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Keep Awake!

St. Philip Lutheran Church

29 November 2020 + First Sunday of Advent

Mark 13.24-37

Bishop Yehiel Curry, preaching


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I.On the Lookout for Mama “Keep awake! And tell me when mama is coming.” This imperative was not an uncommon one in my childhood home, often given to me and to my siblings

by my oldest sister, Hannah. You see, on nights like this, when my mother was working late, Hannah was in charge. This meant that: Hannah would make sure our chores were done and Hannah would make sure our homework was complete. Hannah prepared our meals and Hannah saw to it that we ate. and Hannah was in charge of getting us to bed on time. And this is what Hannah did. And she was good at it. +++ Occasionally, however, Hannah would allow us to stay up past our curfew--even on a school night! On nights like this, we would watch TV for a while, and, with the spiral chord stretched across the living room, she would talk on the landline with her “friend.” It was a good deal. We got TV time, and she got the phone. In order to make this arrangement work, however, one of us needed to stand guard. To be the lookout. That person would have to keep awake,

peering out of the window, watching and waiting with vigilance, for mama to return so that we could be alerted immediately. +++ On this particular night, it was my turn to keep watch. This was fine with me, as my favorite shows came on late, And, anyway, it wasn’t that difficult for me to look out the window and to look at the television at the same time. However, on this particular night, I was feeling drowsy. My eyelids were growing heavy, and every time they closed, it took me just a little bit longer to pull them open again. But I was determined. I was on the job. And I was on a mission: to look out for Mama. +++ Getting into position, I learned quickly that a window seal makes a good pillow. There, I rested my head where, at the same time, I could pivot back and forth, moving my eyes moving from the television to the empty pavement of the front stoop. And back. To the television. To the stoop. To the television.

To the stoop. To the television. To the stoop. +++ No matter how hard I tried, no matter how perfect the system I had put in place, no matter my desire for my favorite TV shows. or my fear of Mama’s wrath, nothing that evening was able to keep me awake! +++ At some point in that evening, mama’s keys jingled. At some point in that evening, the door squeaked open and the door slammed shut. But it wasn’t until I heard my mother’s raised voice decreeing, “Turn that television off!” that I was jolted from the comfort of my homemade pillow in the window. We all awoke. And immediately. There was no doubt. We were in trouble. +++

Quickly: We cut off the light. We turned off the TV. And we waited. This time, to find out our fate.

II. Advent It is well known that Advent is about waiting. Hope. Anticipation. Longing: These are all words that have been used to speak about this season. We wait with Mary for the birth of a child. We wait, with a world shot through with death, for new and renewed life. We wait, in a time when hate and misinformation fill the airwaves and fill out news-feeds. We wait, as they hang like a cloud over our lives, for a Word of love and truth and peace. We wait. We watch. We keep on the lookout for when Mama might arrive--or perhaps when we might arrive, once again--at home.

III. The Gospel In the opening verses of today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of waiting on an intergalactic scale. The cosmos themselves are misaligned. Soon the sun will lose its sparkle. Soon the moon will cease to shine. Soon the stars, fixed in places and patterns for eternities, will begin to fall.

The Fig Tree will tell a tale. The head of the household will return. But such events, says Jesus, are only signs. They point us to what is ahead of us, to that which we hope for: A family reunion. A gathering of God’s beloved. A convening of all of creation in praise, in heaven and on the earth and under the earth. We wait. With Advent hope. To sing a joyous song... for the restoration of the family, the reunion, the celebration.

IV. Retrospect In hindsight, I know that whether my mother found us fast asleep or up way past our bedtime, we were fully her children. No matter what we did. No matter what, she was going to provide food for us. No matter what, she would make sure we had shelter. No matter what, she would offer us endless encouragement, accountability and love. No matter what, and no matter how we had behaved. She loved us. And she loved us unconditionally. As a result of that love, she also gave us standards to live by to help us grow into resourceful and successful adults.

Whether she was home or not. she wanted to be certain that we were cared for, and she wanted this for our benefit--not for her own. +++ It’s true. If she had found us in our beds that night, chores done and bellies full, it would have made her happy. It always brought her joy to feel that we were on the right path, and that we were growing in a healthy and life-giving way. Instead, she found me fast asleep in the window. And she found Hannah talking to her “friend” on the phone. She found the TV on, as well as the lights. And Mama (of course) loved us anyway. And Mama’s love is something you never had to wait for. It was constant and it was unconditional, even as we waited, on the lookout, trying to stay awake as she made her way home. +++ I believe it is similar with God. God loves us. God wants us to thrive and to grow. +++ I believe in this season Jesus is inviting us to stay awake differently and actively. NOT as young-me on the lookout and in fear of Mama’s wrath, hoping to turn off the TV on time,

but as active participants, preparing the way, lifting the valleys and lowering the heights, building a church that reflects the promise of God’s Reign: the one that Mary sings about this season, as she, too, waits with us: God’s Reign of Love, Where tyrants are torn from their thrones. where last become first where the captives are all made free and where all God’s children are fed and sheltered and cared for. God’s Reign of love, where all belong where all are cared for, and where all are able to get a good night's sleep!

AMEN. May it be so.


Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash

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