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Those Who Dream...Keep Awake

The First Sunday in Advent


David Collins

This year our theme for Advent and Christmas is Those Who Dream. The Christmas story is full of dreamers, from Isaiah, to Mary and Joseph, to the Magi. Christmas is always full of dreams. In fact, that’s the name of our Christmas Cantata next Saturday, Dec 15: Christmas Dreams. The next few weeks will be for those of us who dream of a deeper connection with God, or a better world. For those of you who dream of comfort or if you have given up on your dreams. It’s a time we can recover from having our dreams crushed and remember that dreams take time. And most importantly, we’ll look for what God dreams for the world.

These are the kind of dreams that are different from the ones we have while we are asleep. Two nights ago, I had one of those classic stress dreams. It was about church this morning. In the dream it was 9:30 am on a Sunday morning and I hadn’t even left for church. I was frantic and I couldn’t find any church clothes at all. I had just found one of my son’s polo shirts, except it was much too small for me, so I couldn’t wear that. Then the dream went on and I realized that I didn’t have a sermon prepared either. It’s like those dreams from when you were a kid and you were at school without your homework. I woke up in a panic but then I started critiquing my own dream…If I didn’t have any church clothes, why didn’t I just put on my robe?

Sometimes real life creeps into our dreams. But this Advent we are looking at how it can work the other way too. Dreams are meant to transform our reality. We’ll be looking at those scriptures that call us to dream with our eyes open.

It’s an Advent tradition to start off a scripture that’s a lot like one of those dreams you might have had that makes you wake up in a panic and wonder what it’s all about. When we follow the lectionary, which we are this year during December, the first Sunday in Advent is always about the end of the world. (What a weird way to kick off the Christmas season, right?) The first Sunday of Advent is also the day we just lit the candle for hope. It might give us a little bit of theological whiplash to light the candle for hope and then dig into this particular scripture, but here we are. Stick with me through this passage and you’ll see how this points to our dreams. Let’s dive right into it.

Mark 13:24 ‘But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, 25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Fa la la la la, la la la la.

This passage is called “the little apocalypse” in the gospels. Passages like this in the Bible aren’t so much about predicting some future event as they are about describing one of the millions of “little apocalypses” that happen all the time, that are happening right now in the Middle East on a large scale, that are happening in hospital rooms and at kitchen tables right here in central Florida. Our world has days where it feels like the powers of heaven are shaken. You have days when the sun seems dark. Sometimes the only language that accurately describes life is like this. Sometimes the only power we have is to tell the truth about what life is like.

Maybe that’s why we start off this scripture in Advent.

It’s a way to ward off that expectation that we make believe that everything is hunky dory until December 26. We start off with reality. And often the most accurate way to describe how things really are is to doing something the Bible calls Lament.

Lament is complaint rooted in hope. You see things the way they really are, and you firmly believe that things could change. You refuse to give up on the dream that things could be better.

It’s an act of faith. It insists that the world must be experienced as it really is, and not in some pretend way. Lament is an act of true faith because it believes that every part of life, even those that some might prefer to ignore, is God’s business. Nothing is out of bounds or inappropriate. Nothing, no one, is so broken God gives up on it.

Lament is crying out in the dark but dreaming about, hoping for, the light.

The opposite of lament is resignation…the shrug of the shoulders…the what-are-you-gonna-do. Resignation is a temptation for all of us. But lament belongs to the saints, to the prophets, to the bold. Lament is an act of resistance.

This little apocalypse isn’t a prediction of the future, it’s a description of many people’s here-and-now. But it doesn’t stop there. It directs our attention to what God is going to do about it, and where God is in the midst of it all. Jesus weaves both God’s ultimate action and his ongoing presence into the rest of his teaching.

26 Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

That’s the ultimate action. God is going to right every wrong and heal every hurt. But we’re not supposed to just look to the skies. We look around us, at every day things, for signs that God has heard our cries and is doing a new thing. Look at what Jesus says next…

28 ‘From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.

Here’s how lament is different from complaining. You can’t get stuck in lament the way you can in complaining. Some folks get that complaint switch flipped permanently don’t they? They start complaining and you can give them exactly what they’re asking for, and they’ll complain that you didn’t give it to them sooner. That’s not lament.

Lament tells the truth about how terrible things are in full confidence that God will do something to fix it. 65 of the Psalms (over a third) are Psalms of lament. Psalm 80 is one of them. It’s another of the scripture passages for today. Part of it says,

Psalm 80:3-7

3 Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

4 O Lord God of hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?

5 You have fed them with the bread of tears and given them tears to drink in full measure.

6 You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves.

7 Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

What are you supposed to do next? After writing that Psalm, or making it your prayer?

