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So every three years when this gospel comes around – it is hard for me not to chuckle when I’m reverently proclaiming it. Because what I want to say at the end of John’s diatribe telling us – the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire – so Merry Christmas!
One of the big themes of advent time – this season of preparation is – Keep Awake! Keep Awake – for you never know when God will break in – keep awake – you never know when the end will come – stay alert, be watchful – make sure your lamps are lit – keep awake!
And I was mulling over this keep awake mantra – a voice in my head said – well, Arianne that’s funny you’d need to focus on keeping awake – when it always seems so hard to fall asleep. I feel like technically – keeping awake isn’t so much of a problem. Sometimes it is around 3 o’clock in the afternoon – but other than that – keep asleep, get some rest, seems like some liturgical advice that would be more useful.
I’m well aware from a myriad of conversations – that I’m not the only one who struggles with sleep – and just to confirm that – I went to our 21st century Oracle – Google.
And Google validated I’m not alone. I found many articles on this topic – and one from Forbes said that a little less than 50% of Americans say they get a solid night’s sleep. According to a Consumer Reports article from this year we spend $41 billion dollars on sleep aids. So – keeping awake – does not seem to be a problem for most of us.
So what does keep awake really mean – what is it that the prophets – in particular today the prophet John the Baptist – is trying to help us see?
Matthew’s gospel – and we’re now in Matthew because we just started a new church year last week – Year A – such a fancy name – is the harshest. It’s the one that has gnashing of teeth – and all the fire and brimstone stuff. And that’s because – it’s the gospel written to the “chosen” of God’s people. Not the ones who show up on Christmas and Easter – but the ones who are here – Sunday by Sunday – people of faith who consider themselves religious already – which is why – for me anyway – it can be hard on the ears.
John the Baptist’s take on the “keep awake” theme – is repent. Repent, for the kingdom of God has come near. Repent – for I baptize with water – but one is coming who will baptize with fire and the Holy Spirit. And in this gospel he encouragement is accompanied by a stern warning - don’t assume – that because you are of Abraham’s line – i.e. one of the chosen – that it’s a done deal. It’s not the religion you ascribe to – it’s the fruits that you bear. Bear fruit worthy of repentance.
Repent. Repentance. What do those words mean to you? I find that most of us take that to mean – “I’m sorry” – or more like – I’m really, really sorry and I will never do that or it again – whatever it is. *
That may be a part of repentance for some of us – but that’s not the whole of it. The fullest sense of the word – draws out of the faith of Abraham – who made a radical turn in his life – giving himself fully to trusting God’s ways.
The emphasis of “to repent” is less on what we did – and more on – so now what? The focus – as this is a theme of all the prophets, Jesus at the top of the list – is on future action. Now that we see our ways are not God’s ways – how do we change and move forward – how do we incorporate our new understanding into ways of being, ways of walking – in a new direction that we believe is the direction God is calling us – God is calling me into.
And – this isn’t something that is one and done. It’s the journey – we do it all our lives. For most of us – our internal compass – our road map – our GPS – its going to get off track – again and again – that’s why we need God. And in order to be rerouted – in order to figure out which way to go – we have to make space in here (head) and here (heart) to listen – not to our own conscience – but listen for God. And there are so many ways to listen – so many ways we “hear.”
Yesterday – through the gift of this community – I had the joy of being in the undercroft – fancy church word for basement – of St. Luke’s down on Carey Street downtown – along with about 35 people from this church – where we brought 300 gifts – for children and for adults – and where we shared delicious food café style.
Standing there - you would think that our two churches get together all the time – busyness at craft tables with kids – adults all easily chatting – at various times standing with Good Shepherd parishioners – simply gazing – watching humanity – people – of very different worlds and backgrounds being together. Aware – or at least I was – of the randomness of our own circumstances – and the amazing ways – God – God – brings us into relationship with one another – so that we can continuously remind ourselves of our common humanity, our gifts, and how we need each other.
you hear children anywhere – but especially children that frankly you know do not have the same advantages as your children – lift up prayers of thanksgiving for God – for the world – for all the people – for getting out of bed that morning – when you listen to God’s wisdom through their mouths – your heart get aligned – your compass gets reset – it opens our eyes – to what God intends, why Jesus was born for us.
Every offering we have this month of Advent is offered to make space for your own personal reflection and listening. Tonight – an hour of meditation and quiet. Next weekend – a quiet day to reflect on your story and the Christmas story – for this year is unlike any other and it will never be the same again. Or next Sunday – a concert – sacred music – which for some of us sparks reflection and inner quiet.
Or the weekend after that – go to the blessing of a new house through Habitat on McCabe Avenue and be a witness to transformation – of neighborhoods, of people’s lives. And that same weekend – consider attending a contemplative service on Sunday night – Blue Christmas – to acknowledge and lift up the truth – that not everyone has the joy, joy, joy down in their heart this time of year – and there are plenty of prayers to say on behalf of our world – for all those who really need a little Christmas right this very minute – but don’t.
Repentance means taking a turn – walking down a new road – because we can get stuck on the same path sometimes. It can be good to step out in a new direction – and experiment with the ways we listen and try to see God at work in our lives, in our world here and now.
As a few people reminded me yesterday – it’s is surely not a coincidence that two streets over from North Carey – is North Carrollton. God’s working his purpose out – as we’ll sing at the end of our 10am this morning – and when I combine that street sign in the wilderness with the amazing Spirit that is growing and so evident how could we not see that God is calling us into relationship with that faith community. Perhaps so that a church of God can thrive in a neighborhood that needs it.
Fruit that is worthy of repentance can be a feeling – it can be tears – it can be joy – it can be a house – it can be a gift – it’s anything that grows your faith that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves – and our unique and precious time on earth has a purpose.
I think when we’re awake to what God intends for us – we don’t have a problem falling asleep. Because we can name our gratitude, we can let go of those things we can't control, we are aligned and it is as the song goes – well, it is well, with my soul. The fruit worthy of repentance are ways of being in the world that fill us with all joy and peace so that we can trust and hope. In God’s dream for each of us – and for all our sisters and brothers, because Christ came to save the world. Amen.
- The Rev. Arianne R. Weeks (12/4/16)
*Thanks to Rev. David Lose