Text – Matthew 24:36-44, Date: November 27, 2016
We have two queen size mattresses in our house. One of them was given by my friend about 5 years ago. We have noticed that the matter is not as comfortable as it used to be. Whenever we woke up from the bed, we had back pain. So about a month or so ago, we stopped by a mattress store in Killingly. Although the ad outside said many discounts, we realized that they were not actually as cheap as they said they were. We even saw a mattress that when your spouse starts to snore, you can click your remote and the part where your spouse is lying is raised slowly. We were horrified when Daniel climbed up one of the expensive mattresses and started bouncing on it. But many people are willing to pay for expensive mattress because sleeping is very important part of our lives.
Sleeping well at night not only gives us rest but also rejuvenation for the next day. Sleeping has many wonderful benefits such as improving our memory, living longer, improving creativity, lower stress, sharpening attention, and steering clear of depression. I know that this is true because my father has been suffering severe insomnia for many years. He believes that his insomnia is caused by both his gene from my grandmother but also his work as pastor. He can only sleep 2 or 3 hours everyday. He tries not to take medication because he is worried that it is addictive. But still, he does not get more than 3 hours of sleep at night. Apostle Paul said that he had a thorn in his flesh given by God. I think that insomnia has been his thorn that he always prays to God to remove from him.
So, if you have a good sleep at night, you could be grateful to God because it is a blessing to have good rest. King Solomon sings in Psalm 127, “God gives sleep to his beloved.” But today’s message is a little different. Jesus tells us to stay awake because we do not know when he is coming back. Obviously, he does not mean that we should not go to bed at night but read the Bible all night long and welcome with our open arms when the trump sounds with Jesus coming in chariot. It means that we stay awake spiritually knowing that this world is not the end itself. As there was the beginning, Jesus tells us that there would be the end. If we are people who belong to the kingdom of God, not this world, we will stay awake spiritually believing that there is new world coming in God’s name.
See, the writer of the Gospel of Matthew knew that his audience was getting disappointed. We have four Gospels in the Bible – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. They all point to what happened with the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. When they wrote their gospels, however, they also reflected on the circumstance of people they were writing to. The scripture reading for today takes place right before Jesus ascended to heaven. He says, “Stay awake. Wait for me.” The writer of Matthew specifically emphasizes his command compared with other gospels. It is because he knew that his own people were getting disappointed that Jesus was not coming back soon as he promised. They were being arrested and martyred as entertainment in the city of Rome. They were going through trouble and tribulation but could not understand why Jesus was not coming soon enough to save them.
It seems that sleeping could be the perfect metaphor here to point to our tendency to deny our reality when things do not go as we wish. According to a medical report, healthy sleep reduces depression. But when one has depression, it could excessive sleeping as well. Sleeping becomes a way to avoid any depressing situation or troubles in our lives. I know that I have been there before. In my first church, I had several times when I told my wife, “Honey, I don’t feel like going to the church today. I do not like my work. I do not think people appreciate what I do as pastor either. Can I please sleep in my bed for another hour?” She would answer, “Honey, today is Sunday. They need someone to preach this morning. So, get up, take a shower, and get in your car.” Have you also had that moment in your life? You did not want to care anymore but stay in your bed?
As I think about the followers of Jesus who were going through tribulations in their times, I am sure that they could have denied that Jesus was coming back again. They could have said, “He is not coming back. We need to focus on how to avoid persecution by escaping to the desert or moving to another country.” We could be also like that. When trials and tribulations come in our ways, we deny that they are happening by taking a positive attitude. We try to avoid such situation. But I believe that Jesus sends us out to the world where we know that there are pain and suffering, and even possibly persecution for being the followers of Jesus. He wants us there in the world raising our torch and expects his return as the Prince of Peace. As Jesus intermingled with the poor, naked, sick, and suffering, he wants us to be in the world sharing our lives together because there is hope.
Advent is a season of hope. We often confuse hope with optimism that things will get better tomorrow. Henri Nouwen defines the differences between optimism and hope this way. He says, “Optimism and hope are radically different attitudes. Optimism is the expectation that things – the weather, human relationship, the economy, the political situation, and so on – will get better. Hope is trust that God will fulfill God’s promises to us in a way that leads us to true freedom. The optimist speaks about concrete changes in the future. The person of hope lives in the moment with the knowledge and trust that all of life is in good hands.” Even when things seem so dark, desperate, and depressing, our hope is found in God who will surely fulfill God’s promise. And the virgin birth of Christ is not only miracle that defies the law of nature but also proof that God will surely fulfill God’s promise.
We stay awake when we hope, not being satisfied or captivated by the presence or the past. We hope Christ comes and meets us today where we are with the message, “Emmanuel” that God is with us. We hope that the kingdom of God that already broke into this world with the birth of Jesus a long time ago will be fully realized in the future where there will be no more death, no more sorrow, no more exclusion, no more war, no more hunger, no more tear. It is because in the kingdom where God rules, there will be eternal life, reconciliation, healing, welcoming and inclusion, laughter, joy, and abundance. And when we gather as the body of Christ – even though we may not be perfect, we know that the kingdom of God is not far from us, but right here with us when we break the bread together and share the cup in unity and love for one another.
Robby Robins was an Air Force pilot during the first Iraq war. After his 300th mission, he was surprised to be given permission to immediately pull his crew together and fly his plane home. They flew across the ocean to Massachusetts and then had a long drive to western Pennsylvania. They drove all night, and when his buddies dropped him off at his driveway just after sun-up, there was a big banner across the garage—”Welcome Home Dad!” How did they know? No one had called, and the crew themselves hadn’t expected to leave so quickly. Robins relates, “When I walked into the house, the kids, about half dressed for school, screamed, ‘Daddy!’ Susan came running down the hall—she looked terrific—hair fixed, make-up on, and a crisp yellow dress. ‘How did you know?’ I asked. ‘I didn’t,’ she answered through tears of joy. ‘Once we knew the war was over, we knew you’d be home one of these days. We knew you’d try to surprise us, so we were ready every day.'” Our Heavenly Father is also coming to us to meet us where we are in this season of Advent. Christ tells us to stay awake and wait for him.
In this season of Advent, so many people grow excited and occupied with how to celebrate the season of Christmas with their families and friends. As Jesus says in today’s text, many people worry about how to give a year-end party – what to eat, what to drink, what to celebrate. But for the followers of Christ, the season of Advent is a time when we actively hope together for the new world Christ is bringing to us. As we contemplate our lives today, I am sure that we all need some good news – whether individual or communal, political or economical … etc. We do not stay in bed oversleeping thinking that things will getter somehow tomorrow. But we stay awake, pray, gather, share, and work together actively participating in the redemptive work of God in this world. And I pray that God draws us nearer to trust in the promise of God for us. Emmanuel – God is with us.