The Big Event - Week One "Wake Up!"

This Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent.

I am always surprised when Advent arrives.  It's a bittersweet moment each and every year because I am instantly reminded that Christmas Eve is coming, and that I am woefully unprepared.  Therpresents to be purchased, lights to be hung, a thousand things to do...  

It sort of makes you tired when you think about it. 

As if I wasn't tired enough already...

My wife and I just drove back to Florida from North Carolina last night.  We left early after spending Thanksgiving with her parents in their mountain home.  Our baby boy had a bad cold and my wife had one of those overwhelming mom moments where she had to be at home with him.  I was driving a U-haul truck with our middle son, who is 6.  The truck was filled with furniture that my in-laws had given to us after their move.  My wife was in our car with our oldest and littlest boys. 

We were on the road for over 11 hours.  My oldest boy, who has his driver's permit drove for over half of the trip---through rain, holiday traffic and at night.  My wife spent much of that time in the back seat taking care of our sick little boy and trying not to have a nervous breakdown.  Meanwhile, I was driving the U-haul, which maneuvered like a crazy boat.  Every bump in the road threatened to steer me off course and into passing semis.  Every time I tried to reach for my chili-cheese Fritos the steering wheel would go all loosey goosey and scare the stuffing out of me.  

And did I mention it was my birthday?   Easily the most memorable birthday in years. 

My wife and I were the only two members of our family who were awake on the last two hours of the trip.  Since she had a GPS in her car, she started giving me updates via cell phone on how far away we were and how much longer we would be driving.  I can't tell you how awesome it felt to roll up into our driveway.  When we got out of our respective vehicles, we all looked like a bunch of extras from a Night of the Living Dead movie.  

I pretty much just fell like a tree into bed, and was asleep almost as soon as my head hit the pillow.  

When I woke up this morning, my wife (who had stayed awake almost all night worrying over my littlest boy who is congested and sicky-poo)  told me that after all of "her boys" were in bed asleep she was filled with the most overwhelming sense of gratitude.  We had driven for over 11 hours without an accident, and we were all safe and sound in our house.  

I had been so tired and out of it when I got home I didn't even really stop to think about how blessed we were.  If I'd been doing my job, we would have gathered together right there on the driveway after we rolled up and prayed a prayer of thanksgiving.  I missed the moment. 

The ancient Greek language had a word for a special moment in time...  Kairos.  Kairos is not just about a place on a time line.  It's not analytical.  It's not even historic.  It has the sense of a moment so special that it transcends space and time.  The ancient Greeks believed that if you were oblivious to the kairos moments, you were considered "asleep." 
 
God is all about the kairos moments.  You could say that God is the very essence of kairos.  Kairos moments happen all the time.  I think they are one of the many ways that God speaks to us, trying to break through the fog that we live in most of the time.  It's too bad that most of us who call ourselves God's children are too sleepy to see them.

Christians today are so obsessed with what they believe God will do at the end of time, and so consumed with being ready for whatever it might be that they have grown too weary to experience the kairos moments God gives them each and every day.  

When I was a kid, the fundamentalist churches that I attended with my family almost always had a "Watch Night" service on New Year's Eve.  We would spend the entire evening singing, praying, listening to a sermon or two... basically just ringing in the New Year like Puritans.  Secretly, we were all hoping that Jesus would pick New Year's Eve to launch the Rapture and start snatching away the faithful, and that we would all be in church when it happened.  As the night would wear on, though, we would give up on that notion and just pray that midnight would come soon so we could stop kneeling in front of our metal folding chair while some deacon prayed a long, droning prayer beseeching God to destroy the evil people in the world and deliver us to the Pearly Gates.  

At some point in my Christian development, I started asking, "Why bother staying awake at midnight?"  Especially, if nothing was going to happen.  In Romans 13:11-14 the Apostle Paul was dealing with a bunch of 1st Century Christians who were basically asking the same question.   
11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.[c]
St. Augustine once wrote that when he was agonizing over the purpose and direction of his life, he heard the voices of children singing in his ear, "Pick up and read!  Pick up and read!"  Famously, he walked to where he'd been sitting with a friend and picked up the Scriptures, which were opened to Romans 13:11-14.  He read the words above and they changed his life, and the course of Church history.  

There's something about realizing the kairos moments that just wakes you up.  Paul wanted the early Christians to whom he was writing to understand that there had to be a sense of urgency to their faith and their Christian life.  There would come a day, he told them, when the fullness of their salvation, the ultimate realization of their salvation would be realized.  But until that day, they had to stay awake.  They had to be aware of the way that the day they were looking forward to was breaking through into their present.  

Christians have great intentions.  We do our best to make our own future by doing good, by keeping the rules, by striving for the "next thing."  And we make an idol out of Christianity and the "goodness" that we seek to make on our own.  If our desire for love and goodness in the world is not tempered by the hope of God's final redemption it can become nothing more than ideological tyranny.  It becomes a all about what we can do and not about what God is doing.  We can quickly grow "weary in well doing," as the Apostle Paul wrote, and miss all the good stuff---the kairos moments God is making.   

On the flipside, if all we do is focus on what is to come without a care for our part in what is happening around us, we can grow not only weary, but complacent.  We lose our sense of urgency and miss all the good stuff--the kairos moments God is making. 

I love what Paul does at the end of that Romans passage where he calls out all of the bad things that he wants his readers to get rid of in order to stay awake.  Komos, which is translated as "revelry" or "rioting" had it's origins with the celebrations that would take place when a sports hero would return home after a victory.  It would involve lots of drinking, carousing and a lack of respect for friends and family.  Methe was a foul word in the Greek language.  The ancient Greeks drank wine almost from birth, but to be drunk was considered a nasty and irresponsible thing.  Koite basically meant "strange bed" and it meant exactly what it seems to mean: infidelity.  Aselgeia was literally translated "shamelessness."  It was what occurred when someone became so enamored with themselves and their own desires that they didn't care how they acted in public or private.  Eris had to do with contention or combativeness.  This word was used to describe people who were always out looking for a fight, completely convinced they were always right.  Zelos was a word that meant "envy," more specifically it referred to a person who was not satisfied with their own success, their own blessings and constantly coveted the blessings of another.

Every single one of these things has to do with an inward kind of life--the kind of life that gets focused on all of the wrong things, and just wears itself out.  They are also the kinds of things that seem to be plaguing Christians and the Church today. 

Paul's message to the Roman Christians was essentially this:  "Be up before the day breaks!"  It's a message that we need to heed once again---especially during this season of expectation.  It's time to stop sleep walking and live like Jesus is coming because he is/has.  We live in the overlap between the old and the new, between the resurrection and the hopeful future of Advent.  It's time to work, and it's time to look ahead.  It's time. 

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