Wakee, Wakee

When the boys were little tykes, my morning job was to get them out of bed and make sure they were dressed for school.  I’d come into their room chanting sing-song, “Wakee, wakee,” all the while flipping the light switch on and off.  At first, I’d hear a few grunts and groans, then “Go away.”  As this was an Alaska morning, it would still be pitch dark outside.  I’m positive, the boys probably would have considered it a much more obtrusive, more obnoxious wake-up call had I sung to them.

Once I had the fire going in the wood stove and Jai had breakfast served, attitudes somewhat improved.

We’ve just celebrated Thanksgiving, our national holiday I’ve always considered the lead-in to Advent.  Much of everything comes to a standstill as families and friends plan gatherings all across the nation – good preparation for the hush of Advent.

Jai and I finished making the turkey dressing the other night.  It’s an old family recipe, dating back at least to the time her mother stopped being responsible for this meal and we had to scrounge through several cookbooks and figure out what stuffing we might like.  No oysters.  No giblets.

As we settled into the couch to watch Judy Woodruff anchor the PBS Newshour, the stuffing ready for tomorrow’s feast, I noticed Jai making frequent trips out to the kitchen, snitching bits and pieces of the stuffing we had just labored over.  I told her that I thought I was wondering if I should call her brother in Anaheim and tell him that he’d better come over right now and get a bite there while there was still some left. 

The smell of our sausage-apple stuffing still wafting through the house is my Advent preparation.

Prepare — the call of Advent – Wakee, Wakee.  I’ll light up my purple Advent lights that adorn the eves of our house this Sunday.  I’ll get the UNICEF Christmas cards ordered and get to work on our Christmas letter.

Today the summons from our scripture readings is, “Wake up, for Christ’s sake!”  Yes, for Christ is nigh upon us.

“About that day and hour no one knows…For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.”[1]

The first Followers of the Way believed that the END was indeed upon them.  Within the lifetime of many still living, Christ would come with all his angels and wrap up history.  The First Sunday of Advent concerns Christ’s return, to be born anew in our hearts.  It is also about our final destination, the summation of all creation – the Final Day.

One of my favorite hymns we sang in Sunday school as a youngster was straight out of this end-time theology, “When the Roll is Called Upon Yonder.”  Even us boys sang it with gusto and true belief that our name would be announced on that Last Day.

That understanding is the theology of Matthew’s gospel.  Stay awake!  You never know! 

By the time Luke writes his gospel, the community of the Jesus Movement has settled in for the long haul.  That is why Luke concludes his gospel with the Book of Acts, the story of the spread of the Jesus Movement.  In little communities of believers then scattered across the Roman Empire.  Luke’s theology is a theology of “the meantime.”  While we’re waiting – to be about Christ’s work.  To be about what makes for community and life abundant. Those are our baptismal orders.

But the idea of an imminent end time is still with our secular folks.  It comes to us in that favorite Christmas song, “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town.”  Yeah, just like the end-time rollcall, “Santa’s making a list and checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty and nice.”  And, you’d better watch out! 

Although, I discovered that “naughty” was usually more fun – until it wasn’t.  Some of our churches still terrify little kids with the most horrendous stories of that Final Day.

My mother would tell me how as a little girl she woke up one night with a start.  Right outside her window was a huge harvest moon.  About that same instant, a freight train had come barreling through town, sounding its mournful whistle.

This was it.  The angel Gabriel is come.  Christ has returned.

She, her heart pounding, her breath rapid, coming in gasps, the hairs on the back of her neck standing straight up – she flung herself out of bed and ran shrieking through the dark, “Gabriel’s here.  Wake up.  Wake up.  It’s the END. 

And of course, the whole family indeed did wake up.  And it took some while for them to settle her back down.  That was one of Grandma’s oft told stories.  Being a Christian Scientist, however, she had no truck with such doctrine.

So, how does the end come?  What are its signs, its harbingers?

My evangelical friends were convinced that the forerunner of the End Time was the Antichrist.  The candidate might be Hitler, Pol Pot, or some other heinous malefactor.  I was told by one acquaintance it was the Democrats.  Others – the Republicans.

My mother’s side of the family believed it might be FDR – “He fired your grandfather.”  At that time Grandpa had been the postmaster of their home town, Lodi, California.  Grandpa had been appointed by President Hoover.  Democratic ascendency was the clear sign that the End was near.

We read in our papers of all sorts of imminent catastrophes.  Portents of the End?

PFAS chemicals.  Had you heard of them?  They’re the chemicals produced in making such things as Teflon, and firefighting foam.  They’re in cosmetics, the film that makes rain bounce off your jacket – “better living through chemistry” – until it isn’t.[2]

They re the cause of cancer, pregnancy complications, unhealthy blood lipids.  Definitely, NOT better living.  Even in the most minute doses, this stuff is damaging.  Does the end come when we all poison ourselves to death through these amazing concoctions?

