Many, many gone. Over seventeen thousand since election day alone. So many gone in this Dark Night of Despair. This Sunday we are summoned to wakefulness. We light the first Advent candle for HOPE. We are summoned to wakefulness. WAKE UP!
When I was in medic training in Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, we learned all the various aspects of what would be required of us, whether we be out in the field or assigned to a hospital or dispensary stateside.
After lunch, in the hot, humid afternoon, we were marched to our training bungalow and shown old training films produced for the Army of WWII. No air conditioning. These were old scratchy, black and white films introduced with the sort of music that you may remember from the newsreels that were shown before the main feature. If you’re around my age, you remember that music.
One afternoon, the feature of the day was a film on “folding the forty-five-degree corner of the hospital bed sheet. The lights went off, the projector began grinding away. The narrator was droning on, “Notice how the corner of the sheet is folded back to make a forty-five-degree fold. Let’s look that again, this time in sloooow mooootion.”
The lights went on with no warning and Sarge was bellowing, “Wake that man up. Wake that man up!” He was assigned to KP duty for the next two decades and told to stand up against the wall.
The lights went off. Again, “Let’s see that one more time in sloooow mooootion.”
The actor in the film hadn’t even gotten the blankets pulled up before we heard a loud crash. Again, the lights flicked on. This poor slob against the wall had fallen asleep again – and had fallen to the floor. He was probably scrubbing pots and pans until Vietnam was over. Lord have mercy.
This Advent a stirring sound is heard. WAKE THAT MAN UP. WAKE THAT WOMAN UP.
If we don’t sing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” it would be no First Sunday in Advent at all. Like a birthday with no cake and candles. The Fourth of July with no fireworks. “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!” Yes, indeed. Rejoice! Something’s happening.
In this dark age of COVID-19 the night is indeed long Yet’ God is ready to bust out doing a new thing. It’s Jessie Jackson’s chant raised to a cosmic level, “Keep Hope Alive.”
In Mark we get the wake-up call. No gentle, “Wakie, wakie, wakie. Here’s your coffee, dear. Time to rise and shine.” NO! It’s earthquakes, thunder, planets and stars falling out of the sky. All the powers of heaven shaken.
Mark doesn’t want anyone to sleep through the alarm. No snooze button here. And why all the ruckus?
“Christ has been strengthened among you—so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. He will strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of the lord Jesus Christ.”
WAKE THAT WOMAN UP! WAKE THAT MAN UP!
This IS THE DAY OF THE LORD. ARISE, SHINE.
He is here in clouds of glory. His angels have been dispatched and are presently gathering among us. Folks WE are the angels appointed for this dissolute day. WE are the power and glory for this hour. WE are the ones elected. Called into tender fellowship with the Living God who now appears among us. Emmanuel. So…
WAKE UP. GET UP. GET ENGAGED. And don’t be attached to the results.” This was always the summons from my friend Ed Bacon every first Sunday in Advent. To whom else did you think the Lord was shouting?
And while the summons is dramatic and abrupt, so often the work seems mundane. In this time of pandemic, it seems a most modest request. Wear your mask. Keep social distance. Don’t have people over for the Thanksgiving and Christmas. Don’t sing. Don’t have indoor worship. Such common sense, but a great burden on the heart. Be awake to what will give life, to what will allow us to celebrate a most Merry Christmas together next year. After the vaccine.
We are summoned to lift up in prayer all essential workers whose health is at risk so we can minimally carry on. Grocery store clerks, nurses, therapists, tellers, police officers, pharmacy assistants. We lift up in prayer students struggling to master lessons from afar, across the internet. Teachers baffled by new technology. Something they never learned in their ed classes.
We lift up in prayer those who have lost everything: wives and husbands, homes and incomes. If you’re in the supermarket parking lot and hear the tinkle of that little bell. Do drop something in the Salvation Army kettle. They are Christ’s hands, heart and wallet. They serve those we probably don’t run across in communities like Claremont or Alamo Heights.
In this darkness drear, STAY AWAKE. You may be the only light about. Let it shine. COVID-19 will not have the last word. It may get some of us, but it will not subdue the full Body of Christ. Even in the midst of death, LOVE WILL PREVAIL. Do not despair. Hold on to each other and be of good courage.
In the early days of the Jesus Movement, in the midst of plague and death, followers of The Way, nursed the sick and dying. It was not so among the fearful, those not of the household of faith. Even their dearest — a child, a husband, a wife or beloved servant who took ill, would be cast out into the street. Left to die in the gutter. Not so with those of the Christians. Those who gave the last ministrations to the dying, were soon, in their turn, the recipients of the same care.
Even pagan philosophers were astounded and won over by such love.
Knowing much more about the spread of disease, we sophisticates, certainly, would do otherwise. You think? Walk down any city street and encounter the many wearing no mask. Look at last summer’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota. Corona virus followed those cyclists home to communities all across the country, spreading the contagion.
Tell me how sophisticated we moderns are. Look at Trump’s Superspreader Rallies that left behind waves of illness and filled hospital ICU wards fourteen days afterwards. And morgue trailers. And now, mass graves. Speak to me of our modern enlightenment, and I say, “Lord have mercy.” Tell that to the exhausted medical staffs with nothing left to give.
Martin Luther King, Jr. reminds us, “It is always the right time to do the right thing.” Now is the RIGHT TIME. Today God gives us every good gift and a sound summons: Heal the sick. Feed the hungry. Shelter the homeless. Wear your mask. Write that letter to your congress critter. Demand relief for the destitute, the hungry. This illness IS a national emergency. We need to be on a war footing.
In earthquake, in sunset, in the exhausted face of a doctor, in the hopeful smile of a young girl, in the cup of coffee offered a homeless man, we discern the inbreaking of divine illumination, the urgency of the moment. The Call of Advent. However God gets our attention, it’s wakie, wakie time.
In this fragile body of Christ, yes, we the Church, in we who feebly struggle, Christ is here to shine. No matter how downcast we might be, Christ is come in our midst with great power and glory. WAKE UP.
Let us light that first candle for HOPE. WE are that HOPE. WE are the Light of the World. “Signed. Sealed. Delivered.” Reporting for duty.
November 29, 2020, First Sunday of Advent
The Rev. Dr. John C. Forney
Isaiah 64:1-9a; Psalm 80:1-7; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9;