Growing up, we had a ‘wake up’ routine in our house in the winter time. We heated our house with wood, and as the fire died down in the night, everyone would snuggle in tighter in the blankets. But about 6:00 AM, Dad would get up and get the fire going and then go back to bed for a bit. Then about 6:15 or a few minutes after, when that chill had just begun to be taken off the living room, he would get back up, and pop his head into my room and say, “Arousto, arousto!” This was Dad’s way of saying that it was time to get up and face the new day. Then the door would be closed again. At this point, it was time to get up, even though it was very tempting to crawl deeper into the covers, waiting for the heat of the fire to creep into the room. But I knew I couldn’t do that. Something would happen if I stayed in bed. If I wasn’t up soon enough for Dad’s expectations, Dad would enter the room quietly and slowly with a cup of cold water in his hand. I never knew exactly when he would come through that door, but if I wasn’t out of the bed by the time he reached me, a cold shower would greet my day.
So, I think it is pretty important that we hear Paul’s words of “Wake up!” or “Arousto! It is time to face the day!” on this first Sunday of Advent. It can be easy to get caught up in the cultural expectations of the “Christmas season.” Black Friday, or this year, Gray Thursday marked the beginning of the countdown to Christmas. Hurry up and by presents! You only have 24 days left! When we get caught up in all the hoopla, we might miss Paul’s words of “Wake Up! We are waiting for something different than a shopping spree.
For Paul, the dawning of a new day was at hand, the day of Jesus Christ’s return. Now, Paul himself thought that day was imminent, that it was going to happen in the life time of those he wrote. We know it didn’t happen in his life time. And we know it hasn’t happened yet. But in a way he was right in urging them to “wake up” because every event, every day as they wait for the Christ to return was rich in divine possibility. Since the in breaking of eternity by the divine in the birth of Jesus Christ in that manger in Bethlehem, there is now a constant mingling of Christ’s presence in the Holy Spirit in our lives. How could they now sleep through their lives, unaware that they are living, as Joanna Adams states it, “between the old order of things and the new order, where Jesus reigns and all that is wrong has been set right?” Christ himself was the turning point in time. The past might not be completely finished and gone, but the new has truly come.
And it is because the new has truly come into our lives now that we live differently in the waiting. Typically, the First Sunday in Advent has a focus on Christ’s second coming, when the King of kings and Lord of lords will return in glory someday off in the future. But both Paul’s words to the Romans and Jesus’ teachings in Matthew look to that day by focusing on today. Wake up, because today is important. In light of that day that we cannot know, we must live in hope in the here and now while we wait. When Jesus says that the people in Noah’s time were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage the day the rain started, he isn’t saying that they are gluttons and drunkards, but just were going about their day-to-day routines. They were going about their lives. Christ will return when we are in our fields, or in our offices, or in our homes, or in our schools. The insight of not knowing the day that is to come refocuses toward the day we now live.
Paul called the Christians in Rome to live as though that unknown day was close at hand, that “the night is far gone, the day is near.” We are called to live the same way, but with an understanding that Christ’s return may not be for another millennia. That’s a long time to stay awake. It might seem easier to just settle in and doze a bit. But whether that day is tomorrow or 10,000 years from this moment, we now live and act toward one another in an ongoing state of love, even as God has loved us.
Paul’s opening words in this passage to love one another is an imperative, a command. For Paul, it is a responsibility that no Christian can avoid. To understand how Paul is calling us to live, we must understand what he means when he says to love one another, to love our neighbor as ourselves. Our modern culture has so altered what it means to love one another that it has come to mean at least sentimentality or worst the kinds of feelings that come about when an attractive member of the opposite sex enters the room. Love as used in the New Testament is not defined totally as an emotional state, as though when God loves us, he gets a warm, fuzzy feeling deep inside. God’s love is expressed by doing something. I’d say many somethings, but primarily it is shown in sending His Son into the world to free us from our sins so that we can be reconciled to God, each other, and all of creation. We know God loves us not because of how he feels about us, but because of what he has done for us in Christ, reconciling humanity with God.
So, what’s it look like to live today, in between our savior’s first coming and that day he will come again? How do we live today? We start by living today. The Psalmist reminds us that “this is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” This doesn’t mean, “Carpe Diem!” “Seize the day!” in an understanding that we throw all caution to the wind and live life as on big self-centered party. I think Jesus would say, “Seize the day because each day is a precious gift of God.” We do celebrate, but the celebration is different when God is the center of the day and not ourselves. This is when our love of neighbor is expressed, today. By loving God, our love flows out to those around us in our day to day living.
But besides living today, I think Christ would have us also deal with yesterday. God sent Christ into the world out of love to make things right between us, even though the gap that existed between us was our fault. Friends, we respond as well. We all have hurt someone and been hurt by someone one in our past. God has given us today to make things right, to say we are sorry and offer up forgiveness. Reconciliation may not totally happen today, but it just might take making a phone call or writing that letter that you never wanted to write so that wounds can begin to heal.
And we let go of our apprehension about the future. Our hope rests in the promises that God is sovereign over all of human history. Jesus is telling us that the God who created history at the beginning is also history’s goal. God is in control, even on the days or seasons that we feel things are out of control. And it is ok to live into and with that uncertainty. Uncertainty becomes a condition of even the best faith. We don’t know when Christ will return, we don’t have the answers to all the problems that plague us, and in many ways, it is a relief to know that Christ doesn’t expect us to know everything.
But even though we are not expected to know everything, we are expected to do something, to Arousto, Wake up, and live into the gift of this day we have been given. It may mean visiting one of the church’s shut ins. It may mean volunteering at one of the Neighbor to Neighbor dinners, or even better, volunteering with them on a regular basis. It may mean offering a ride to someone this Wednesday to the fellowship dinner and then bringing them to the Hanging of Greens for more fellowship and fun. Or it could look like giving a gift to the Heifer project or Presbyterian Disaster Assistance for Christmas on behalf of someone who already has everything instead of the usual neck tie.
So, I never did have the cup of cold water make it my head, I guess I learned from my brother’s delay in getting up late. I realized it was better to get up and get ready, to meet Dad in the kitchen while he drank his cup of coffee. I think Christ is telling us the same thing. We don’t know what the future holds and when Christ will return. We wait and hope ever alert for his return and the fulfillment of the promise of the new creation by praying, “Come, Lord Jesus, Come.” And the answer to that prayer won’t only be answered some time down the road because Christ also gives us two very important gifts while we wait. He gives us the gift of his presence and he gives us the gift of today. Amen.