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Prepared for every day

Sermon for November 30, 2014 (Advent 1, Year B)

Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary

Texts:             Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80; Mark 13:24-37

Title:               Prepared for every day

“And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake” (Mark 13:37)

What does it mean, my friends, to keep awake?

Besides the obvious meaning to avert the onset of physical sleep, what does it mean spiritually? And why does the Lord call us so strongly to this task?

Once again, we enter into this season of Advent, which is all about new beginnings: the beginning of the new church year, the beginning of another cycle of celebrations which commemorate the life of our Lord from the preparations for his birth, throughout his earthly ministry and his passion, into the time of his resurrection, the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, and on into the time of the Church’s ministry, which is the age in which you and I still find ourselves today.

Advent begins this cycle once again, but Advent as a season has its own particular emphasis and focus. Advent is all about anticipation, about waiting and watching.

“And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake” (Mark 13:37)

Think about this for a moment.

It probably makes perfect sense to us that the Lord would enjoin upon his disciples the need to have faith, to place their trust in him. This he did on a regular basis in the Gospels.

And it makes sense, I think, that the Lord calls his disciples to love. To love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

These things make perfect sense, in my mind.

But now consider that, in addition to these, the Lord consistently calls his disciples to watch. And Saint Paul does the same on many occasions himself in his letters.

To keep awake. To be alert. To wake up.

But what exactly is meant by these words?

What does it mean to watch WITH Christ? And what does it mean to watch FOR Christ?

To begin, we must acknowledge that it probably meant something very different for the community which first put Mark’s Gospel down on paper.

This happened, we think, right around 75 AD.

Jerusalem had been destroyed in the year 70. The Temple was thrown to the ground. This was the earth-shattering event which seemed to ignite the fuse which would bring the entire world as they knew it to an end.

But the last day had not yet come.

In the first century, the disciples of Jesus were experiencing incredible horrors and tribulations unlike anything we could imagine.

They had a very real need to be alert and prepared for what each day might bring.

But circumstances are very different for us today.

Yes, the church continues to profess our belief that the Messiah will come again as judge, to set the world right.

But very few of us live with the expectation that the end of the world will come upon us any day now.

And, thanks be to God, we do not live in a land where sudden violent destruction could come upon us at any time.

So what does it mean for you and me in this Advent season to keep awake?

Our circumstances may be different from those in the first century, but here is the spiritual genius of the Gospels!

Our circumstances are different, but we can, and we must, cultivate that same attitude of expectant watchfulness.

To watch is a state of mind, an attitude of expectation.

For all of us, to keep awake is to remain alert, always on the lookout for what God is doing all around us.

To be aware of our lives, our decisions, our relationships, our priorities – this is what it means to be prepared for the last day, and for this day.

Saint Augustine explained it in these excellent words:

“Every Christian ought to watch lest the coming of the Lord find him unprepared. But the last day will find unprepared anyone whom this day will find unprepared” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Mark, InterVarsity Press, 1998: p. 186).

Did you catch that? The LAST DAY will find unprepared anyone whom THIS DAY finds unprepared.

The last day, the day on which life on earth as we know it will end – that day will trouble no one who lives each day prepared in heart and soul to live with God.

To watch with Christ, to watch for Christ, is to be prepared for what God is doing this day and every day, looking for occasions to give thanks to God, to praise God, to serve God.

But we should not think of this as ONLY a personal, internal state of mind.

This matters for us as a Christian community as well.

Those churches which are growing tend to be those which inspire their members with this same sense of expectant anticipation. These congregations see themselves NOT as groups of nice people who gather and do nice things together, and who sing beautiful songs and pray lovely prayers.

Rather, these growing congregations see themselves as agents of God’s revolutionary work which is changing the face of the entire earth.

Theirs is an active watching, an expectant participation in God’s work even now while they wait for what is to come.

I don’t know about you, but this is the kind of community in which I want to participate. We here at Saint Mary’s are well on our way, but there is always room for growth.

“Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.”

What does it mean to keep awake – to wake up and to remain alert?

This is the disciples’ way of life, keeping our spiritual eyes fixed and focused on God as we experience God each and every day of our lives.

May it always be so among us as we anticipate the celebration of Christ’s birth and as we wait for his full revealing in glory. Amen.

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