by Rev. Heather Blais, Rector
“You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep” (Romans 13:11).
These are the words that the Apostle Paul penned in his letter to the Romans, that we hear a small excerpt from in today’s lesson from the New Testament. This letter is the longest, and the last of the letters definitively attributed to Paul. It was written to believers in Rome during the reign of Nero, approximately between 54-68 c.e. One of the reasons this letter is such a treasure is because it is Paul’s theological last will and testament. The letter features Paul’s understanding of universal accountability to God’s justice; God’s faithfulness in the face of human faithlessness; and the section that we hear an excerpt from today covers the importance of holy living and accountability before God.
The word that caught my attention in reading Paul’s letter was to ‘wake’. Paul, and others, believed that Christ’s return was imminent, and as a result it was urgent to wake up to holy and honorable living. Every year during the season of Advent, which is simply a word that means coming, we lift up this idea that we must hurry and wake up to prepare for the coming of Christ. Both in how we remember God becoming incarnate in the form of an infant and as we await Christ’s second coming.
The first step to preparing ourselves for the coming of Christ is, simply put, to wake up. When we wake up to God, it’s like waking from a dream, or being raised up to a new sense of awareness, or as Paul uses it in this context it is to arise from a moral sloth and dedicate our lives to God.
This idea of waking up to God is so important that is used 144 times throughout the New Testament. It is a notion we will hear again and again this year in Matthew’s Gospel.
In a couple of weeks we will hear the story of Joseph, who during a dream encounters an angel of the Lord that commands him to take Mary as his wife, even though she was already pregnant (Matthew 1:24). When he wakes from sleep, he takes Mary as his wife (Matthew 1:24). Joseph is completely changed by this new sense of awareness that he got only when he woke up to God.
A couple week’s later in the season of Christmas we will hear another story about Joseph, who once again encounters an angel of the Lord in a dream (Matthew 2:13-21). This time the angel instructs Joseph to get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt and remain there until the angel instructs him it is safe to return (Matthew 2:13-21). It was imperative that Joseph protect his family, because King Herod would soon begin searching for this baby with the hope of destroying him (Matthew 2:13-21).When Joseph wakes from sleep, he follows the angel's instructions and protects his adopted son and mother from the pain and agony that so many other families encountered when Herod massacred all the male infants within Israel (Matthew 2:13-21). Then much later, when it was safe, in yet another dream, the angel of the Lord instructs Joseph to get up, take the child and his mother, and return to Israel (Matthew 2:13-21). When Joseph wakes up, he once again follows the angel's instructions. Again and again, Joseph shows a willingness to wake up to God, and the results were powerful.
We all know that the families we grow up in have a profound way of shaping and forming us. What would Mary and Jesus’ lives have looked like had Joseph not woken up and married Mary? Would Jesus have even outlived the infant massacre? What might have happened had Joseph woken up from any of those dreams and shrugged them off as just another crazy dream?
As we see in the story of Joseph’s life, powerful things happen when we wake up. So I wonder, how are we going to wake up to God this Advent?
Maybe you will wake up like Joseph did. God will use an angel and speak to you in a dream. For those who don’t buy in to such biblical big deal wake up calls, remember that an angel is not necessarily that fat baby cherub we’ve been taught to think they are. An angel speaking words of wisdom to us might be a friend, a neighbor, or a stranger on the street that stirs us to attention. The kind of stirring to attention that touches us so deeply we remain forever changed. And sometimes those biblical big deal wake up calls happen when something in our life changes that we could never have ever anticipated-- surviving a deadly accident, losing our spouse, being diagnosed with cancer. All of these things have a way of waking us up, shaking us to our core in way that forces us to reflect on the way we have been living our lives. God’s not pulling the strings, making these things happen, but God is right there beside us, eager to make the journey with us.
And sometimes those biblical big deal wake up calls do not happen externally. They happen internally. Sometimes our lives begin to spiral out of control--whether it is simply from juggling too many things, a struggle with addiction, or feelings of hopelessness. Sometimes in those bleakest, most darkest of moments, the light of Christ will somehow shine through and startle us to attention. We find ourselves with God, who is inviting us to go deeper, to wake up to a deeper relationship with God. And when we say yes, we can be just as changed, maybe even more so, than those biblical big deal wake up calls.
And sometimes, those biblical big deal wake up calls happen when we finally sit still, and allow ourselves to find quiet within God. Sometimes in the stillness we wake up to things we never imagined possible.
Wherever you find yourselves with God this Advent, I would invite you to rise from sleep, and see how you might wake up to God. May your journey with God this Advent take you closer than ever into the heartbeat of God.
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