If you ever take a trip to Europe which includes visiting the area around the Dordogne River, as Mark and I did about 5 years ago, you will have the pleasure of seeing a whole series of castles. They’re sort of lined up, up on the cliffs, on opposite sides of the river, eyeing one another warily – or at least, remembering the time centuries back when they had to eye one another warily. What they’re looking at more often now are hordes of tourists.
We avoided the hordes by going in October, but we still wanted to see the countryside. One morning we were awake early and we decided to try and get in a visit to at least the exterior of one of the castles, Chateau Beynac, before doing our main plan for the day. So we drove to the chateau.
Or at least we drove to where it was reputed to be, because the autumn morning mist was so thick we could barely even see the signage. We operated on guesswork to make our way around the back of the village and up the cliff, and we came upon a parking lot, which seemed to be a good sign, but nobody was there, all the gates were closed, and there was no chateau to be seen. ...
We both leapt out of the car, and as the sun kept rising and the mist kept clearing, we just gaped in awe for about 15 minutes as we watched the lines and then the structure and then the material and then the whole body of the chateau emerged in front of us. It’s certainly one of the most striking visual memories of my life.
Some of that same sense of watching something very special dawn while the rest of the world sleeps comes up for us today in Paul’s 1st epistle to the Thessalonians. As we near the end of the church year, as Deacon Chris mentioned last week, the tone of the readings begins to change to get us ready for Advent. The lectionary always starts talking about the "Day of the Lord," the coming consummation of God’s cosmic plan, and it warns us, sometimes rather ominously, that whatever this is, it’s on the way, and if you’re sleeping or lost in the mist you just might miss it.
In the Epistle Paul compared the day of the Lord to “a thief in the night,” a reality that breaks suddenly into the black while most people are sitting bleary-eyed in front of the TV, or lying like a lump under the covers, mumbling “did you hear something?” to each other but always answering, “No, go back to sleep.”
Now Paul’s warning may initially come off as a pretty daunting thing. No one wants to be taken unawares by a thief, and no one wants to think of themselves as mired in the darkness. But if we belong to Christ, this warning actually isn’t meant to be directed at us. Paul is in a hurry to say, quite confidently, that it shouldn’t have to be.
He writes, “You, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of the darkness.”
If you are a Christian, Paul says, he ought to be able to presume that the lights are on for you, even though it may be very dark outside. Now Paul is a master of mixed metaphors, and there are a number of them jostling each other for space in this 1 Thessalonians reading, but this image of those of us who follow Jesus already being children of the day, living as daytime people in a world of shadows, is probably somewhere near the center of his point.
If we have let ourselves be claimed by Jesus, his new reality that is coming fully on the great Day of the Lord has already begun to dawn for us. If we look around, even in the mist, even in the murk, we daytime people can already start to glimpse what is coming.
And not just glimpse it, but live by it. Because part of Paul’s encouragement here is to remember that if we are in Christ, we are daytime people and we don’t have to get drawn in by the murkiness of the countryside around us. Don’t think, he suggests, that you have to acclimate to night norms and follow night rules when for you it’s day. “You are not in the darkness, beloved”; even if you once were, even if you still see it all around you, murk is no longer your true home. You don’t have to do that middle of the night stuff now.
What’s middle of the night stuff? Well, Paul talks about drinking and sleeping, but there are lots of other things that tend to go on in the middle of the night. There’s drinking in order to sleep, for one. There’s flicking numbly through the channels or reloading your email for the 30th time. There’s the hour you lie in bed rehearsing things you should have said, or mentally retelling the story of how someone hurt you. Or the opposite, scripting the future fantasy of how this year Thanksgiving will be perfect and Uncle Jim will finally realize that what he needs to do is just be kind, except, of course, that’s not going to happen. Or there’s the things you and your spouse say to one another that would never have come out of your mouths if you both hadn’t been unable to sleep.
Any of us who have ever gotten wrapped up in middle of the night stuff know that when the day comes, often you think “that was all just a little bit crazy. I blew the whole thing out of proportion just because it was 2 AM.”
That’s what Paul’s saying: that night stuff, it’s all just a little bit crazy. Beloved! If we’re in Christ, we don’t have to live like it’s a murky 2 AM. We don’t have to acclimate to norms that depend on its being dark, because the full dawn is coming and with it comes a clear, honest, integrated daytime way of life. And we have the privilege, once we’re in Christ, to start living that life now in advance of the full and final dawn. We get to start acting by the habits of daylight now, and as Paul also says, “encourage one another and build up each other” in doing so. Because we know that, contrary to popular belief, the sun is rising. If we look, we can see it.
We know that our world, which before dawn looks like washed-out, dead-end greys and blacks, is emerging into glorious color. We know that the norms and concerns that seem so powerful at 2 AM will vanish with the dawn, will be dispelled finally and fully by the light of Christ.
We know there’s a chateau coming out of the mist. The lines and the structure may not always seem perfectly clear yet, and there will always be people who try to convince us there’s actually nothing there at all, who when we say “Did you hear something?” will respond, “No. Go back to sleep.”
But if we daytime people look with daytime eyes, it’s not hard at all to help each other see God’s daylight beginning to break through. It’s not hard at all notice places where the sun is already shining. Where the power Jesus released in the world through his death and resurrection has changed things. Is changing things. And it will keep on doing that until the Day of the Lord comes finally and fully out of the mist and we welcome it with glad and open hearts. Thanks be to God for his glorious Gospel. Amen.