First Sunday of Advent 2016

November 27th, 2016

First Sunday in Advent

Deacon Blaine Barclay


From St. Paul today, “Brothers and sisters, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.” Advent is about the future, God is coming to us.  Because Advent is also preparation for Christmas we sometimes treat it as if it was mostly about the past.  About something that took place ‘a long time ago in Bethlehem’.  But when you think about it, even the Incarnation, although it took place definitively, once for all in Bethlehem on that first Christmas morning, is still coming to us from the future. Is the Church not the Body of Christ, extended through space and time. Listen to the theme of time in today’s readings. Our first reading says ‘in days to come’, our second reading says, ‘you know what time it is’, our gospel talks about ‘an unexpected hour’. Advent is all about time, not the ordinary time in which we live most of our lives, both humanly and liturgically, but a kind of ‘eschatalogical’ time, the time of the end, or should I say, the time of the absolutely new beginning.  Along with this, there is the recurring theme of wakefulness.  The text moves back and forth, again and again, between being asleep and being awake, between being in the dark, and living in the light of day. ‘It is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.’ ‘Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming… If the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake….Therefore you must also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.’ We are called to the wakefulness of those who have put on the Lord Jesus Christ.

But if we are called to be awake, it must be that on some level we are asleep, that there is something about the world and our lives that can only be characterize as being asleep.  Notice how the scriptures describe and characterize the world of everyday life. ‘The night is far gone’. Or as Dylan says, ‘its not dark yet, but its getting there’. The gospel calls to mind the way people were living in the days prior to the flood, and implies that this is the way people for the most part continue to live out their lives. It says that ‘they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage’. Not that there is anything wrong with any of these things. So what was the problem? The problem was that ‘they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away.’ In other words, they were not awake, they were asleep. Isn’t this true about us as well? In the flow of everyday life we are for the most part given over to the many concerns, distractions, demands, that sweep us along in their wake.  We live in a culture of distraction, of entertainment, where even leisure has become an industry designed to sell us goods and services, to keep us occupied. One author calls this, ‘the anesthetic society’, a cultural system designed in its average everydayness to put us and to keep us asleep. To a certain extent this has always been the case. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato talked about the ‘torrent of public opinion which seduces and detours even the best of us into trivialities. The gospel agrees, ‘they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them away’. They knew nothing because another flood had already swept them away, the flood of inauthentic cultural forms.

Gospel wakefulness is more than a change in consciousness, more than a different way of looking at and experiencing the world. The ‘turning around of the soul’ that the gospel calls us to is a moral conversion. We are called, as St. Paul tells us, ‘to lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light.’ What are these sleep inducing works of darkness? He lists a few, ‘reveling’, ‘drunkeness’, debauchery, licentiousness, quarrelling, and jealousy, in short, ‘gratifying the desires of the flesh’. In contrast to this worldly way of life, we are to clothe ourselves with ’the armour of light’, to ‘put on the Lord Jesus Christ’? But how are we to do this? By ‘laying aside the works of darkness’ and practicing their contrary virtues. By keeping vigil over our own cultural choices, what we read, what we watch, the way we practice ‘leisure’. Even the way we use technology is called to conversion. The prophet Isaiah says, ”They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.” We are called to be peacemakers, not just globally, but in our families, friendships, our workplaces. Advent calls us to wakefulness, to know what time it is, to ’reading the signs of the times’ and responding with the good news of the gospel. Advent is God’s time, God is coming to us, are we ready. “Brothers and sisters, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.”