Keep Awake

by | Nov 29, 2020 | Sermons

Keep Awake

We have entered a new church year and the frist week of Advent. Today we light the candle of hope which takes on renewed significance in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. What does it mean to be a people of hope in a time of increased uncertainty and anxiety? Combine this question with the message we have from Mark’s gospel where Jesus urges us to keep awake

Scripture: Mark 13: 24-37

Advent Living Room – Week 1

This year we are happy to share Advent Living Rooms with you and your family. Developed by the Rev. Dr. Tori Smit, the Synod consultant of the Presbyterian Church in Canada for our area. The interactive living rooms are a wonderful way for you and your family to engage in different activities throughout the Advent season. Click on the image below and a new window will open inviting you to explore this special season.

Keep Awake

In one of his sermons, the late Fred Craddock told a story about something that happened many years ago while he was driving by himself cross-country.  He had stopped at a small diner somewhere in the South to refresh himself with an early breakfast and some coffee.  He had been driving through the night and now it was getting close to dawn. So before he got too sleepy, he stopped for a while.

As he waited for his breakfast order to come, Craddock spied a black man who had just come in and had sat down on a stool up by the lunch counter.  The diner’s manager then began to treat the black man with a contempt that was clearly borne of deep-seated racism.  The manager was rude, insulting, demeaning toward his black guest.  As he sat in his booth a little ways away from the counter, Craddock wrestled with saying something to chide this manager for his shameful, racist conduct.  Eventually the black man quickly slurped down some coffee and then fled the diner. Craddock meanwhile remained silent.  “I didn’t say anything,” he confessed.  “I quietly paid my bill, left the diner, and headed back to my car.  But as I walked through the parking lot, somewhere in the distance, I heard a rooster crow.”

With that poignant, final image, Craddock evoked an entire cloud of denial, betrayal, shame, and regret.  The rooster’s crow following the disciple Peter’s triple denial of Jesus has become one of the more famous images from the gospels.  Of course, even so, not everyone knows it.  I once heard Craddock say that one Sunday he was a guest preacher at a church and he preached that same sermon.  After the service, a man came up to him in the narthex, shook Craddock’s hand vigorously, and said, “Thank you, pastor, for that powerful sermon.  That really hit home!  Oh, but by the way, what was that business with the rooster?” (Center for Excellence in Preaching)

Beware, keep alert, keep awake, keep awake.

The rooster only shows up twice in the New Testament. It shows up when it crows three times and the full weight and understanding of who Jesus is comes crashing down on Peter and it shows up today in our passage. I don’t know if there is supposed to be a connection between that passage and our passage and its apocalyptic, world ending language. We may not have heard the rooster crow, but we’ve all been in a situation similar to the one I shared about Fred Craddock. A situation where we knew we should have spoken up, said something, done something but didn’t. I’ve been there and I’m sure you have too.

We are entering the season of Advent and within popular culture Advent is often associated with a calendar. Each day you open a section of the calendar and are rewarded with a chocolate. It’s a countdown to Christmas and from what I recall these calendars don’t capture all the dates of Advent, just the ones in December.

When we look at the words of Jesus in our passage today, it’s hard to equate a calendar full of chocolate to his dire warnings of suffering, the sun darkening and the powers of heaven being shaken. We might even scratch our heads at the warning to ‘beware, keep alert, keep awake, keep awake!’ Why we might ask, lest a sibling steal one of our chocolates?

There is a big disconnect with how secular society approaches Christmas and how Christians approach it. Of course, many of us also participate in the secular aspects of Christmas, it’s all part of the larger holiday at this time of year. Granted, nothing this year will look the way it has in years gone by due to Covid-19.

In fact, the only aspect of our passage today that makes sense to us is how eerily accurate the warnings seem to be as we are living through the unprecedented times brought about by Covid-19.

Beware, keep alert, keep awake, keep awake.

On one hand we are looking forward to Christmas, even if it’s a Christmas unlike any we have celebrated in recent years. We want something joyful and hopeful to look forward to. Right now, society needs something that it can anticipate and be excited about. An event that, even if just for a night, will brighten our lives for what is set to be a long winter. Yet, the lectionary is unaware of this. The traditional texts of Advent are not bright and cheerful stories. Rather they are dark and moody passages, that bring discomfort and concern, rather than hope, peace, joy and love. It’s an interesting contrast the candles we light, the themes they represent and the passages that we read. Entering Advent, we are called to watch, wait and work.

Advent is a season of contemplation and preparation. To ensure we are ready for the gift of Jesus. Passages like this might help us prepare and contemplate, but the images of destruction can be distressful to us considering the pandemic we are living through. The message for us is to not lose hope, but rather to remember who we are and to whom we belong.

As I have been preparing and reflecting for Advent my mind and my heart have wandered to an understanding that hope and grace need to be offered and reflected in the message we receive. Still, I can’t bend scripture to my will and need to be faithful to what we find in the bible. To these words which were written down so long ago and which tell us a story about God and inform our understanding of God and who we are as followers of God.

 Beware, keep alert, keep awake, keep awake.

In the story I shared from Fred Craddock his failing during that time was to intervene and act as Christ might have acted. By saying something or better still, to offer grace and support to the black man who was being treated with such disrespect. I believe there are going to be a lot of challenges in the month ahead as navigate what it means to be safe in light of Covid-19 and to celebrate Christmas in meaningful ways. There will be disagreements, you will witness behaviours you find troublesome and problematic.

Beware, keep alert, keep awake, keep awake.

And in doing so, offer grace, offer mercy, offer hope, offer peace, offer joy and offer love. If you can offer but one gift during this Advent and Christmas season, keep awake for the opportunity to offer one of these to those that you meet. Amen.

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church

St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church

St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.

St. Andrew’s supports the gathering of community agencies, providing space for the Affordable Housing Committee. Rev. Ellis’ voice is key in advocating for improvements in awareness, empathy and action on key determinants such as housing, income and food security. 

Kristina Nairn

Public Health Nurse, HKPR Health Unit

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