Sleepless...And Loving It!
A favorite character of mine is Maxwell Smart. I like the nutty way this bumbling secret agent behaves. For example, he will get himself into a stupid, painful situation and someone will say, "Max your own agents have handed you over; you're slowly being roasted to death, and the bomb you have in your pocket is about to explode." Max will admit how terrible the situation is but close with "...and loving it." This morning I'm going to talk about something that most people despise, sleeplessness. Is it possible to be sleeplessand loving it?
Today is the First Sunday in Advent, and Advent requires sleeplessness. Hear the Gospel reading. The word translated "alert" and "watch" can be translated "be sleepless"; "be on guard duty!" "Stay awake!" Be like the one at the front door who has been told by his master "be sleepless." To every one of us Jesus says, "You must stay awake!"
Don't fall asleep is a prevailing theme of Advent. Now is not the time for sleep; now is the time for watchfulness, for vigilance, for manning the lookouts to catch the first glimpse of the coming Christ. Now is a time to be stirred up. Listen to the Collects for Sundays in Advent. Three out of four begin with the words, "Stir up." In the original Latin they began with "excite." Now is a time to be excited, stirred up, wide awake.
That's easier said than done. You know how difficult it is to stay awake sometimes. Who hasn't tried to stay awake when bored? In a lecture, a sermon, after hours in deer stand. You fight to stay awake; but don't. The same thing happens when driving. Even though you know it's critical to stay awake, even though you know at any moment you might need to react, to be wide awake, still you nod, dose, nap, fall asleep.
Another time it's all but impossible to stay awake is during a time of sorrow. Remember what happened to 3 disciples in Gethsemane? In fact, it's 3 of the 4 Jesus speaks to now. Jesus told them to stay awake and pray, and He told them that again after finding them asleep. Then we read, "Jesus came to the disciples and found them sleeping because of sorrow." Sad times make people sleepy. They don't stay awake watching for anything in order to get away from their sadness or sorrow by sleeping.
It's difficult, even impossible to stay awake for some things. Insomnia can plague a person for weeks, but let something boring or sorrowful come along for which he needs to stay awake and he's out. A road trip, a heavy sorrow, or waiting for Christ to return puts him to sleep.
What did I say? Waiting for Christ's return puts a person to sleep? Yes; remember the parable of the 10 virgins? Although only 5 of them were labeled foolish by Jesus, all 10 fell sound asleep. Waiting for Jesus has elements of boredom and sorrow. Jesus tells us to look for wars, rumors of wars, famines, and earthquakes. He tells us these are signs that His approach is near, but because these signs happen in every generation, they've become like a metronome keeping time rather than a timer counting time down. Our grandparents and parents all saw the signs we do: 1-2-3-4; 1-2-3-4. It's hard for us to see them as a timer counting down to the final bell: 3-2-1- ding!
At the same time, we're overwhelmed with sorrow as we wait by what we see going on in the world. The signs that the end is near leave us filled with sorrow because things go from bad to worse. The blatant disregard of human life in Syria among neighboring peoples and in America among neighborhood abortion clinics, leaves us cold. The casting off of the last shreds of Biblical morality appalls us. Now not only sex outside of marriage is glorified but same sex everything is. Now not only is living together tolerated it is expected. How heavy this makes the Christian's heart; how appealing is the idea of shutting down.
I get tired just thinking about it. Don't you feel that, say that? Sleep is so inviting, so tempting, so necessary right now. It is impossible to stay awake in times like these. But there are other times when it is all but impossible to fall asleep. That's when your sleeplessand loving it!
The night before deer hunting is like that for me. Although there is no chance a deer might pass me as I lay in bed, although there is absolutely no reason at that moment to be all keyed up, I am. The same happens the night before I go on a trip. The next day is when I need to stay awake; the night before there's nothing to stay awake for. Yet I do. Anticipation doesn't just keep me waiting but watching. I'm sleepless.and loving it.
Times of joy do this too. No matter how badly you need sleep, it just doesn't come at such times. Wedding receptions often go late into the next morning. After a child is born, nobody needs to tell you to stay awake, don't sleep, be alert, and only an evolutionist thinks that's just adrenalin. Happiness keeps eyelids held open.
