Waking Up To The Unexpected Hour – A Sermon On Matthew 24:36-44

A few nights ago my wife Cyndy woke me and said, “Mike, turn over. You’re snoring.”  I said, “I am? Really? I didn’t even know I was asleep.” 

That’s the thing about sleeping; we don’t know we’ve been asleep until we wake up. Maybe that’s why in today’s gospel (Matthew 24:36-44) Jesus tells us, “Keep awake,” and in today’s epistle (Romans 12:11-4) Paul writes, “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment to wake from sleep.” They seem to be saying that we’re asleep and don’t know it. 

For Jesus and Paul being asleep and being awake aren’t just physical states they are also spiritual states of being. We’re either awake to the life within and around us or we are asleep and snoring our way through life.

I suspect the people to whom Paul writes didn’t even know they were asleep. They were just going about business as usual. That’s probably what most of us do. And so did the people in the days of Noah. “They knew nothing until the flood came and swept them away.” “They were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage.” It was business as usual for them, just like it was for the two men working in the field and the two women grinding meal together. They knew nothing until one was taken and one was left.

Haven’t there been times when business as usual, the routine and ordinariness and everydayness of life, lulled you to sleep? You know what that’s like, right?

You get into a rhythm but it becomes a rut. You do the same things again and again day after day. Not much changes. It’s as if life is on auto-pilot and we’re going through the motions. 

We show up but we’re not really present. We’re not awake to what is going on around us, the needs of others, or sometimes our own needs. Life becomes mechanical and we’re no longer dreaming or imagining what might be. The colors of life give way to shades of gray. We don’t expect anything to change and don’t look for anything new. Everything is a known quantity. There’s no mystery, discovery, or surprise. It might be boring but at least it feels safe. We begin to take life, people, and relationships for granted. Patterns and habits replace thinking, questioning, and wondering. We shake our heads when we read news about the war in Ukraine, climate change, or gun violence in Virginia and Colorado. We’ve seen it all before at least a hundred times but we don’t ask what we can do. We stay busy but not energized. Life is stagnant and nothing is bubbling or fermenting within us. We’re not growing. Life is stable and predictable in a stuck sort of way.

And then we wonder why we’re so tired, why we don’t seem to be getting anywhere, and why nothing changes. We might hunger to feel alive but it’s business as usual so we get up in the morning and do the same old things we did the day before. We are sleepwalking through life.

I know what that’s like and I’ll bet you do too. When has that been your life? In what ways does that describe your life today? To what parts of your life are you not awake? In what ways have you fallen asleep? 

I can’t answer those questions for you but I can tell you some of my answers. I’ve known times when I was sleepwalking through my marriage and the needs of Cyndy, when I was asleep to my own emotional needs and well being, when prayer was a box to be checked rather than relationship to be nurtured, when I anesthetized myself to the pain of the world. 

What is it for you? How awake are you today? 

Advent is the season of waking up. It interrupts business as usual and calls us to ready ourselves for the coming of the Son of Man. I think, however, it’s more than just getting ready to welcome Jesus or celebrate his birth. I think it’s participating in and giving existence to the future that Jesus offers and makes possible. I think that future both offers us something and asks something of us. We catch a glimpse of that future in today’s Old Testament reading (Isaiah 2:1-5) and the psalm we just said together (Psalm 122) a few minutes ago.

Isaiah sees a time when we “shall beat [our] swords into plough-shares, and [our] spears into pruning-hooks; nations shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall [we] learn war any more.” He dreams of a nonviolent future. That’s what I want for our country, Uvalde, and those who will come after me, don’t you? 

And the psalmist describes the future as a time when Jerusalem is at unity with itself. Peace is within its walls and quietness within its towers. There is prosperity and doing good to others. I like what the psalmist describes. It’s what I want for myself, you, and those yet to be born. It’s how I want to live, don’t you?

What if that’s the future Advent holds before us? What if that’s what’s coming to us? What if that’s what life is like in the unexpected hour?

It’s a big future and a big dream. It’s the unexpected hour that shatters business as usual. That future doesn’t begin by changing the world. It begins by changing ourselves – the thoughts we think, the words we speak, the choices we make, the actions we take. That’s not only about how we relate to others. It’s also about how we relate to ourselves.

What swords can you beat into plough-shares? How might you be less harmful in words and actions toward yourself or another? What would it take to be a bit more wholehearted and at unity with yourself or another? What if we prayed for the prosperity of others as much as we prayed for our own? How might you quieten the voices in your head and live with a heart at peace rather than a heart at war? To whom are you seeking to do good and how might you expand that to others?

Every one of those questions points to the unexpected hour. And what if the unexpected hour isn’t a one time event? Maybe it’s every hour. It’s this hour, the next hour, and one after that. Maybe the unexpected hour is always before us waiting, hoping, and calling for us to wake up.

That hour is filled with light, hope, and possibilities. It’s the Advent hour. What would it mean and look like for you and me to wake up? What would it take?

I don’t want to sleep my life away and I don’t want you to either. So what will it be, the snooze button or waking up? 

Image Credit: Photo by Abdülkadir Vardi on Unsplash

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