It’s Time to Get Up Isaiah 2:1-5; Matthew 24:36-44; Romans 13:11-14 Growing up on the farm I can remember my dad waking me up on the

weekend to help him feed the cattle. At first I would hear a soothing rhythm and tone to his voice. Ohh Daaavid . . . time to get uuugghppp. His voice did wake me up but it did little to stir me out of bed and start my day. Having dozed off again my dad would return and state simply and straightforward, Okay, its time to get going. Returning to consciousness I may have responded to my dad telling him I would be right there but before I knew I was tucked back under my covers and fast asleep. Then finally my dad would come one last time and with his voice lowered and stern he would rattle off some German phrase that I interpreted as if you don’t get up now you will be sleeping with the cattle tonight. Now I know some of us need more sleep than others but I don’t think anyone likes to be woken up before they are ready. The pattern is not much different with God in the Old Testament. In the Garden of Eden God walked with Adam and Eve and spoke in what must have been a gentle and friendly manner telling them to stay awake and alert so that they did not do what was harmful to themselves. Then after humanity began to drift off a little God sent judges to guide the people and try to help lead them in a clear and straightforward manner. Then when our snoring became too much for God the prophets finally came and warned that if they did not wake up to what was going on then they would be kicked out of the land. We don’t like to be told when to get up. Sleep can be one of our greatest comforts and joys. But the thing about sleep is that it is a solitary experience. In as much as sleep is a great joy to ourselves it is often a great insult in the company of others. You can hardly blame people for falling

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asleep in certain circumstances. There is some grace for the times when our heads begin to bob in the pew or the classroom or at a desk. The reason why sleep can be such an insulting expression in some situations is because it is almost the same as if you walked out of the room in middle of someone’s sentence. There tends to be a little less understanding when you nod off as a loved one pours out their heart to you. In addition to not hearing or understanding what is going on around us when we sleep we also can’t do anything about it. We are cocooned. We are an island set apart from the world. In the Psalms it says that God who watches over Israel “will neither slumber nor sleep.” Sleep is the greatest sin of the security guard. We are useless to change things when we are asleep. When asleep we become passively complicit to what is going on around us. We are carried along by the river of the age. And so when Paul tells the Romans to wake up he is reminding us that we may feel like we are alive and engaged in our world when in reality we have been lulled off to sleep and remain passive and accepting of what Paul calls the desires of the flesh. The image is not foreign to us. We are hearing scientists telling us to wake up to the reality of environmental damage. Non-profit organizations are telling us to wake up to the reality of poverty and injustice. We are being told to wake up from advertisings lure of bigger, better, faster. The classic image of this in the twenty-first century is the story told in The Matrix trilogy of movies. These are science fiction movies in which robots take over the world and enslave human beings and use them as their energy source. To keep the humans passive, so that they do not rebel, the robots create a computer program in which humans experience life in a simulated world that looks and feels like normal life. Day to day life was in fact a dream. Humans were born into a dream and had to realize they needed to wake up. It was only the few who struggled to find something more in life that

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were given the chance to wake up. What they woke up to was not what often how we picture truth. Reality was the storm that raged outside their safe illusion. And as is our tendency on a stormy day most people were content to stay inside their warm beds. But for truth can gain any traction reality and life eventually need to be engaged in the storm that is going on outside. Despite these messages coming to us from the news and even in the movies the thought that a whole culture or society is essential asleep remains disturbing and is usually quickly dismissed. But what if the warm comfortable spot in our bed is just an illusion? There is a scene in Oliver Stone’s movie about the assassination of John F. Kennedy where a lawyer played by Kevin Costner begins to uncover what he sees as proof of a government backed plot to kill the president. Costner is up late investigating the evidence when his wife tells him to get some sleep. Costner replies by saying, “I’ve been asleep my whole life.” What he thought was real about the world around him was quickly dissolving. And so the question is how can we shed our naiveté, or wake up from illusions around us, without buying into every conspiracy theory and fear-based message? I am sure most of you have had experiences where you learned something about yourself, someone close to you or something about the world that made you question what you believe and that perhaps even made you feel a little disorientated. And once we have realized something real and true how do we keep from simply being lulled back into sleep? Our society carries a great untapped resource in learning how to emerge from a state of slumber and gain clarity about the world around us. For those who have personally experienced or walked along side someone who has a serious mental illness the analogy of living in a dream-like state can ring true. In many expressions of

