Keep Awake!

Sermon for Advent 1

And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” (Mark 13:37)

We begin Advent with news of the impending return of Jesus, the end of the world, the who knows what could happen kind of feeling.

This is not a gentle invitation into a season of waiting. This is a command!

Something is about to happen and we need to be attentive.

Being awake is hard. It means listening to what is going on in the world. Being open to the knowledge of:

  • fighting in Eritrea
  • houselessness and food insecurity in Toronto
  • displacement of peoples internally and internationally including refugees
  • ongoing oppression suffered by countless humans in countless places around the world and here at home
  • fill in the blank with whatever injustice is closest to your heart

This list could be endless.

We who try to be awake, attentive, aware, and active are tired.

We take it all in and try to discern what we can be responsive to and how we can best make a difference, but it is hard and especially so in these isolating times.

As we each enter into this different Advent season, I want to offer some nuance and hope to our task of Keeping Awake.

Jan Richardson’s Blessing for Waking is for a me a bit of a blueprint for this community and for the communities I have helped create or found myself in over the decades.

She writes

“This blessing wants to sit alongside you and keep vigil with you.

…this blessing will simply lean toward you and sing quietly in your ear

a song to lull you not into sleep but into waking.

….It will ask you questions you never considered and have you tell it what you saw in your dreaming.

This blessing will do all within its power to entice you into awareness because it wants to be there,
to bear witness, to see the look in your eyes on the day when your vigil is complete
and all your waiting has come to its joyous end.”

We know not all waiting ends in joy, but there is a hopefulness in this reading that encourages us to seek the joy, to seek the change in circumstances to wait in hope and not in fear.

Waiting can be understood as a passive act. Standing in line for your turn with the cashier.

Even that waiting can become active as you scan the magazine titles and maybe pick up the latest issue of People magazine to flip through. It can also become active as you choose to do some kind of subtle exercise that does not cause too many people to stare. Or it becomes active as you create a list of your next errands and plan your day.

In the first activity one engages in waiting that passes the time, but doesn’t really accomplish much, except maybe increase your knowledge of gossip. The exercise contributes to your own well-being and maybe prepares you for what is coming next. The list making and planning prepares you for who you will be in the world. Not in dramatic ways, but in the kind of foundational thinking that happens for me before I get out of bed. What do I know about the day ahead of me and how can I best enter into it.

We are all faced with waiting and sometimes we have no choice, but for it to be passive waiting where we have no agency and must simply wait for the test results or diagnosis or…

I think the command of “Keep Awake” that we hear today is the active waiting where we spend the time preparing for the arrival of someone into our home. We do not know what the ending will be, but as people of faith we engage in active waiting. It is often not easy waiting and it is the kind of being awake that requires companionship and the strength of those companions because there is so much to be done to bring about a new world.

We can be the embodiment of Jan Richardson’s blessing. We can come along side of each other and share the songs, poems, art, stories that call us to wake-fullness. Remind ourselves of the past successes. The times and places where God’s presence broke into the world and the people listened and change happened. We did that very thing in this community deliberately on All Saints and the previous Sunday, but it happens in Holy Trinity list posts, in individual actions and in collective declarations.

We can ask questions of one another and we can share in your dreaming. This is sometimes a tricky task and moves beyond the platitudes mouthed in a tough time to real accompaniment. It is the voices who really encouraged me to slow down and ask for help in the midst of my cancer treatment this year. It is the voices who told me I was not responsible for everyone and everything. Others could take over and do a great job.

So we have our scriptural command in the gospel and some hints about how to fulfill that command in the first reading. Let’s cast our minds back to that very beginning when we sang the first verse of Canticle of the Turning and dispelled the darkness a little bit with our Candles of Hope lit in our homes in many, many places. That’s so much more light than that single candle in the middle of our beloved church. Even in our separation we multiply the light.

The last few lines of each stanza are the same and by the time we get to week 4 we will know them well.

“My heart shall sing of the day you bring
Let the fires of your justice burn
Wipe away all tears
For the dawn draws near
And the world is about to turn.”

“Wipe away all tears for the dawn draws near” has been rattling around in my head since I first looked at the lyrics after the team had chosen them for our theme this season. It really feels like the faithful thing to do. I struggle to put into to words what it means to me to be a Christian except that I truly know I am called to change the world. I am not called to do it alone, nor am I called to do it in a robotic way without feeling

the tiredness

or the pain

or the loneliness

or “all the feels”.

This stanza acknowledges that even in the midst of sure knowledge that “fires of justice will burn” and “the world is about to turn” there will be tears. Tears of loss, tears of fear, tears of frustration, tears of all kinds and maybe even tears of joy.

I am in a place where there has been a lot of wiping away tears and placing hope in the dawn is difficult. I have gotten here, as I am an optimist and am somewhat aware of my privileged place in this world. I can’t however let this reality of who I am discount the need for tears and the need I have to stay in that place of sadness. This year with the personal and collective struggles of 2020 I am more aware that the act of wiping away the tears is sacred. I need to acknowledge that the tears are there and letting them flow and being with the pain is part of my current journey.

Even now I hold onto the hope that fires of justice are indeed burning and the world is about to turn because the blessing of individuals and communities continue to come alongside me and accompany me in the vigil now and in my past. I have been joined in person and virtually by people I know and countless thousands I will never meet who share the same vision and find ways to work for God’s Shalom.

Beth Baskin

I want to acknowledge that we might be spending more time wiping away tears this advent and that Keeping Awake might be harder. Bad news is more accessible than ever and it pulls at our souls and numbs our senses. The good news is that as people of faith who are part of Holy Trinity we do what we can do and that is not everything. We each bring concerns to the community. Some we will work on as a community, some we will work on with other communities and some we will offer prayers, because that is all we can do.

In our active waiting this advent we can keep vigil with one another through conversations collectively during coffee hour and on the email list. We can send notes to those we think of and we will deliberately share our favourite advent poems, songs, and wisdom with the youth of this community.

I will not click through on every appeal in my in box to sign a petition or attend every virtual rally. I will do what I can do, with who I am, in this moment and place. I urge each of us and us as a whole community to know that although we are called to Keep Awake for the coming of God and the turning of the world we do not do it alone.

Communities the world over will light their Advent Wreath this morning, offer their prayers and sing music both ancient and new to move us into this holy season where we may more deeply touch the darkness as we gaze towards the dawn.