42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. Matthew 24:36-44
In 1693, George Keith, formerly a Quaker, wrote a pamphlet entitled “An Exhortation and Caution to Friends Concerning Buying and Keeping Negroes.” It wasn’t until 1781, 88 years later, that the Quakers in the New England colonies prohibited their members form slaveholding.
During the Second World War the villagers of Le Chambon in south-central France hid over 5,000 Jews from the Nazis and smuggled them to Switzerland when it was safe.
As of today, over 24 Christian denominations and organizations have submitted public statements in support of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the other native nations that have joined in a confederation with them. And, many of their members of these denominations have gone to Standing Rock and lent their physical and material support in numerous ways, including being water-hosed in freezing temperatures and arrested.
These are just three instances where the Church of Jesus Christ has been alert, watchful, and engaged. Without a doubt there have been others. It may not be feasible or desirable for many of us in this fellowship to be at Standing Rock, or at any of the several post-election protests being held around the country. Nevertheless, this passage of scripture is for us today. “Keep alert”, “Be ready”, Jesus tells the disciples who had been following him for almost three years, learning, serving, growing a small meeting of several men into a small community of women and men of all sorts that had come to irritate the Roman government in the region of Palestine. Jesus’ words come as a ‘“heads-up.” Why? Because something big was about to happen, to the Jewish community and the Jewish-Christian community. The Roman government would bring all its power down on their heads and send them scattering to the four winds. Sow seeds of doubt and dissension among them. Have them work at cross-purposes. Then they will destroy their own community. Take over their institutions, dismantle key ones. Disperse them among the nations of the world and no one would ever remember that they existed. Those were dangerous times in the first century of this common era. And these are dangerous times that we live in. They are dangerous not simply because of cryptic prophecies, but because we see corruption, greed, despair, and complacency with our own eyes, in the wider world, and in our churches themselves.
Even so, these are fantastic times to be alive just as much as they are dangerous. Life is always a mix of both. Our lives, the lives of people around us, the life of the world always seems to be teetering on the cusp of falling headlong into some crazy chaos. Nevertheless, Jesus’ words to us to stay vigilant, poised, to wake up and act is for us in our time. If the Quakers (Society of Friends) in the 18th century did it, we can, too! If the Protestant villagers in Le Chambon during WWII did it, we can, too! If our sisters and brothers at Standing Rock can do it, we can, too! If we are unsure about our mission - how to carry out our mission - we need only to take a look at these witnesses and follow their example. Open your eyes! Look up! Take a second look, because what you may be looking at is not what needs to be seen; there’s something deeper to understand, to hear, to wrestle with, to commit to.
We live by our devices, our clocks, bells, schedules, Post-Its, and coffee. Some of these we ignore and our lives are not so out of gear. We can usually find our footing and then we’re off and running again. But, one thing we can’t afford NOT to do is to be awake, alert, and watchful, as engaged Christians. 24/7 Christians. Why? Because so much is at stake. Had the Quakers, the villagers of La Chambon, and the protestors at Standing Rock been asleep, think how worse our society would be. It matters that we are awake. It matters that we are engaged. It matters that we reconcile ourselves to the fact that being Christian is a forever calling that is costly. It’s a calling that is sharpened every time we stand up, stand with, speak out, speak with regarding any kind of destruction of lives, of communities, of the ideals of justice, equity, and peace. And that’s not easy; it’s not always convenient, because we are subject to get hurt in the process.
On this first Sunday of Advent, we sit with many congregations in the Christian community, listening, singing, and watching in hopeful expectation of Jesus’ arrival among us. Yes, we hear again the story of his arrival almost 2,000 years ago. But, we await his arrival - again - in our clock-driving lives, in our church, in our homes, at our workplace, in our halls of justice, in lives and homes that are in chaos and needing a deep and abiding peace. His is a continual coming, because we are continually in need of being reminded that God is with us - lighting our way, bearing us up. God is with us catching our attention and strengthening us to go and do what we think we cannot do, for the sake of the good news of God’s Kingdom.
Heads up! This Advent season, and any other season we get to be alive, we get see God calling us to embrace the implausible: an angel, a star, a pregnant teenage girl, a poor father-to be, a feeding trough in a barn, a cooing baby. Head’s up! Be alert! Get ready! Something wonderfully dangerous is about to happen, and we’re invited to participate in it. Are you ready?