Waiting for old St. Nick can do that too. Does ever a night pass so slowly as the night before Christmas for a child? Nothing is needed to stir up a child waiting for Christmas morning. No midweek church services, no prayers for God to get them excited or keep them awake. In fact, on the night before Christmas the idea is to get the kids unexcited, unstirred up, asleep.
So, there is a such a thing as sleeplessand loving it. To be awake, alert, stirred up, excited for Christ's return. For the events in the world to stir us up to watchfulness rather than put us to sleep with sorrow. There is such a thing as hearing a timer counting down to the glories of Christmas morn rather than to hear a metronome's 1-2-3-4; 1-2-3-4. There is such a thing as Advent. Advent stirs up in us a longing for Christ by highlighting the reasons for His coming. You stay awake for what you long for; for what you enjoy. The night before Christmas finds kids longing for morning and enjoying every minute of the wait. Advent can do that for us.
In the Isaiah reading, you find the Old Testament Church expressing her longing for the coming Christ. She prays, "Oh, that you would tear open the heavens and come down the way you did in ancient times when you led Your people out of Egypt!"
You can relate to this longing. Don't you long to have your God act on behalf of His people today the way He did in Egypt? Don't you long for God to show His power among those who are murdering the innocent, polluting the family, and corrupting the church? Don't you long for God to rip open the heavens, reach down, and put lying politicians, murdering drug dealers, and deceptive false teachers away for good?
That's what happens when Christ returns. This is what we are waiting for. We're not waiting for Christ to come down to suffer and die for the sins of the world. We're not waiting for Christ to go meekly to Calvary carrying the sins of the world. That's a done deal. He's through suffering for the sins of the world; He's through being the uncomplaining Lamb. He returns to set everything right. I can hardly wait for that day, can you?
We long for Christ to appear visibly because how are we going to get into heaven unless He comes down and gets us? You can feel this longing in Isaiah's prophesy, can't you? He says, "How then can we saved? All our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we're all shriveled up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on Your name or strives to lay hold of You; for You have hidden Your face from us and make us waste away because of our sins."
It's not just the world's sinfulness that makes us long for Christ to return; it's our own. Our very best efforts, intentions, and works are nothing but stinking rags. The best that we do is nowhere good enough to get us into heaven; our best only makes God hide His face from us. And we're powerless to do any better, try any harder, be any different. All our spiritual strength, our religious conviction, our moral zeal is nothing but a shriveled-up leaf. We're wasting away because of our sinfulness.
I point this out, not to make you despair or hopeless, but to make you sleepless. If Advent makes you see how hopeless and helpless you are in your sins, Christ's coming looks all the more hopeful and powerful. Something to sleeplessly wait for while loving it.
We whose goodness is nothing but filthy rags, whose power is dried up like leaves, we who can't lay hold of God because of our own sins, wait and watch for Someone who comes with clean robes of Righteousness to cloth us, with the power of the Holy Spirit to invigorate us, and with nail pieced hands to hold us in. We wait for Someone who can save us despite our filthiness, despite our powerlessness, despite our sinfulness.
We are waiting for the answer to every doubt that plagues us, to every problem that haunts us, to every guilt that stabs us. This anticipation keeps us wide awake, and so does our joy. We watch with joy because we're waiting for our Father who loves us more than His own Son. How joyfully a child waits for a loving father.
The line right before our text is, "Though Abraham does not know us or Israel acknowledge us; you, O Lord are our Father." The text ends on that note too saying despite our sins God remains our Father. "Yet, O Lord, You are our Father." Despite our sins, our weakness, our filthiness, God in Christ remains our loving Father, and therefore, we look for a Savior not a Judge from heaven; we watch, we wait in joy not dread.
In Jesus we know the Father loves us because in Jesus the Father does not hide His face from us because of our sins. In Jesus the Father looks at us with fiery love not unquenchable fire, with the soft light of forgiveness not the blinding light of holiness. In the tender, loving face of Jesus we know we're really seeing the Father because Jesus says, "He who's seen Me has seen the Father."
So, what we're waiting for is our heavenly Father in the Person of Jesus Christ to tear open the heavens, stick His face out, and say, "Come on up! I've got glorious things prepared for you here." Gee, I wonder what they could be? I'm, sleepless just thinking about it, and loving it. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
First Sunday in Advent (20171203); Isaiah 63:16b-17; 64:1-8; Mark 13: 33-37