(Romans 13: 11-14; Matthew 24: 36-44)
Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 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. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
There is one Stop Sign at an intersection I cross each day both to and from my trip to work. It is located in a residential area, and it sits atop an incline in the road. It is well marked and in full view in both directions, so that it is easy to recognize—if, and this is a big if, if you are paying attention to your driving. One day last week when I was driving home, I was on I271 South before it dawned on me that I did not recall stopping at that sign. I was in some daydream, and I was not consciously aware of my driving. I like to assure myself that I know the route so well I most surely stopped at that sign-it is in my rote muscle memory to make that stop. But I was in a state of conscious unawareness to that sign on that particular day.
Our scripture lesson from Romans 13 for this morning shared with us that it is now time for us to “wake from sleep.” It continues, “For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers.” I do not think that this verse is referring to literal sleep, but to a state of spiritual unawareness similar to that which I experienced when I did not recall stopping my car at that Stop Sign on my trip home from work. We can become so wrapped up in the busy-ness of the moment, focusing our full attention in one area of our life that we are unaware of all that is happening in the world around us. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, calls us to “awake from sleep” into a conscious state of remembering who we are, and whose we are as we walk in this world. We are sojourners who are walking in this world, but we are not of this world and its value system. That is how we can possess a joy, and an inner peace that does not depend upon our physical worldly circumstances. This is a joy and peace that those who walk in the world’s state of unawareness of God’s love for them, as revealed in the life, death resurrection, and ascension of Christ Jesus, our Lord, cannot have or even know. Especially during the Advent Season, when people of faith are joyously preparing to celebrate again the birth of our Lord and Savior, those who do not know him or have any personal relationship with him, can suffer confusion, and dire consequences on their emotional state and wellbeing. Let’s take a look at a very familiar case in point.
Consider the story of Charlie Brown, a seemingly average kid living in his town in Anywhere, U.S.A.. Charlie Brown is suffering from feelings of sadness and depression during the Advent Season. There is snow on the ground, and decorations are strewn everywhere to celebrate the season, yet poor Charlie Brown isn’t feeling happy—something is just missing from this holiday scene.
As we learned in our Bible study on the Book of Jonah, the characters and events in a story can have parable qualities, and they can teach us about greater life—truths than those found the storyline itself. This is the case with the storyline of Charles M. Schulz’ 1965 film “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” For example, we have Lucy Van Pelt who, in the words of the immortal singer/songwriter Madonna, is “living in a material world, and she is a material girl.” She loves all of the panache of the Advent Season-the lights, the Holiday pageants, and of course, the Christmas tree. But these are not symbols rich with religious meaning for Lucy, they are part of what she understands, even at her young age, as the “commercialism” of Christmas; and Lucy is right on board with them. Recall Lucy’s true Christmas gift wish? It’s not a bike or a doll—it is real estate! To help cheer up Charlie Brown, Lucy invites him to be the Director of the Annual Christmas Pageant—a watered down and worldly rendition of the Christmas story, complete with her own starring role as the Christmas Queen. I seem to have missed her in the original Biblical version of this story.
Next, we have Linus, an interesting and seemly more minor supporting character in the story. Although he does not share Charlie’s sad Christmas season mood, as Charlie’s friend and confidante, Linus does his best to be helpful and supportive. Linus has an inner peace and calm about him that is beyond his young age. It is something easy to miss amid all of the holiday bustle of the storyline. Pay attention to Linus—he’s a much deeper than he first appears in the surface.
Poor sad Charlie Brown takes Lucy up on her offer to direct the Christmas Pageant; but unfortunately, no one wants to be directed. The kids are all dancing to the Pop-music young musical prodigy Schroeder is playing on his toy piano. Charlie becomes so frustrated at the other kids that Lucy sends him out to get a big, bright, jazzy and dazzling Christmas tree. Charlie, a deep and searching character himself, takes pity on, and brings back a small tree, mostly barren of needles and losing more with its every movement. All of the kids laugh, even his faithful dog, Snoopy, causing Charlie Brown even more frustration. He admits that he is trying but really doesn’t know what Christmas is all about; and so he asks, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”
This is Linus’ moment to shine the light of Christian love, and to share the true Christmas story of Jesus’ birth for all to see. He now takes center stage, sharing scripture from Chapter of the Gospel of Luke about the birth of our Lord, Christ Jesus. It states (New Revise Standard Version):
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
“That’s what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown”, Linus said.
Charlie Brown had hung on every word Linus spoke, and he got it—the birth of Jesus, God’s gift of love, born to us to bring us God’s peace and love-that’s what Christmas is all about. Filled with Christmas spirit, Charlie Brown takes the tree away to dress it with lights and ornaments; but alas, the poor tree bends over the weight they burdened upon it. Charlie feels defeated in his endeavor, but Linus bolsters up the tree with his trusty blanket, and the other kids, momentarily filled with the kind and loving spirit of the season, help to make the little tree an object of beauty. “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!” they all shout, and they burst into a chorus of the Christmas Carol, “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”—a Hymn which embodies the true spirit of Christmas.
Won’t you join me in singing verse 1 of Hymn #240:
Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn king. Peace on earth and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled!” Joyful, all ye nation rise, join the triumph of the skies; with angelic host proclaim, “Christ is born in Bethlehem!” Hark! the herald angels sing, Glory to the newborn king!”
On this first Sunday of Advent, may we all wake up and remember that Jesus is the reason for the season. Let God’s people say, Amen