As we travel toward the longest evening of the year, as we near the shortest day, as darkness covers the face of the earth, St. Paul calls us to wake from our sleep. And as with most of our understanding of the gospel, we learn once again that the Kingdom of God is unlike the kingdoms of this world. As we go about our daily tasks in a world that never sleeps, never rests, in a world of continuous wakefulness, the message, “sleepers wake” sounds strangely counter-intuitive. Are we not already awake? Are we not in need of rest, especially at this most trying and exhausting time of the year? Would not the words of Jesus “come unto me all ye that are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest,” better suit us at this time? And yet, we remain confronted by the call, “sleepers wake!”
From what sleep are we called to emerge – just what is the slumber we are challenged to shake off? In the days of great darkness, a light arose in the midst of the people of Judea. While under the oppression of a tyrant king, who was a client of an oppressive empire, a new day dawned. In the face of a history of desecration of their holy place, in the loss of their hereditary priesthood, in a period of increasing darkness, a new dawn broke forth. The light shone forth through the darkness and the darkness comprehended it not, and has not been able to overcome it. The call of the day was “sleepers awake!” Wake from your fear, wake from your sadness, wake from your cynicism, wake from your apathy, wake from the oppression that robs you of your life. But awake to what? What is it that jars us from our nocturnal existence?
“Behold, thy king cometh unto thee.”
Awake and behold the King of Glory, seated not on a majestic steed but on a humble mule, lowly and unbecoming. Awake, behold the King of Glory passes on his way and all of our dreariness shall be shaken from us. Our salvation draweth nigh, closer now than when we first believed.
Every year at this time we are reminded that our king cometh and we hear the call to awake, prepare for his coming. The old Law is fulfilled perfectly in Christ’s law of love. We hear the call to shake off the works of darkness and behold the dayspring from on high. The darkness, under which we slumber and are enslaved, is penetrated by the light of the world shining forth and drawing us into the light. At this time of year we ask ourselves what are the works of darkness that enslave us? Is it the busyness of the season? Is it the demands of family beyond what we can bear to accommodate? Is it the fear of not being able to “afford” a good Christmas? Is it the fear of being alone and forgotten as the busy world passes us by? The work of darkness that enslaves most of us is the sad truth that while our King cometh unto us, the King of Glory, we simply do not care. It is too easy to remain in the paradoxical slumber of our frenzied but lonely lives – it is too easy to embrace the darkness of apathy.
The people who caught a glimpse of their king that first Palm Sunday, who recognized him as their king, in spite of his lowly estate and the pathetic animal on which he rode; they welcomed him with palms and scattered garments strewed. They beheld their king coming unto them, they beheld the King of Glory and began to cast of the works of darkness, but were suddenly seized by fear and scepticism. “Crucify” was all their breath. And how many of those who shouted loud “Hosanna” stood at the foot of his cross a mere five days later?
Sleepers wake! Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed!
We have been baptized into the light of the new dawn, we have received the light of Christ as we rose from a watery grave, we have become heirs to a new kingdom. Why then, do we choose to return to that sepulchre of slumber. Have we not learned that the grave of death has been become a bed of hope for all people? Have we not risen to new life? Why, then, I ask again, do we choose to stay beneath the cover of darkness? Why do we continue to turn away from our Lord in our midst having once welcomed him with adoring loud hosannas now only to shout “crucify”? Each of us knows the answer in our own hearts. What will it take for you to don a garment of light this Advent season? What will it take for you to stand against the darkness of the season and the darkness of the human betrayal of this holy time? Will you stand against the powers of this world that draw us from the love of God, the love of our Lord so eloquently proclaimed by St. Paul? Will you say to those around you, “Lo, your king cometh unto you?” Will you proclaim not only with your lips but with your lives not the pomp and grandeur of this age but the subversive call to love against all hate? Will you dare to follow that lowly man from Nazareth who began his life in the lowliest of estates and comes to us riding on a lowly mule? Do you dare to cast off your fear, cast off your loneliness, cast of your dreariness and drowsiness and put on a garment of light?
Sleepers wake! The watch are calling! Lo, thy King cometh unto thee.
Follow him, stand with him in the light during this dark season, proclaim him and his love. Love others as he first loved you. Indeed our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. If you put on the garment of light, if you wake from this sleep, if you love as you were first loved, then God’s kingdom has come on earth.