Sleeping at Night
Matthew 24:36-44 First Sunday of Advent
It is tradition in many homes on Thanksgiving Day for each person around the dinner table to name the blessings for which they are most grateful. What did you give thanks for this past Thanksgiving Day? Perhaps this Thanksgiving Day interrupted your Christmas shopping; Black Friday sales are now taking place every day for weeks. Our culture says this is the Christmas season, but in the church, it is Advent. Our society paints this as a joyful time of year. Our church readings are ominous.
Society’s portrayal of our lives is askew. While we may be looking forward to parties and dinners and gift-giving, our lives are more complicated than that. How have you been sleeping lately? Chances are that if we are awake when we should be sleeping it is because we are distracted by the many things we have to do. Sometimes it is out of grief and longing for someone we love who has died. Worry certainly tops the list, –worry about our health or the fragility of a loved one.
Many things rob us of restorative rest–money, loneliness, children, Aunt Karin making the gravy for Christmas dinner. In case we need more reasons to be sleep disturbed, Matthew gives us more. Leading up to our reading, he tells of nation against nation, torture, and a darkening sun. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so, too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 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. TheLeft Behind book series stems from this passage.
It reminds me of a story that I cannot resist telling. On a trip to a preaching conference, my friend and I were driving through rural Georgia. Looking for a place for lunch, we stumbled upon Cousin Cooter’s Country Cooking. Our waitress was very friendly, and inquired about where we were headed. We told her about the conference and engaged in chit chat. As we stood up to leave, the waitress smiled, put her hands up in the air and said, “See you at the Rapture!” She obviously thought she would be one of the ones taken!
Today is the first Sunday in Advent, a time when we anticipate Jesus’ birth, and look to the day when Christ will come again. Contrary to our image of Jesus as a baby in the manger, who will grow up to heal the sick and feed the hungry, we hear of Christ as a robber. When Christ comes again, it will be like a thief who breaks into our house, an intruder who has no regard for boundaries, and will invade our personal space. What will this thief take from us? Maybe we need a thief to come and take from us all those things to which we cling so tightly, those things that prevent us from being open to God’s presence and desires for us.
The two people in the field, and two grinding meal were doing what they always did. The day had begun as it always did, a cup of coffee while they read the paper, and then off to work. But then the unexpected happens. Half are taken, and half are left. The waitress at Cousin Cooter’s envisioned that those who are worthy are taken, and those God judges to be unfaithful are left. Using the story of the Great Flood, Matthew reverses that image. Noah wasn’t taken, he was left. In the time of forty days and nights of rain, it was Noah and his family, those who were faithful, who remained on earth. Just as Noah was before the flood, so now are we, here among those who are faithful and those who are not.
We are in the now, but not-yet time of the coming of the Kingdom of God. While we are waiting, we are not to simply rest in God’s grace. Even as we pray for our Father to give us our daily bread, we pray for God’s kingdom to come. God invites us to participate in its coming. We are not called to predict when that will be, we are called to be prepared for it.
In the face of uncertainties, how do we prepare? How do we get ready in the face of those fears that creep through our brain, keeping us awake at night? What will the medical test results be? Will I have enough money? What happens to children separated from their parents? Will the world have clean water for the next generations?
We prepare by entrusting ourselves to God, by surrendering our fear, and opening our hearts. We need to admit that, if Jesus can come as a thief, we need to open our eyes a bit more. We remember that Jesus said when we feed the hungry and visit those in prison, we are doing it to him. It can be hard work to see Jesus, especially in dark places, with eyes closed. To see the Christ who is and who will come again, remember the Christ you have already encountered.
Recently, I read a story that has stuck with me:
During the bombing raids of World War II, thousands of children were orphaned and left to starve. The fortunate ones were rescued and placed in refugee camps where they received food and good care. But many of these children who had lost so much could not sleep at night. They feared waking up to find themselves once again homeless and without food. Nothing seemed to reassure them. Finally, someone hit upon the idea of giving each child a piece of bread to hold at bedtime. Holding their bread, these children could finally sleep in peace. All through the night the bread reminded them, “Yesterday I ate, and today I ate and I will eat again tomorrow.
Christ has died. Christ is Risen. Christ will come again.
~Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin
 Linn, Dennis, Linn Sheila Fabricant, Linn, Matthew. Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life. Mahwah, NJ, Paulist Press, 1994.