Wakee, wakee. 

We are told that male sperm counts have been decreasing since the 1970s at about 1.6 percent per year.  Since the year 2000 the decline has accelerated to 2.6 per cent per year.[3]  This as a world-wide phenomenon.

The end for the human race?  Is this toxic brew of chemicals the ultimate birth control?  And, folks, it’s not just us.  What about the deer and the antelope out there playing – playing until they’re also extinct?

Wakee, wakee!

Or, maybe we just all shoot ourselves to death in a final OK Corral blaze of gunfire?  In the US we are running more than one mass shooting per week.  This week — Walmart in Virginia, Club Q in Colorado Springs.  Four people were killed at a marijuana farm in Oklahoma on Sunday; a mother and her three children were shot dead in Richmond, Virginia…

Thanksgiving week has seen 22 people killed and 44 injured, all through the barrel of a gun”

Donya Prioleau, a worker at the store, captured the horror and tragedy of the Walmart shooting.

“Somebody’s baby, mom, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, grandparents…whoever did not make it home tonight!  Thanksgiving is a holiday we celebrate with friends and family…there are those who cannot.  I can not unsee what happened in that break room.”[4]

Folks, what else should we expect in a nation awash in a sea of weapons of war, where we’re all armed to the teeth?  What else should we expect with the airwaves flooded with hateful invective and politicians and many churches preaching the same intolerance and hate?

Wakee, wakee!

These are senseless deaths.  Senseless, because we as a society have lost our senses.  Stalin was quoted as remarking, “A million deaths is a statistic, one death is a tragedy.”  Well, the whole thing is a bloody tragedy.  And this is how it ends for too many of us here in America.

These folks at Club Q were just out for a good time in what they thought to be a safe place.  Then the ominous sound of “pop, pop pop,” as bodies began fall to the floor.  Five killed and some twenty-five injured.

The co-owners of this gay nightclub, choking back tears, told reporters that “the people here are family.”  This was their safe space.  Now, no longer.  This was how it ended for those five.  Is this how it ends for any notion of a civil society?

Wakee, wakee.  Don’t ask for whom the hearse comes.  It comes for America – as the mourning bell tolls.

In the meantime…in the meantime.  “Christ has come, Christ is come, Christ will come again.”  This we proclaim at every celebration of the Eucharist.

We cannot stop the tragedy of our days.  That doesn’t mean we sit back and eat bon-bons.

Christ in a paramedic’s jacket is among us.  Christ of the soup-line is present.  Christ in classroom and break room.  Christ in friend, gay or straight, near to comfort.

“Put on the armor of light,” St. Paul urges.  Just as two patrons of Club Q took down and subdued the 22-year-old shooter, your call to be Christ to your neighbor may come at any time.  You know neither the hour nor the day.  In your action, whatever it may be, is your liberation — is your step into the “Eternal Now.”

In the daily scrum of news, Christ is present in a thousand disguises.  Motioning each to join as well, to join in the splendor of these days, our days.  Christ in us and we in Christ.  God’s purpose working itself out to the end of days, the Last Day.

In the meantime?  James Baldwin said it so well in his essay, “Nothing Personal:”

“For nothing is fixed, forever and forever and forever, it is not fixed; The earth is always shifting, the light is always changing, the sea does not cease to grind down rock. Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them because we are the only witnesses they have. The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other, and children cling to us.  The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.”[5]

Yes, we have great responsibility to keep hold of each other, to keep hold of this splendorous blue-green planet of ours – for we can also do great damage.

Yet, Christ is our Light.  That Light does not go out – the ultimate Advent LED – still shining brightly as ever it did when that star guided those Three Seekers to a manger bed in Bethlehem.  As brightly as Jacob’s Star rising. Piercing darkness, our darkness, to the end of our days.

Wakee, wakee.  Christ is coming, again and again, playing in a thousand venues.  You know neither the day or the hour.  Yet the time is always now.  Near, and very near.  Wakee, wakee.  Amen.

[1] Matthew 24:36-39, New Revised Standard Version.

[2] Melba Newsome, Forever Chemicals: Hidden Threats, Science News, November 19, 2022.

[3] “The Decline in Sperm Count,” Focus on Reproduction, the online magazine of ESHRE, the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology, November 22, 2022.

[4] Ed Pilkington, “It’s the Guns: Violent Week in a Deadly Year…,” The Guardian, November 23, 2022.

[5] James Baldwin, The Price of the Ticket, “Nothing Personal” (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985), 393.

November 27, 2022, Advent 1

“Wakee, Wakee”

The Rev. Dr. John C. Forney, St. Francis Episcopal Mission

Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:36-44

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