Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent – December 1, 2019
Romans 13:11-14, Matthew 24:36-44
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
As common as the turkey and the stuffing and the cranberry sauce that we enjoyed this past week is the post-feasting nap. Many people, myself included, have pointed to the amino acid tryptophan as the reason everyone is sleepy after the Thanksgiving feast, but apparently that’s a myth. According to WebMD, a pretty reputable source of medical information on the internet, turkey doesn’t have any more tryptophan than chicken. You never hear of anyone getting sleepy after a grilled chicken breast! In fact, the protein in turkey helps keep blood sugar levels in check and can actually prevent grogginess. So what’s the real culprit? What is the real reason people are so sleepy after the Thanksgiving meal? Overindulgence. We are sleepy simply because we eat too much!
The post-Thanksgiving dinner coma is a timely metaphor for a spiritual condition we are being warned about in our scripture readings for this first Sunday in the season of Advent.
First we hear St. Paul tell the Romans that now is the moment for them to “wake from sleep.” He encourages them to “lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light, to live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.” He encourages them to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, making no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.”
Here wakefulness is being contrasted with the spiritual sleepiness of overindulgence. Spiritual sleepiness means living solely for the pursuit of pleasure, drinking too much, indulging every urge, every appetite without regard to what is holy or healthy. Wakefulness, on the other hand, means being awake to Christ, paying attention to his presence and his promises.
In our gospel reading we hear Jesus talking about the final coming of his kingdom. He clearly says that about that day and hour NO ONE knows. Then he goes on to emphasize the importance of being ready, of staying awake. He says that before the final coming of his kingdom it will be like the days of Noah. People were eating and drinking and marrying and giving in marriage. In other words, they were carrying on with their daily lives. There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of this, except that if you remember the story, the people in Noah’s day were doing all of this while oblivious to the reality of God. They had rejected God. There was no one left who had faith in God except one man, Noah. Everyone saw Noah building his ark and laughed at him on their way to the Black Friday sales.
This is what it will be like at the coming of the Son of Man, Jesus says. People will be busy indulging themselves, serving themselves, living for themselves, and they will fall asleep to the presence of God. Jesus says that some will be so spiritually sleepy that they will miss the coming kingdom altogether. “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming!”
It is a bit of a paradox, or an irony if you prefer, that leading up to Christmas, one of the two biggest days on the Christian calendar, we find ourselves in a season that is constantly trying to lull us into a spiritual slumber. Now that the holiday season is in full swing, we are constantly being tempted to overindulge in things that distract us from Christ, things that make us too spiritually sleepy to prepare for his coming.
This is why we have the season of Advent! This is why we need it! Advent means “to come.” We are reminded again and again through the season of Advent to stay awake, to prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming among us: at Christmas, to be sure, but also at his final coming, as well as his coming among us even now through Word and Sacrament.
There is much talk of cultural appropriation in our society today. Well, it seems that Advent is being culturally appropriated by the world around us to do the opposite of what it is intended to do. For example, I saw a story on the Today Show’s website last week that caught my eye. It was about Advent. I was so excited! They were talking about Advent on the Today Show! The story was called, “The 52 Best Advent Calendars for 2019.” Well, I scrolled through all 52 of them, and you know what? Only ONE of them had anything even remotely to do with Jesus. There were lots of candy Advent calendars, of course: Reese’s and M&Ms and chocolates shaped like stormtroopers. There were the popular LEGO Advent calendars, with 24 little LEGO things to build. Then things got really crazy. There was an Advent calendar with 24 different little bottles of hot sauce. One was called a “Manvent” calendar and was filled with spicy nuts and beef jerky. There was a Barbie Advent calendar which comes with a Barbie doll and 24 different items of clothing for her. One was called – I kid you not – the “NYX Professional Love Lust Disco Greatest Hits Lip Advent Calendar.” It has 24 different kinds of lipstick! There were Advent calendars with 24 different kinds of wine, 24 different kinds of beer, 24 different kinds of liquors. Again, out of these 52 so-called Advent calendars, only ONE had any kind of reference to Jesus Christ. The rest were all counting down to nothing! They were just an excuse to indulge!
“As in the days of Noah,” Jesus said, people will be eating and drinking, paying no attention to God. “Keep awake, therefore!”
Or as Paul writes: “Now is the moment for you to wake from sleep.” “Let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness.” “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh, to satisfy its desires.”
It’s easy to point our fingers at the culture around us, but you know what they say – whenever you point your finger at someone you always have three fingers pointing back at you. The truth is, we are just as likely to fall asleep to God’s presence as anyone else. We don’t come to church because we are better than those people buying those silly so-called Advent calendars. We come because we need to wake up too! We too are tempted to overindulge in eating and drinking and shopping and reveling and indulging in ways that make us spiritually sleepy. We get busy with all kinds of things this time of year that might be fun, but that obscure Christ rather than draw us closer to him.
Please don’t misunderstand me. The feasting and shopping and revelry of this season is not inherently bad or wrong. Advent doesn’t exist to wag its finger at our celebrating. Advent is not a blue version of the Grinch, seeking to squelch our joy. Instead Advent seeks to direct it towards the reason for our celebrating. It seeks to keep us awake to the coming of our Lord Jesus, the only source of true joy!
We mark the time with devotional candles and calendars because it keeps us mindful of Christ’s first coming as the baby in the manger, the Word made flesh, Emmanuel, God-with-us.
We gather for worship both on Sundays and on Wednesdays because we know Christ comes to us even now through Word and Sacrament, to give us his gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. We come to church because it is the ark. And even though people laugh at it and mock it and ignore it, we know it is the vessel of our salvation.
And today, as we kick off this season, we are reminded that we are being prepared for a deeper salvation that is still on its way. As Saint Paul writes, “Salvation is nearer to us now than when we first became believers.” Christ’s final kingdom is yet to come. With every day that passes we are one day closer to the healing and restoration of all things. Advent teaches us to live in joyful anticipation of this promise being fulfilled. Chocolates shaped like stormtroopers can bring temporary happiness, but the promise of Christ’s final coming gives us lifetime’s worth of hope and joy.
So let us not overindulge in things that make us spiritually sleepy! Both Paul and Jesus warn us today that there is a spiritual slumber that can result in missing out on the coming kingdom.
Let all our celebrating this season point us to Christ Jesus.
Let us stay awake to his presence even now, for through his Word he renews us in his promise, and in his Supper he gives us a foretaste of the feast to come.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church