The story goes like this: when I was about three years old, I was, apparently, not a very tidy little fellow. Toys and clothes, I am told, tended to be strewn about my room in no particular order. Apparently, things got so messy that my mom once told me that my room was a disaster and that unless I cleaned up, she wouldn’t be able to come to my bed to tuck me in and kiss me good night at all. Apparently, this threat of not getting a good night kiss was a strong motivator for me as a child to do something, but I’m not sure that I got the real gist of my mom’s intended message to me because when she came to check on me and how I had done with cleaning my room, I had, apparently, not put toys or clothes back on shelves or in drawers, but only carefully pushed everything back just enough to create a clear path from the hallway to the side of my bed.
My mom did tuck me in and kissed me good night, but we had to keep working on what it meant to clean my room!
It is time to clean our rooms! I don’t mean our physical rooms, of course, although a good physical cleaning of a room or rooms can really help us move into deeper spiritual, emotional, and mental exercises of cleaning out the clutter that does not serve God. The cleaning out work that takes a deeper look at the small and large ways we delude ourselves and fall away from the single most important purpose of being alive and being human – which is to praise God in all we do and in all of who we are.
It is time to clean our rooms. And this is holy work. This is Advent work. Advent, being a season that marks not just the start of the Church Year – happy new year by the way, but Advent being a season of preparation for the arrival of Messiah, of Jesus.
Hence the gospel lesson from Matthew about being prepared. Hence the lesson from the book of Romans about waking up, about putting on the armor of light and living honorably. Getting ready. For we do not know the day or the hour of our Messiah’s return. And while this is a wake-up call, it is not a call to being afraid – what do we have to fear from a God of grace and mercy? It is a call to joyful expectation and to utilize this joyful expectation to lovingly reconsider our priorities. To motivate us to lives devoted to praising and worshiping God in all that we do.
Some years ago, here at Redeemer, New Paltz, I found myself saying to our church council as we gathered for our council meetings that this, our council meeting time, is worshipful work. It is not just a business meeting to attend and get over with, it is an opportunity to praise and worship God as we seek as the church council, to support the visionary and fiduciary foundations of this faith community.
Some years ago – nearly six or seven in fact – the community of Redeemer, New Paltz, undertook a study of scripture and tradition as we considered what we understood and believed about LGBTQ people. We affirmed, in good Lutheran Christian fashion, that we along with much of the Church in the world today, had misunderstood some of what we thought we knew. In prayer and study God woke us up to see that in fact LGBTQ people are beloved children of God just like everyone else, and that their sexual and gender identities did not make them sinful. This work of study, this work of welcome, this was and is worshipful work that seeks to praise and glorify God.
Eventually, as a congregation, we voted that we needed to do a better job in making clear our welcome to LGBTQ people and to all people. In just a few minutes, we’ll be blessing a pride flag that will begin to hang by the road to help us do the worshipful work of welcome. And our internal work goes on, learning how to undo the false messages we may have had about LGBTQ persons, just as we’ve been working as a community on undoing false messages we may have had about women and gender equality, and on becoming anti-racists. We don’t want to just clear a pathway wide enough for the good night kiss, we want, with god’s help, to be people and communities engaged in doing the deep and ongoing work of cleaning out, cleaning up, learning and growing as people of faith so as to ever-better praise God in the highest, and welcome Christ’s presence and person here on earth.
In recent midterm elections the term “woke” was used as an insult by some politicians to try and win against their opponents. But the roots of the term “woke” come from the Civil Rights movement, where African Americans began using this word to describe themselves and others who were trying to become more aware of structural racism and work to dismantle it. And for us as Christians, “waking up” is part of our Advent worshipful work! To remember our calling as Christians to be ready to meet Christ at the end of all time, and as Christ will arrive as a newborn child. To be ready to meet Christ by reviewing our thoughts, feelings, the interior life of our spirits, and our outward actions as individuals and as a community.
If we knew that Jesus would be showing up in five minutes here in worship at Redeemer, what would we be doing? Would we be distracted by our grocery lists as we sing hymns, or would we be motivated to breathe deeply and sing boldly to God’s glory and praise? “Wake, awake, for night is flying. The watchmen on the heights are crying. Wake Jerusalem at last.” If we knew Christ would be here in five minutes, would we dither about mounting a flag by the road or would we make sure that every minute of every day is spent waking up to God’s purpose of love through Christ and then sharing that Christ-like love with those around us, especially those who have too often been marginalized or outcast?
This is Advent work. This is holy work. This is the call, not just to surface cleaning or making a child’s path through the bedroom heaps, but to deep cleaning and deep preparation all as we come to recognize that, with joyful expectation, we are welcoming Christ every day, and that soon, oh so soon, we will welcome the newborn Christ child at Christmas and begin to tell the story of God’s unfolding grace and love so that we and all the world might come to rejoice. Rejoice. Rejoice. Amen.