Therefore, stay awake!
For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.
Be sure of this: if the master of the house
had known the hour of night when the thief was coming,
he would have stayed awake
and not let his house be broken into.
So too, you also must be prepared,
for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come. -Matthew 24:42-44
I asked my friend Josh what insight his reflections on today’s liturgical readings brought him to. He replied by describing how God is like a thief in the night because God loves sneaking in and taking things from us that we no longer need, but we wouldn’t give away if we were given the choice. After God is the thief, we wake up in the morning, look around, notice something is missing and then shrug our shoulders and say, “Oh, I guess I didn’t really need that anyway and it’s kind of nice to see it go, after all!”
So, we sometimes need to let go of stuff instead of accumulating more. God can make this easier for us sometimes, by shaking up our comfort zones with blizzards, floods and droughts. Our hearts crack, freeing the weeds and the polluted parts. We sob as we mourn. Then we realize that we have been possessed by what we possessed. We catch our breath. It’s time, we acknowledge, to let God transform us by freeing us from what blocks us.
It’s advent. It’s time to let go. It’s time to get ready. It’s time to prepare, because we’re all invited to the best birthday party, ever.
How can we prepare to go to a birthday party in a barn with all sorts of excess? Sure, giving gifts is important, and breaking bread is essential. But we can’t do any of this without freedom. I am talking about the type of freedom that allows you to laugh the deepest belly laughs, full of snort and drool with no shame or embarrassment. Your hair can be sticking up and your body can smell, but it won’t matter, because the love will be so thick you’ll be dizzy. Manure and flies will surround us and we’ll praise God with more boldness than ever before. Yes, you’re all invited to the best birthday part ever, a party for the little baby Jesus.
I need to warn you that the birthday party, although smelly and wonderful, may seem confusing if you’re clouded by excess. To really be revolutionized by the love of God, you’re going to have to let go, and let God take over.
The late prophet Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., warned us about the dangers of materialism, along with racism and militarism. In his words: “if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth … A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” (“Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break the Silence,” speech delivered at a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned at Riverside Church in New York City, April 4, 1967.)
If you let God take your stuff and take over, you might find yourself asking the hard questions, like “what does the Rev mean?!” We squabble then realize: together, sisters and brothers, we must wake up to the truth and challenge of love. We’ve gotta leave behind the flashy toys and the latest fads, and let the pain of division glare at us.
Personally, this pain- and promise- has left me stuttering when I’ve encountered the Salvation Army bell ringers. I am grateful for their service and generosity. I am blessed by the joy and holiday cheer. But I wonder if that method is the best way, as it seems to thicken the gap. What can we do in addition to scattering spare nickles into a safe little pot? What can we do to stop ignoring the homeless sitting on the other curb?
Jesus, and his prophet, the Rev, beg us to stay awake to how we hurt others by our consumption. We must allow the pain to sink in as we party. If we really are ready, we’ll be poor too, free from possessions and the lies of capitalism. Minus the materialism, we’ll be able to wake up and realize that God has stolen our hearts away.
And then we’ll really have something to party about!