So I’m working on my sermon in one of my favorite coffee shops one day when a customer hurriedly opens the door and runs toward the counter. No wait. She’s not a customer. She’s an employee. And she’s late.
As she runs behind the counter, she is apologizing over and over again to the manager, “I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to be late for work. I had my alarm set and I just slept right through it. My roommate woke me up and said, ‘Aren’t you supposed to be at work now?’ I looked at my alarm clock and couldn’t believe what time it was. I am so sorry!” The manager, who had been all alone taking care of customers, didn’t seem to impressed with the excuse.
Her employee was a good thirty minutes late. And I can remember passing judgment on this late worker as I sat there and listened to her apologize for not being on time.
I was in visiting someone in an out of town hospital and my calendar alarm goes off reminding me that I have a dentist appointment in 30 minutes. I ended up being late to the dentist that day. So, yes, I can relate to the coffee shop employee. How about you? Are you good at knowing what time it is?
Someone once asked former baseball player, Yogi Berra what time it was. And in particular Yogi fashion, he answered, “Do you mean right now?”
The question for us to consider for this first Sunday of the Season of Advent is, “Do you know what time it is?”
The Apostle Paul, seems to think that the Christians in Rome know the answer to this question when he writes, “You know what time it is.”
Today marks the beginning of the Season of Advent, a period of four weeks preceding the celebration of the coming of Jesus Christ into the world. Paul writes, “You know that it is time to wake from sleep because salvation is nearer to us now than when we first became believers.”
Paul is setting off an alarm clock to make sure that we don’t sleep through this Advent season and miss the whole meaning of Christmas. So don’t be surprised if you hear an alarm go off during the sermon this morning. After all, it is Advent. It’s time to wake up!
This first alarm is to wake us up to love. Just one verse before our Epistle lesson begins, the Apostle Paul writes, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.” And in that same passage of scripture, Paul writes, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
One of the purposes of these four weeks leading up to the Christmas Season is to prepare us to be a people who offer God’s love to others. This is an important alarm on this first Sunday of Advent because it can be so easy for us to get so preoccupied with the busyness of this time of year, that we miss out on what is most important – sharing God’s love with the people around us.
This is that time of the year when patience can run a little thin at times just because of the stress of getting things ready for Christmas.
Chances are that someone will steal that parking spot which you thought was yours so now you’ll have to park 3 miles away instead of two. The waitress at the restaurant will bring you a Sprite instead of a Diet Coke. The store worker will tell you that they are out of the toy you wanted so badly for your little granddaughter, even though the sign says that they have them in stock.
And just when you’re ready to shake your fist at the guy in the other car, or not cut a break for the waitress who’s been on her feet all day waiting on tables, or say a few choice words at the employee in the toy store, you hear these words from that 1st Sunday in Advent, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.”
One of the things that drives me crazy is how traffic can get so backed up when you’re out shopping. This reminds me of the story of a young woman whose car stalled at a stoplight. She tried to get it started, but nothing would happen. The light turned green, and there she sat, angry and embarrassed, holding up traffic.
The car behind could have gone around, but instead the driver added to her anger by laying on his horn. After another desperate attempt to get the car started, she got out and walked back to the honker. The man rolled down his window in surprise.
“Tell you what,” she said. “You go start my car, and I’ll sit back here and honk the horn for you.”
During this busy month of December, when people are stressed out, just think what a difference we can make in the lives of others, just by remembering this first Advent alarm. “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.”
If the first advent alarm ring is about love. The second advent alarm ring is about light. The Apostle Paul writes in this same passage of scripture, “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.”
The works of darkness. In this passage of scripture, Paul is reminding the Christian community that they are a people of light. They are a people who have been claimed by God and called to shine their light to the people all around them.
Light is what helps us to see that which is hidden. It exposes those areas of our lives where we are in need of transformation which will be our Advent focus next Sunday but is really at the heart of this entire Advent season.
One of the ways that we can be put on the armor of light is by taking time each day to reflect on areas of our lives that are in need of transformation. Psychiatrist and author, Scott Peck recommends that we spend time each day thinking about our behaviors and how we might respond to situations that we are facing in our lives. He says that most people don’t do this and instead simply offer unthinking knee-jerk reactions to the things that happen to us during the day.
When we take the time to think and reflect, it allows our minds and spirits to catch up with the events of our lives so that we can see those areas of our lives that often remain hidden. Prayer and reflection are what help us to be open to the light of Christ in our lives.
These reflection moments each day lead us to ask questions like, “Why did I react the way I did to that person’s comment?” “Why did that little thing get under my skin so much?” As we slow down each day and take time to reflect, it may also lead us to remember of God’s presence in any given situation. It may remind us that we are not alone when facing difficult situations and decisions.
In addition to a personal level, putting on the armor of light also exposes the darkness in our society. A couple of weeks ago, Penny and I went to see the movie, “Harriett,” about Harriett Tubman and the Underground Railroad in helping people escape from slavery. Harriett Tubman along with so many others were willing to risk their lives by putting on the armor of light and exposing the darkness of slavery.
I was reading about the 2015 Oscar-winning movie “Spotlight” which centers around the actions of a group of reporters dedicated to telling the story of children abused by Boston-area priests that unfolded over decades. In the film, the church is portrayed at best as turning a blind eye to the abuse and at worst as enabling abusive and troubled priests to continue to hurt children.
While this film focused on the Catholic Church, all denominations have struggled with a legacy of complacency when it comes to harmful actions such as abuse, cultural genocide, racism, and sexism. When the light of Christ shines on these actions, we come face to face with the truth of who we are and our deep need for Jesus Christ to save us.
The second advent alarm is to put on the light of Christ.
The third advent alarm according to Paul is the Lord Jesus Christ. The first alarm is Love. The second alarm is Light. And the third alarm is the Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul writes to the Christians in Rome, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ.”
That’s what we’re getting ready to do during this Season of Advent. We’re getting ready to celebrate the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ into the world. This season of waiting and expectation isn’t primarily about getting our shopping done or getting our house ready for out of town guests. This season is all about the Lord Jesus Christ.
In fact, the first two advent alarms of love and light spring from this third advent alarm, the Lord Jesus. It’s because of the Lord Jesus, that we are able to love and to be a people of light.
In this scripture passage from Romans, Paul isn’t just thinking about the birth of Christ. He’s also thinking about the time when the Lord Jesus will come again and renew all of creation.
So in this Advent season, it’s really two-fold. To celebrate the first coming of Jesus and to anticipate His 2nd coming. And what better way to put on the Lord Jesus Christ then by celebrating the Sacrament of Holy Community on this 1st Sunday of Advent.
So the next time your alarm clock goes off early in the morning, I want you to to remember this sermon.
It’s time to wake up! Don’t be late. It’s time to love. Time to be the light. And it’s time to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Happy Advent!