the evil take us over, to stop letting it control our lives, and instead to wake up to the reality of the in-breaking Kingdom of God.

You see, Isaiah has some harsh words for his brothers and sisters, who seem to have succumbed to the darkness. He wants them to look around for themselves and to see that God has not left them.

“We are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.” God isn’t quite finished with us yet. God hasn’t finished shaping our world. God has not abandoned us.

“Wake up!” the billboard reads.

In these seemingly dark days – with disaster and tragedy, difficulty and despair all around us, it is hard to see the signs of God’s presence. We are eagerly waiting for something dramatic to shake the earth to its core – to set things right once and for all. We are waiting for the grand finale – for the completion of God’s work.

And Advent is that time of year when we get slapped upside the head with challenging images of the heavens shaking and the earth trembling and voices crying out in the wilderness. Advent really isn’t a time for the soft and cuddly, but a reminder that the every present Kingdom of God is about to fully break into our midst – whether we are ready for it or not.

But perhaps part of our wake up call also needs to be prepared not for catastrophic billboards from on high, for cosmic signs and wonders, but to simply wake up and notice where God is already active in our midst.

Yes, Christ promises to return, and in the Advent season we eagerly await the return described in Mark. But Advent is also the reminder that God has already come down and made his life among us, and that while there may have been a star in the heavens, the presence of God was found in the ordinary. An infant born and laid in a manger of hay. Smelly shepherds coming in from the fields. A holy meal of simple wine and bread.

“Wake up!” the billboard reads.

Wake up and look around you. Look with eyes wide open for the signs of the Kingdom of God.

Look for where hungry people are being fed by food banks all across the country.
Look for where the oppressed are set free through prison rehabilitation programs or through AlAnon.
Look for where the sick are healed, like our loved one Mike Schott.

If you look hard enough – you will see that God is still working. God is still active. God remembers the promises that were made. And know, that our hope rests in that God. That he will see us through.

Even now as we wait – as we look around – as we take it all in… we dare to hope.

Amen. And Amen.

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