You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.
Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Good morning! That’s more than a friendly greeting because it is the morning of the first day of the season of Advent: the first day of a new liturgical year. We don’t get any fresher than this, folks! In Advent, all Christians are morning people -- at least by grace if not also by nature. But the night is indeed far gone, the day is near. It is now the moment of Advent. It is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.
St. Paul is not alone in his choice of sleep as a metaphor; it’s one that we’re quite familiar with in our own figures of speech. When we are not fully present in a conversation, we’ll apologize for our lapse of attention with sorry, I was totally asleep; what was that again? Then there’s its cousin going through the motions, which you might say when confiding to a friend that you’ve been disengaged from your tasks for awhile, living on autopilot.
I was thinking of other such metaphors when I did a Google search for the phrase “sleepwalking through life” to see what came up. I expected to get some results, but I was surprised to find page after page of them. I had to go all the way to Page 6 before I finally found a result that didn’t contain the exact phrase, though of course there were still more word-for-word hits even after that. My guess is that they keep coming up indefinitely in the pages thereafter, but I can’t confirm that, because by Page 7, I started to feel like I was sleepwalking through life.
But what it did confirm for me was that there are many of us who are afraid of zoning out and losing touch -- of sleepwalking through life -- and who earnestly desire to know how to avoid doing so. I discovered wellness books about it, podcasts, inspirational memes, pro-tips from motivational speakers, mindfulness exercises, and detailed lists of signs that you or a loved one may be sleepwalking through life. For those who respond to more direct persuasion, I found the straightforward prohibition -- don’t sleepwalk through life! -- brought to you either by Warren Buffett the billionaire investor or Henry Rollins the frontman of the punk band Black Flag, depending upon your preferred lawgiver.
The fear that underlies all of this is the fear of being absent by accident -- our fear that we may be present with a pulse, but we’re not really there. They were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage…and they knew nothing. Of course, many of the occasions when we feel this way are relatively trivial: the office small talk, the boring lecture, Thanksgiving dinner. But in our darker moments, it can also reflect the modern malaise of feeling severed from your own self: it’s those times when you realize that you’re living your life as though you’re your own spectator and you’re bored out of your mind by what you see.
So there is an unconscious and implicit longing for Advent among us. We likely feel it whether we’re religious or not, and even if we are Christians, this season of wakefulness and preparation has a lot to offer to calm this modern anxiety that no doubt afflicts many of us here. But unlike the mindfulness exercises, what Advent suggests to us is that the main reason we sleepwalk through life is not our lack of work/life balance or our closet that isn’t quite minimalist enough. Rather, Advent gives us the sobering revelation that we sleepwalk through life because life is darkness unless the dawn from on high breaks upon us. We commit the works of darkness in a sinful slumber: reveling and drunkenness, debauchery and licentiousness, quarreling and jealousy -- all of these works that St. Paul mentions make for a life that never wakes up. A life dedicated to the gratification of desires and to the provision of the flesh never stops sleepwalking.
St. Paul further presumes that this is our normal condition as fallen people unless salvation draws near. Advent agrees, for the coming of Christ brings with it the only light that can wake us up. And since we can’t get dressed in the dark, we can only put on the armor of light when the light of Christ is there to illuminate us. Indeed, as St. Paul says, we put on the Lord Jesus Christ himself: he is the armor of light. And just as the works of darkness are performed in sleep, the works of light are performed as in the day, when the light of Christ shines on everything and all is exposed for what it is. There is no place for secrecy in broad daylight, no shade for us to make up all of the rationalizations by which we retreat further into the darkness and deceive ourselves to sleep. Instead, the brightness of the day of Christ gives us our first true vision of things as they really are. Our salvation is this vision.
But this is also where the difficulty of Advent comes in, where the metaphors start to slip. Whereas our Epistle was all about the brand new day that is coming with the light of Christ, Christ’s own words in our Gospel reading are all about the darkness of the night that will shroud the coming of the Son of Man. Far from the brightness of the day that gives us clarity of vision, the setting here is one of darkness, obscurity, ignorance, and uncertainty.
Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.
See how both of the individuals of each pair are each doing the same thing when the judgment comes. There is nothing about the nature of their work that clearly distinguishes the one who is taken away in judgment from the one who is blessed to remain.
[By the way, yes, you heard that right: it’s the one who’s taken away that’s in bad shape, not the one who stays put. A parishioner from the 8:00 service mentioned that he, like many of us, had always heard that it was the other way around -- that the blessing was to be taken away while the judgment was to be left behind -- but that interpretation comes from the totally false and unbiblical idea of the rapture. So for the sake of clarity, know that in the thematic world of Scripture, to be taken away is nearly always a sign of condemnation -- one is taken away into captivity, into exile -- while to remain is a sign of God’s favor towards the remnant who are steadfast in obedience.]
Anyway, to get back where we were, the point is that this sudden judgment seems entirely random and inexplicable: the one is taken, the other is left, but for reasons that are unclear. The only lesson that Christ provides in conclusion is simply that we should keep awake...
...for we do not know on what day our Lord is coming…. 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. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
It turns out that perhaps the night is not so far gone after all.
Advent is all about contrasts and contradictions. In one sense, this season anticipates what has already in fact occurred: the Nativity of our Lord, the Incarnation of the one who is Emmanuel, the God who is with us. We look forward to Christmas Day as to the day that is near. But in another sense, this is the season of preparation for the day of judgment that has not yet arrived and we do not know the schedule. So which is it? Is now the time to wake up or is now the time to keep awake? The answer is, unsurprisingly, both. Advent is about how these two seemingly contradictory accounts of the Christian life are not only reconciled, but are actually one in the same.
It is significant that, despite the confidence with which St. Paul exhorts to live as in the day, this day of salvation is as of now only near; it has not yet entirely arrived. That means that we perform our duty to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light as an act of hope and preparation. We anticipate the coming day of salvation by living honorably -- note the key words here -- as in the day. Christians live in the present as though the future has already arrived. And if the day of our salvation is not yet fully here, then that can only mean that there is still some darkness around us with which we must contend. It’s in spite of that darkness that we must therefore keep awake. We wake up to stay up.
Advent reminds us that to live in the light of Christ while in the darkness of this mortal life is an act of struggle and resistance. Like the owner of the house in Jesus’ parable, who looks around to see that all looks well before heading to bed, we will often find little reason to keep awake and stay vigilant. Every impulse and habit and convention of what counts as “normal” will suggest that it’s time to go to sleep. It’s dark: time for some works of darkness. But just as Advent has us prepare for the coming of the light of the world at the time of year when the days outside are growing literally darker, so too does the Christian life progress in the opposite direction from what would often be expected.
So my exhortation to you this Advent would be to examine the innermost parts of your souls as if they are fully exposed to you in the shining light of Christ. Renounce the false comfort provided by the cover of darkness. Remember how easy it is to start sleepwalking through the Christian life: sleep is after all the normal activity of darkness and this mortal life is dark. But whether in the soul or the body, we lose control of our wills when we fall asleep as sin or nature take charge . Christ’s command to keep awake is therefore a command to maintain full control of our faculties at all times; or, in St. Paul’s words, to live as in the day.
We can keep awake by attending to the readings from Scripture found in our Advent booklets with consistency and devotion: the more inconvenient it may seem to read them at times, the better -- that’s when the call for vigilance might be most urgent. And ultimately, we keep awake by prayer and fasting, by a thorough examination of our consciences and subsequent confession of our sins. Do these things in good faith and Christ will surely find you awake, as if you had been expecting him, and in your soul he will find a mansion prepared for himself, swept clean by patient vigilance and humility.
And finally, receive the season of Advent as a blessing, because it works out that Advent bids us to prepare for the day of judgment at the morning of a new liturgical year, when our souls are refreshed with expectant possibility. Like I said at the beginning, Advent makes morning people out of all of us.
Now is the moment for you to wake from sleep. So wake up!
...and keep awake. Amen.
 Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church, 3.