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“A Christmas Nightmare”
Mark 13:24-37 ~ Rev. G. Scott Turnbrook ~ Northwood United ~ November 29, 2020
Do you ever suffer with nightmares? It is a horrible way to awaken from sleep, isn’t it? We are startled and disorientated and upset because the nightmare seems entirely real. What are your nightmares? I’ll tell you one of mine. I’m asleep: warm and cozy under my duvet; I am sawing logs, deeply resting, enjoying a deep refreshing sleep. With the morning will come the highlight of the week…worship with my church family. You know what that *used* to look like: gathering with church friends ~ friends who are ‘family’. And we gather, we see one another, we shake hands, we share stories, we share hugs. We are singing and swaying. Laughing and praying. Sharing coffee and sharing life’s journey as people of faith. That is what I fell to sleep to. So, I’m asleep and planning to wake up for church…but (you guessed it) something happens…I don’t wake up...I sleep…and I keep on sleeping. When I finally do awaken, the bright sun is already shining through my window and my bedside table clock tells me that I have missed it all. My nightmare is that I have slept and missed it all.
When I think of the four weeks that lie ahead of us, I would suggest that the potential nightmare that presents itself is that we become so busy with our Christmas preparations that we neglect to get ready to prepare for Christ. Allow me to explain the difference between the two…Preparing for Christmas is always a BIG job, isn’t it? Home decorating, card writing, shopping and baking and wrapping. And there is more…party planning, hostess gifts, guest lists, finding that one burned out bulb on the string of lights, and that one last elusive gift. There are some tried-and-true methods to keep us on track, aren’t there? Advent calendars: each day, a new chocolate to enjoy, and when we are out of chocolate, we had better be ready for the big day! And if chocolate does not tickle your fancy, there are now adult versions: Advent beer, and wine, and scotch calendars, filled with a little treat for each day. There are even Advent lego calendars for the creative child, and Advent pet calendars to ensure that even your pet is prepared as well. But all of this merely prepares us for a festive holiday the we have assigned to the 25th of December that we call Christmas, and it does not prepare us for Christ. There is a big difference! The text before us that Betty read shouts to us to “keep awake”: keep awake from our slumber; keep awake from the distractions; keep awake from all the doing and be present for Christ who will come at an unexpected time; who will come in an unexpected way; who will come and surprise us…if we “keep awake”. Jesus teaches using the parable of the master’s return. You do not know when he will return: “in the evening, at midnight, at cockcrow, or at dawn.” Society has agreed upon the date of the holiday as the 25th; however, the date and times of the Christ arrival is yet to be seen! When will Christ come? How will this look? Will we be ready? You see, I think we are uncovering two different kinds of waiting here: passive waiting and active waiting. An example of passive waiting is a group of people who are waiting at the bus stop. They have their bus pass in hand, their mask carefully in place, and they know the time when that bus will arrive to pick them up, they might even check an app on their phone and follow the GPS coordinates of the awaited vehicle. There is another kind of waiting though: active waiting. Active waiting is when the group of people are waiting at the side of the road, this time…for a parade. It is the Santa Claus parade in their community, and they are there actively waiting for the parade’s arrival. They have been waiting patiently, sipping hot chocolate to keep warm…all the while keeping their ears attuned and their eyes fixed on the horizon. They are actively waiting for the parade’s approach. And when they hear the first sound….music…when their eyes glance the first float, they get up from their chairs, children are hoisted upon shoulders and people wave, and shout, and clap. This is the kind of “keeping awake”…this is the kind of active waiting that Jesus teaches about in this passage.
And what this spiritual practice of preparedness touches on is the core paradox of the entire Gospel story: the paradox of the “already and the not yet.” We live in a time of the “already”…and…the time of the “not yet”. The “already” is the spiritual reality that Jesus has come; he has been birthed into our world; he has taught, and loved, and sacrificed; the means through which we are drawn into this relationship with God have been established. The realm of God is present in our world. Yet, paradoxically, we also live in the world of the “not yet.” While Jesus has established this relationship, we do “not yet” live in full communion with God. The Kingdom of God’s realm is “not yet” fully established. And this call for us to “keep awake” is one of participating in the fulfillment of God’s coming realm. That is what being part of the body of Christ is really about. When we “keep awake”, we become partners in the coming of God’s kingdom. When we “keep awake”, we become partners in the fulfillment of this “already but not yet” paradox, as Christ arrives in us and through us…if we “keep awake.”
Now, you might have an aversion to my message: Rev. Scott has now put yet one more item on my Christmas ‘to do list’! Now I not only have to get ready for Christmas, I also have to get ready for Christ! Thanks a lot!! Perhaps…and that is why we at Northwood have always given out an Advent Prayer Calendar each year, to encourage people to light a prayer calendar and take some mindful prayer time each day. But, before you tune this message out, I have some wonderful news amidst the current pandemic in which we live. This pandemic provides an opportunity to us, unlike ever before, to “keep awake” ~ to be engaged in active preparation. As we follow health regulations and engage in wise practice for the better of the community, this season will necessarily be a very quiet one. We will not be travelling as in the past; our tables will be a lot smaller; our shopping will be very different. This will be a very simple Christmas. Yet it promises ~ if we “keep awake” ~ to be among the most rich and beautiful ever experienced. For, this Christmas we are given the gift of time where we can “keep awake” as we actively prepare for Christ!
I wonder how Christ might be discovered if we “keep awake” this season? I’ll share some of my discoveries this week. And I know that I have my head down in way too much work, and I am certain that I missed a lot of His arrival. But, here are a few sightings that I glimpsed as I “kept awake”: I saw a new family to Canada pick out their first ever Christmas tree at our Thrift Store. They selected a tree skirt and ornaments, and took it all home and I received pictures back of expectant joy in the faces of all who gathered around their tree. “Keep awake”. I saw Christ in a phone call from a woman who is planning her wedding this spring. The family recently lost their mother, and now (as we all are) are living through the uncertainties of a pandemic, yet the expectant hope in setting a date and planning a wedding to celebrate their love is truly evidence of Christ’s coming. “Keep awake”. I saw Christ arrive in our new food ministry as we prepare to kick off this new venture with the city on December 12th. We will receive food items with damaged packaging or nearing expiry dates and then, we will transform them and lovingly make up hampers for 50 recipients who are in need. People already are wanting to get involved and offer their time on Saturday mornings, and there is room for you too. “Keep awake”. I have seen Christ in the White Gift ministry that is active through Candie and her team as donations continue to come in through the mail and electronically. “Keep awake”. I have seem Christ in the Shoebox Ministry as Brenda and Terry prepare to box up the many shoeboxes filled up with the toiletries and other essentials, that you have donated, for our brothers and sisters who spend so much time on the street. “Keep awake” for Christ is coming!
There was a tragic devastation that occurred just over 200 years ago in a church in Austria. The church was flooded, the organ and building were destroyed just before Christmas. Father Joseph Mohr was the priest serving this church and he was tending the heartbreak of all the people. How could they celebrate Christmas without an organ, without their favourite carols? That Christmas Eve would truly be a sad and silent night. Yet Father Mohr “kept awake” and Christ came to him amidst a walk in the forest. On his walk, he wrote out the lyrics for the beloved hymn “Silent Night”. And that Christmas Eve, he played his guitar and the congregation sang their new favourite Christmas Carol: “Silent Night”. You see, the good news is that Christ comes, amidst the challenges and the struggles, amidst the pain and the suffering, even in the silence…Christ comes. Let us “keep awake” for Christ comes, indeed. Amen.