Advent is the time of the year when people who follow Jesus observe a time of expectant waiting for the humble arrival of the child of God in our midst. During this time we are encouraged to be alert, keep awake, or as my students at the university might say – Stay Woke. We have to be alert, we have to stay woke because even though this is a time in which we are expecting the child of God to come into our presence, the child of God often comes to us in unexpected ways. No one would have expected the child of God to come us in a manger, the child of a poor couple who couldn’t even find a room at the Inn for the birth of their child. This is hardly the grand entrance into this world that we would expect from the child of God, and we certainly did not expect the way this child of God would exit this world some three decades after the child’s birth.
Be Alert, Stay Woke – God is working in unexpected ways in this world, God becomes present to us in unexpected ways in this world, and we need to be ready to receive the child of God, we need to be ready to receive the presence of God when it is coming to us. We need to avoid having our hearts weighed down, we need to avoid having our hearts hardened. We don’t want that day to catch us unexpectedly when the presence of God comes into our midst. We don’t want to miss it, We don’t want to not recognize the presence of God when it is staring us in the face, we don’t to want miss our chance to be face to face with the presence and glory of God, a presence that will restore us, a presence that will strengthen our hearts in holiness. We don’t want to miss that day, we don’t want to miss that opportunity to bring justice and righteousness to the land. We don’t want to miss that in-breaking of the truth that teaches us who we truly are and what we are meant to be for each other. We don’t want to miss the coming of that truth that leads down the path of the way of love, humility, and justice.
Stay Woke – the presence of the child of God is coming, coming in ways we might not always see if we are not alert, if we are not ready to see it for what it is – the way of God’s love and justice breaking into this world.
Jesus reminds us that the presence of God might come to us in the form of a stranger, in a form we might not expect. Jesus reminds us that we are to welcome the stranger and that when we welcome the stranger we are welcoming the way of God in this world. Some of my dear friends at the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society in Washington DC tried to remind us of this fact this week when they put a poignant message on the marquee in front of their building which is right across the street from the United States Capitol and the Supreme Court of the United States. On their sign, they put these words “’I was a stranger, and you tear gassed me.’ …Wait a second.”
Tear gas is a chemical weapon that is banned in warfare, yet for some reason it is allowed by our government for crowd control. Tear gas is a chemical weapon that has a long history of being used on people of color in our society. Look back on the pictures of Selma, Alabama where tear gas was used on the people of God who were marching for love and justice walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Tear gas is a chemical weapon that is especially harmful to children whose respiratory systems are still developing, and yet over the past week we still used this chemical weapon on children in diapers at our border whose families were seeking asylum in the United States.
These families are escaping violence and very likely escaping death to seek asylum – families much like Jesus’ family, who we are told that when he was a child had to escape the murderous authoritarian leader Herod and flee to Egypt and seek refuge there. Thankfully Egypt was more welcoming to the child of God seeking refuge than we currently are.
You likely have seen the pictures of the mother and her two children in diapers running through the tear gas at our border. If you have not seen the picture, you need to see the picture. We all need to look long and hard at that picture and ask ourselves the questions “Who are we? What have we become?”
Be Alert, Keep Awake, Stay Woke – the presence of God is coming in ways that we might not expect, through people that we might not expect, at times we might not expect, and in places we might not expect. Today is the first Sunday of Advent. Advent is the time of the year when people who follow Jesus observe a time of expectant waiting for the humble arrival of the child of God in our midst. When I look at the picture of the mother and her two children being tear-gassed at our border, I see that the children of God are here. They have arrived! The question is, “Will we deliver them into the hands of Herod, or will we welcome them into the hands of hope and recognize them as the presence of God we say we are waiting for?
Be Alert! Stay Woke! The presence of God is coming when we don’t expect it. As our brother Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us “We’ve got some difficult days ahead,” but “we aren’t going to let dogs or water hoses [or as in the case of this week, tear gas] turn us around. We aren’t going to let any injunction [or injustice] turn us around. We are going on” (adapted from Martin Luther King Jr., “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”). And when we look at the pictures of the two children who are among the many children and other persons who were making their way through the tear gas at our borders, may we all see the presence of God coming to us and be able to say “O come thou long expected Jesús (Spanish pronunciation)” for “mine eyes have seen the coming of the glory of the Lord.”