Sleepers, Awake

First Sunday of Advent
November 27, 2022
Matthew 24:36-44

As the nights grow longer, the days grow shorter, and as the temperatures drop, I find myself struggling to get out of bed in the morning. During the summer, I go to sleep at night excited to get up in the morning – to go run on the Seawall, to watch the sunrise, to seize the day. 4:00, 4:30 a.m. is pretty standard for me. But not in the winter. The single biggest obstacle I have to overcome every day in the winter is the snooze button.

And my silly little iPhone plays into it. I use it as my alarm clock, but they’ve designed it so that the snooze button is bright yellow, in the middle of the screen, and about three times the size of the “off” button. They know. And every nine minutes, in the darkened stupor of a winter morning, that’s the button I press. 5 becomes 5:09, becomes 5:18, becomes 5:27, and so on until it’s not my alarm clock that gets me out of bed, no; it’s my dog demanding breakfast.

In the spiritual life with Jesus, this snooze button effect has a name. It’s called, “acedia.” A-C-E-D-I-A. Acedia is a spiritual laziness, not caring, a lack of concern. This is knowing the right thing to do, but not doing anything about it. This is facing any sort of spiritual obstacle and simply giving up. Acedia is hearing the call from Jesus to “wake up,” but rolling over and hitting the snooze button instead. 

This is similar to my diagnosis of American religious life in general. The fastest growing religious group are people with no religious affiliation. Oddly, it’s not that they are atheists. Many of them actually believe in God or at least some sort of divine power. It’s more that they are apatheists, they’re just apathetic, ambivalent. They are not opposed to religion, they simply don’t care. Or they have other religions. I mean, have you seen how crowded the brunch places are on Sunday mornings? Have you seen how crowded football stadiums are on the weekends? Have you seen how parents worship their children? Our society is definitely religious, it’s just not this type of religion. They are not shaking their fist at the church in anger, it’s more like they think about the church and give a big, cultural, shrug. Jesus calls but the snooze button is too big, too easy, too convenient. 

Into this darkened, listless, torpor, we stumble into Advent. And again God’s confronts us with the warning. “Keep awake.” “Stay alert.” Jesus said to his disciples, “If the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.” There is an urgency to this text. As the days are getting shorter and as the nights are getting longer, actually and figuratively, Jesus is rousing us from our spiritual slumber. Wake up!

God woke me up again last week. On Tuesday, my daughter and I drove around Galveston delivering Thanksgiving meals to hungry families through St. Vincent’s House – Thanksgiving meals that you provided by your financial gifts to Trinity. And I woke up all over again to the face of poverty, hunger, and hopelessness that lurks just blocks from here. On that cold, wet, rainy day I woke again to humans, people, who were shivering in their own homes; who depend on strangers like me to deliver a frozen turkey, a box of cornbread stuffing, and a packet of instant gravy. I woke again to all the issues we know about but do not see: I woke up to veterans dealing with unresolved trauma, I woke up to families stretched all too thin, I woke up to unhealthy dependency on charity, I woke up to the cycles of generational poverty and my own generational wealth; I had been sleeping warm and snugly in the bed of my own acedia, until God ripped the covers off and made me stand face to face with the reality that people are facing right here, right now.

Wake up. I don’t know what bed you have been sleeping in, but in this Advent, I trust that God is desperately trying to wake you up. You have fallen asleep in your own emotional insecurities, so you make a habit of tearing others down with snippy comments. Wake up. You have fallen asleep in your own greed, so you fail to give back what has been given to you. Wake up. You have become spiritually complacent in the bed of your own acedia. Wake up. Wake up to the forces of hate and bigotry that haunt our society. Wake up to the thousands dead from shootings. The alarm clock is going off, Jesus is trying to get you up, don’t hit the snooze. This world needs you, this world needs good Christians and the Church to wake up and follow Jesus. Or as Saint Paul puts it, “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.” 

You know, I got to this point in writing this sermon, and I stopped to wonder – is this sermon “woke”? Is someone going to thank me, or criticize me, after church for being “woke”? Woke, of course, is a cultural term to describe someone or some group of people who are aware of certain social issues or concerns and speaks out on them. This phrase has a long history in American civics, going back to the pre-Civil War days when pro-Lincoln anti-slavery activists, the “Wide Awakes,” would march with torches through the streets of cities. They kept their opponents “wide awake” to the ills of slavery. That little nugget is a freebie for you this morning. It’s what happens when your priest is a historian. But the question still stands. 

Well, the holy scriptures tell us to wake up, so that is the language I’m going to use, because the holy scriptures are my vocabulary. Be that as it may. Perhaps if these words and this sermon get you going, in one way or another, it will at least have aroused you from your acedia. And I will have done my job for the day.

In other words, welcome to Advent. This season, this time of preparation before Christmas, it has its own feel. During Lent we prepare for Easter by confessing our sins and renewing our lives. During Advent, we keep awake so that when the gift comes, when the child is born, our hearts are ready. 

Finally, allow me to paint a portrait of what is going to happen this week. Hopefully, you will leave church today renewed, reinvigorated to stay awake to the ills of the world and to look for Jesus. That is good. But chances are, if you’re like me, that feeling will start to wear off by dinner tonight. By tomorrow morning, we’ll be struggling to remember what the sermon was about, and by Wednesday we’ll be fast asleep again in our acedia. And yet I trust that God will do something in your life this week that will demand your attention. You’ll see something, you’ll hear something, you’ll encounter something that will be a wake up call from the Holy Spirit. I know that God will do that because God is always doing that, God is always trying to grab your attention. Don’t hit that snooze button. Keep awake. Stay alert. Follow Jesus. “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.” 

One thought on “Sleepers, Awake

  1. Jimmy,

    I always enjoy your sermons – they are always spot on and they make me examine my life.

    Please keep me on your mailing list. I have moved from the west side of Tyler to the east side.

    Sarah Hardy

    (St. Mark’s, Alexandria)

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