By The Rev. Sherry Crompton[Date]Read:

1 Advent – November 28, 2010
Matthew 24:36-44, Romans 13:11-14 and Isaiah 2:1-5

Wake up! Keep awake! Be ready! We hear over and over again in our scripture readings for today about being aware, waking up, being ready.

And Jesus, in Matthew’s gospel, takes us back to Noah and the days of the great flood, when people were going about their usual activities – eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage – and then their end came. Jesus also speaks of working in the field – a normal, everyday activity in those times; and women grinding meal together – a regular event at that time. He is saying that in the midst of our ordinary lives, something is happening – something can happen – something will happen.
I really don’t believe Jesus is trying to scare us. He is telling us that we need to be prepared, to be ready. Not to worry about when, just live in a state of awareness, of being ready, whenever the time comes.

So what does waking up look like? It means paying attention to the present, not living in the past or constantly looking into the future. Barbara Brown Taylor has this to say: “I am so mired in the past that I almost never meet anyone new. Or more to the point, I rarely give anyone a chance to be new. When someone I do not know walks up to me with a hungry look in her eyes, then I treat her like the last person I met who looked like that. This woman may have an entirely different story. She may be an angel of God sent to tell me something I desperately need to know, but I cannot even see her. All I can see is the last person whom she reminds me of, which means that this new person does not have a change to get through to me.

I have a similar problem with the future, which is the closet where I store all my good intentions about the people in my life whom I am going to treat better one day real soon. I am not always going to be this buy and unfocused, I tell myself. Any moment now I am going to have time to do the things I have always meant to do and say the things I have always meant to say. I am going to be a better godparent. I am going to pray more. I am going to make my life count. In the meantime, this vision of the future gets me off the hood today. I can even fool myself into believing that my splendid intentions make me a better person right now, and that time will forever expand to meet my needs.

These are my own personal delusions, but they affect communities and nations as well. According to Matthew, it is time to wake up. No matter where Jesus is, it is time to stop living in the past and in the future and to start living right now, because whenever the end comes, that is when it will come—in the now—and meanwhile, our best chance at discovering what abundant life is all about is to start living into it right now, not only one by one but also all together. I remember something one of my professors once told me, that Christ comes again, and again, and again—that God has placed no limit on coming to the world, but is always on the way to us here and now. The only thing we are required to do is notice—to watch, to keep our eyes peeled.
Two men are working in the field, one is taken and one is left. That’s what the gospel text says. Two women are grinding meal, one is taken away and the other is left. Jesus doesn’t say this to scare us; he says it so we will be prepared for his coming again, and again, and again. He wants us to make time to ponder him; his love, his patience and his grace. Jesus is coming again someday, though we don’t know when. One way or another, it will surprise us. We will either be delightfully surprised because our faith is fixed on him. Or we will be dreadfully surprised because we have chased the brass ring of this life and never took time – not even in Advent – never took time to seek his face.

There is a wonderful, classic song from Curtis Mayfield and The Impressions called People, Get Ready! This was written in the year after the March on Washington. For many, it captured the spirit of the march — the song reaches across racial and religious lines to offer a message of redemption and forgiveness. In addition to the march, the song followed several jarring events in American history: the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham — which killed four little girls — and the assassination of President Kennedy. The times were difficult, but hope remains.

Music critic Stanley Crouch explains Mayfield’s response to those events: “…by saying ‘There’s a train a-coming, get ready’ that was like saying, okay, so regardless of what happens, get yourself together for this because you are going to get a chance. Your chance is coming.”

“The train that is coming in the song speaks to a chance for redemption — the long-sought chance to rise above, to stand apart from despair and any desire for retaliation — an end to the cycle of pain.” “I think it’s a song that touches people…” says Peter Burns, the author of the biography Curtis Mayfield: People Never Give Up. “It is a song of faith really, a faith that transcends any racial barrier and welcomes everyone onto the train. The train that takes everyone to the promised land, really.”

The lyrics go like this:

People get ready, there’s a train a comin’
You don’t need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin’
Don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord
People get ready for the train to Jordan
It’s picking up passengers from coast to coast
Faith is the key, open the doors and board ’em
There’s hope for all among those loved the most.
There ain’t no room for the hopeless sinner
Who would hurt all mankind just to save his own
Have pity on those whose chances grow thinner
For there’s no hiding place against the Kingdom’s throne
So people get ready, there’s a train a comin’
You don’t need no baggage, you just get on board
All you need is faith to hear the diesels hummin’
Don’t need no ticket, you just thank the Lord.

And I can’t say it any better than that! What a great message for Advent. Be aware, wake up. People get ready, there a train a comin’ and you don’t need any ticket or any baggage, just get on board! Faith is the key, just thank the Lord. Amen.

Copyright 2008-2012 Episcopal Church of the Trinity.

The text of this sermon is the property of the author and may not be duplicated or used without permission.