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depression, schizophrenia or borderline personality disorder a person can begin to experience various forms of hallucinations in which thoughts, sights, sounds or just feelings are experienced as real even though they are not actually occurring around them. At first these experiences are often assumed to be real or true and so they are treated that way. This is why people’s actions can appear strange at times, they are responding to a different set of experiences then many of us are. In Hollywood hallucinations are depicted in the most exaggerated way. And while this may be some people’s experience it is certainly not the only one. The experience can often be very subtle and blend easily into the environment of the person. Or perhaps they are not specific and just a certain perspective or feeling about the world around them. For many of us and I would actually argue all of us reality is not simple and straightforward. In the midst of mental illness people usually recognize that something is not right but often it is someone around them that needs to help them realize and address the space they are in. The process of discovering this, of beginning to wake up from that dream carries mixed emotions. People can be relieved to know that they are not alone in experiencing this. But on the other hand this discovery leads them to recognize that perhaps they cannot completely trust their senses. The weight of this realization should not be underestimated and is crucial for us to understand. Being awake and alert to the reality around someone experiencing this becomes a relational event. It is important for someone who has experienced hallucinations or any altered sense of reality to know that there are people around them that they can trust to discern what is happening around them. And so Paul calls the church, the community of believers in Rome, to be roused from their slumber. I am convinced that if we desire to hear the same call then we must

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begin to ask ourselves how each one of us are hearing and speaking the words that will wake us up from the some the false realities that we have accepted. How can we create a space that does not dictate uniform beliefs but will remain vigilant and alert against harmful illusions? Are we willing to trust each other enough not be offended when someone is calling us out of that comfortable spot in our bed and, on the other hand, are we sufficiently humble and convicted in the words we speak to each other? All three of our readings call us to wake up and keep watch for one basic reality. Are we caring for our neighbour or are we caring only for ourselves? And are we nurturing a world in which that happens? The context of our passage from Paul comes towards the end of Romans. After he articulates his lengthy theology of salvation through faith he responds to the disunity experienced in the church and articulates how to live in that faith. Just prior to our reading Paul states the positive command to love. He writes, “Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. . . . Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” And at the end of our reading Paul states the negative command of those things we are to withdraw from. Paul asks that we withdraw from the desires of the sinful nature, of the flesh as he calls it. These are desires and decisions that are based solely for personal comfort and prosperity. These are things that will keep us passively in bed. This is not to say that we cannot enjoy comfort and ease when it is granted to us. This is to say that we must move away from decisions whose purpose is to keep us in that comfortable spot in our bed oblivious to anything that is going on around us. We must avoid those things that withdraw us from the call of loving our neighbours even when there is a storm going on outside.

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Paul goes on quickly in the next chapter to clarify that this is not about making uniform and absolute rules about how we should live and worship. In fact it is more likely when we are asleep that we will fall in patterns of uniformity. When we are awake our minds are active and searching. Differences will emerge and Paul accounts for this in the next chapter saying that we must not “pass judgment on disputable matters.” The energy and vision must remain on understanding how Christ is present and models love for our neighbours. As Jesus reminded us in the story of the Good Samaritan our neighbour is anyone who passes within our ability to act justly towards them . . . that is if we are awake to see it. It is easier than we think to pass by our injured neighbour on the other side of the road. I’ll literally experienced that scenario in Winnipeg as I was driving down a busy street in the dead of winter and out of the corner of my eye saw someone lying on the side of the road in a lump. Cars continued to stream by and I almost did the same before I pulled over to find a young woman drunk and passed out. It can be hard enough learning how to consistently be attentive and helpful to someone in our immediate context but thinking about love for our neighbour quickly becomes overwhelming as we broaden our view socially and globally and see the need around us as well as our implication in practices that harm our global neighbours. I feel that in the past five years I have become a little groggy myself. Five years ago I had much greater ambition and vision towards a holistic and broad love for my neighbours. What happened was that I became overwhelmed with the size of the problems and the complexity of them. I became disillusioned with the various responses that conflicted with one another and often still seemed self-serving. So slowly I began to hum a soft little tune in my head that eventually quieted those voices and concerns and lulled them

