With the first Sunday in Advent, we continue a lectionary theme touched upon the past couple weeks. Today, selections from Romans (13:11-14) and Matthew (24:36-44) form the scripture basis for the Sunday message I’ve titled “Awaken!”
Paul’s encouraging words in Romans highlight his concern that people be prepared for light, even in the midst of what seems like overwhelming darkness. Paul challenges those who have given-up on living soberly and instead have thrown their lives into disarray. He emphasizes living harmoniously rather than in the quarreling dissensions which plagued even the earliest Christian communities. Paul admits that the day of redemption is near, but not so much in a predicted calendar event as in the general sense that tomorrow places us closer than today. We don’t know when the end will occur but we know that each day brings us nearer. It is enough to be comforted by a promise of redemption without the prophetic intrigues.
Jesus’ words in Matthew provide valuable insights on the end of history. Yes, the end can come unexpectedly as people conduct daily living. The text indicates how Jesus thought of this, such that folks will be going about ordinary tasks until . . . Wham! People will be separated, taken, and the startling imagery is that Jesus’ return will involve righteous people disappearing as if by magic. This process of the good souls leaving is known as the rapture. Some Christians argue about the timing of the rapture as if they will receive bonus points for making a correct guess.
More helpful than the sequence of the rapture is Jesus’ admission that only the Father knows when the end will occur. “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24: 36). If only God the Father knows when the end will occur it makes you wonder why there’s so much chatter otherwise. Each generation of Christians can identify signs in the world that seem to point to the end times. If nothing else, all the energy exerted in apocalyptic discussions reveals how attractive are end times themes, which seem too tempting to resist.
Clearly, Jesus discouraged people from the futile attempt to pinpoint the timetable of the apocalypse. Apparently, some of today’s religious profiteers haven’t received the memo. Instead of pining for the end times, Jesus encouraged a state of readiness. “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24: 42).
What does it mean to be awake? Aside from the literal sense of not being asleep, there is a spiritual meaning of wakefulness that centers on a healthy relationship with God. Spiritual awareness can mean, for example, that we live with attention to God’s presence through the indwelling Holy Spirit. Having spiritual awareness includes many other aspects such as mindfulness and a cultivated sense of presence. This cannot be dismissed as some New Age nonsense. Indeed, a state of awareness is perceived as a virtue by those who exemplify a thirst for spiritual development.
What about you? Do you sense that spiritual awareness has a special meaning this holiday season? We are beginning a journey through Advent that will take us through celebration of Jesus’ birth, which is our ongoing symbol of humanity’s hope. During Advent, why not take the opportunity to increase your spiritual connectivity. Ask God to take away any distractions or negative emotions that may interfere with enhancing your heart, soul, mind and strength. Partner with God to remove from your life anything that drags you down and holds you back.
This Advent season can be time for your spiritual rebirth, even as we commemorate Jesus’ historical birth. We’ll never know when the end of history will come, but that’s okay. Sure, entrepreneurs continue to lead people astray by their alarmist books and seminars, but we can take a more positive, contructive approach. As long as we are ready to meet God, then it shouldn’t disturb us not knowing the precise hour or age of the end. The encouragement is that we be ready, awakened spiritually and in every other manner that will help us move into the future. Seek spiritual wakefulness and awareness as a way to open yourself to the light and life of the universe. –Reverend Larry Hoxey