Rev. Misa Furumoto
“Keep awake!” This phrase resonates with me, especially during this time of the year. The temperature plummets, making mornings a struggle to leave the warmth of bed. Currently, as our rectory undergoes reconstruction, we’ve relocated to a temporary residence roughly a 20-minute walk away. My commute to Kyoto, which I undertake a couple of times a week, requires me to depart at 6:30 in the morning. Half-asleep and half-awake, I prepare quickly, but stepping outside, a biting chill awakens me completely, accompanied by a stern inner command: “Wake up!”
Upon reflection, I realize what I’m actually doing is ‘waking up’, not ‘keeping awake’. While we can wake up, remaining constantly vigilant is impractical, as we all need sleep and rest for our bodies and minds. Yet, Jesus urges us to “keep awake, keep alert.” What does this mean? Why is this message particularly emphasized on the first Sunday of Advent, marking the start of the church year?
Jesus warns, “Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.” What is this ‘time’? Scripture describes it as a period following great suffering, where celestial upheavals occur, heralding the arrival of ‘the Son of Man’ with grandeur and power, accompanied by angels to gather the chosen from all corners of the earth and heavens.
This time signifies Jesus’ return to Earth. He implores us to be alert and keep awake, as the exact moment of His return is unknown. It could be next year, or even tomorrow. As a child, I found this passage terrifying, lying awake at night, fretting, “What if Jesus returns tonight? Surely, I won’t be chosen, given my misdeeds.” Such worries are typical of childhood innocence.
As adults, we tend to dismiss these fears, having lived long enough to rationalize them. We acknowledge that while certain events are inevitable, fretting over the uncontrollable or unknown is futile. For instance, we prepare for foreseeable natural disasters like the Nankai Trough earthquake, but the second coming of Jesus, prophesied over 2000 years ago, seems distant and abstract.
Revisiting today’s Gospel, we ponder why keeping awake is necessary. It’s not solely about salvation; Jesus doesn’t emphasize that here. Instead, He shares a parable of a man entrusting his servants with tasks while he’s away, signifying that our current world is akin to a house left in our care by the Lord. We are reminded that this world is God’s, and while awaiting His return, we are each tasked with specific duties.
Amidst the distressing news from Gaza, Israel, and Ukraine, I often wonder about my role and the impact I can make. Perhaps the Lord’s call to “Wake up!” is not literal but metaphorical, urging us to live as Jesus did, to embody His teachings in our daily decisions.
As we anticipate Jesus’ birth in our hearts in four weeks, let us prepare ourselves, contemplating our individual talents and roles in welcoming Him home.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.