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to sleep. But we cannot sleep through life, we cannot hope that the storm will simply pass us by. Listen again to our reading from Isaiah, In the last days the mountain of the LORD's temple will be established as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. This is a message of hope but we need to listen carefully to how this hope emerges. It says that God’s mountain will be established and it will be exalted above the hills. Now the hills represent all the other nations and powers in the world. As Isaiah is preaching that the mountain of God has not yet been established. And so he makes reference to all the hills that he sees around them. Their land is full of silver and gold; there is no end to their treasures. Their land is full of horses; there is no end to their chariots. These are hills that have raised themselves in power and status. Isaiah continues, The LORD Almighty has a day in store for all the proud and lofty, for all that is exalted for all the towering mountains and all the high hills, for every lofty tower and every fortified wall. The arrogance of all people will be brought low and human pride humbled; the LORD alone will be exalted in that day. And Isaiah like Jesus and Paul in our readings ends with call. Isaiah says, Stop trusting in human beings, who have but a breath in their nostrils. Why hold them in esteem?

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Isaiah is asking Israel to wake up before it is too late. Later Isaiah says that the people see but not perceive, they hear but not understand. They are living in their own dream. The people have neglected justice and love of their neighbour and taken to building their own kingdom. In sleep we are isolated and self-involved. Being awake means being aware of your neighbour. St. Antony the monk once wrote, “Our life and our death is with our neighbour. If we win our neighbour, we win God. If cause our neighbour to stumble, we have sinned against Christ.” This is similar to Isaiah’s criticism. Now then, listen, you lover of pleasure, lounging in your security and saying to yourself, 'I am, and there is none besides me. We need to know our neighbour so that we can know Christ. If we do not listen to our neighbour we will doze off to sleep again. So we must be humble and except that perhaps we do not see things clearly. And like someone going through a trauma or mental illness we need to learn to trust one another to keep each other awake and call us out from those places that lull us into sleep, isolation and apathy. We must learn to diagnosis or spiritual illnesses and the illusions they produce. We need to hear concerns about the increased difficulty in providing affordable housing. We need to hear those who have experienced the increasing instability of the job market. We need to listen carefully as people explain the consequences of our lifestyles and purchases. We need to ask hard questions about how our lives affect our neighbours. We will not stay awake if we live life without regard for our neighbour. This is the basic Advent message. Pay attention as Christ comes and moves in the midst of our neighbours. This is not a message of works. We cannot solve the world’s

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problems. This is why Paul spent so much time talking about faith before he told them to wake up. Christ came to establish the mountain of God above all other hills and so our calling is to come down from our individual high hills and journey to the mountain of God where justice and wisdom flow. This Christmas season we will not see Christ if we remain on our high hills. We must come down and gather together first in the valley as it will lead to the mountain of God. And then gathered together there we can make way for the saviour who has come, who is present among us and who will come again. We make way for Christ in our minds and in our actions. We make way for Christ as he comes in our neighbours. This Christmas season we are called to make a place Christ in our homes and in our lives. Keep watch and stay alert in this age because Paul tells us that our salvation is nearer now then when we first believed. The night is nearly over. The day is almost here. Stay awake. Keep watch in faith and journey with your neighbour in the valley and in the storm as we travel with Christ to the mountain of God. Amen.

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