Look for how God might answer it! And you don’t just look to the skies, for the world to end so your complaints will be justified. (See, I told you it was this bad.) No Jesus tells us to look to the trees, to the world around us, for signs that God heard our prayer. He says “Look at the fig tree.” Look for how it grows those tiny little buds long before it sprouts leaves. That’s a sure sign the leaves are coming. And if the leaves are coming, so is warm weather. (This metaphor doesn’t work well in Florida)

After you lament, start looking around you, Jesus says. Look in places you may not have looked before. Don’t get stuck complaining. Lament, believe that God heard you, and then start looking for signs that things are changing.

30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. 32 ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.

37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.’

Now, an overly simplistic, and wrong, interpretation of this text is to say that Jesus was teaching us that he might come back and put everything right at any minute, so LOOK BUSY! Like when your parents came home as a kid and you would jump off the couch and start doing homework. And if you grew up hearing things like that, let’s get together sometime and compare our religious trauma.

So what does this all really mean?

I think it means that in the middle of all of life’s little apocalypses, that people of faith have to do what Jesus commands us to do over and over again here:

Keep awake.

Jesus’ command to keep awake doesn’t mean you have to hold your eyes open and watch the 24 hour news cycle. It doesn’t mean absorbing every terrible thing in the world until you crawl into bed for good.

Keeping awake isn’t just looking at all the little apocalypses in our lives. It’s paying attention when things get really bad because that might just be when the kingdom of God is going to break in. Sometimes bad things are just bad things, and all we can do is lament like crazy, hoping it gets better. But sometimes difficult times are labor pains, that are bringing about the next big thing God is going to do. But to see it, you have to keep awake. Just when the world seems to be ending - on a global level or in your own life - that might be just when the kingdom of God is here, that God is going to do something new.

But how do we keep awake to see it? I hear this as the call to not miss the hope, the grace, the signs of God’s dream that come in the smallest and most profound of ways, even in the times the world is torn apart. Those are the times that we look closely at that fig tree, and look for signs that it’s about to bloom.

Whatever is going on in your life right now, God is still there. God is still working. That doesn’t mean you can’t complain about it. It does mean you don’t give up on the hope that things could be better. It’s advocating for justice and looking for God’s work instead of thinking this is just the way the world is. It’s asking God for comfort and believing you will have it when you’re sick. It’s watching the news but then squinting to see the helpers that God is working through.

It’s looking for the buds. See what God has already done as you look for how you can be a part of the work of God’s dream. And keep awake so you don’t miss that moment when the flowers bloom.

Keep awake means so much more than just don’t fall asleep. It means to pay close attention. To have your eyes so wide open that it’s like you’re participating in what you’re seeing. It’s the way you watch, not just what you watch.

Megan and I love going to Tallahassee to see the Seminoles play. There’s a lot to love about it: seeing our firstborn son, for one, basking in that reflected glory of an undefeated season for another…the roar of the crowd is incredible. But mostly we love going to the games because Mac lets us come with him to the student section. I can’t say he lets us sit with him, because no ones sits. Everyone stands on the bleachers for four hours. It’s incredible. And it hurts!

And that’s what Jesus means when he says to stay awake. That’s what it means to dream with your eyes open. It means to watch for God to move the way that you watch football in the student section. Eyes wide open and so involved in the cheering that you actually affect the outcome of the game.

That’s how we should look for grace, watch for the signs of God’s dreams coming true in little ways and profound ones, even when the world is torn apart. Standing on our tiptoes, surrounded by our community, lamenting when things are wrong, and screaming for joy when hope wins.

This Advent, look for the buds. See the already as you work for the not yet of God’s dream. And keep awake so you don’t miss that moment when the blossoms start to bud.

Maybe you’ve had one of those moments, where it really did seem like the world was ending but then, there it was. A tiny, almost imperceptible bit of hope. But if you hadn’t been looking for it, you would have missed it.

Maybe you are in one of those times now. Stay awake. Look for the buds. You’ll find the assurance in them that God is here.

Tthis Advent, dream with your eyes open.

Look at the world and lament. There’s plenty to be discouraged about.

But also, allow yourself to be immersed in the holy imagination of God. See the plays God might run. Look for the pockets of opportunity. Believe!

What would you dream for if you really had hope?

What would your dreams look like for the world, if you really believed that things could be better? If you really believed that God has a dream for the world to bring things together for good, and that, even when we can’t see it, it’s happening right in front of us?

What would you rdreams look like for your life here, if you believed that even when things are dark, that God is working on it? That even if the dreams you once had didn’t work out, that God just be about to do something you would never have imagined?

This Advent, I personally would love to dream about more than not having the right clothes for church or forgetting to write my sermon. I don’t want the real world to invade my dreams. I want my dreams, no…God’s dreams…to take over the world.

I don’t want to be cynical any more.

I want the courage to dream that God is going to do something big in the world. I want to have hope.

And then I want all of us to stand on our tip toes together to watch it happen.


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