First Sunday of Advent (Year A)

Today we are looking at the readings for the First Sunday in Advent, Year A. Sunday, December 1, 2019. The Revised Common Lectionary readings are Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:1-11; and Matthew 24:36-44. Both the Romans and Matthew readings today talk about keeping awake, and waking from sleep. Sleep patterns are a huge issue for people living with mental illness. People with anxiety disorders often find themselves with insomnia, with the inability to get enough sleep. People with depression disorders often find themselves with the same problem, or the opposite, getting too much sleep. But either way, too much or not enough sleep, can lead to feeling exhausted and fatigued throughout the day. The medications that many of us take can also cause problems with sleeping and wakefulness. So these passages can hit a nerve for people with mood disorders.

In the gospel passage, Jesus compares the coming of the Son of Man to the time before the flood. He says that everybody just went about their business normally in those days, that they had no idea that the flood was coming, and certainly not when. His solution to this: you need to be ready. He tells listeners to “keep awake” so they can see the signs for what they are.

It’s worth mentioning that the holidays are often very difficult for those with mental illness. So much is expected of everyone in our culture this time of year, and those expectations can be very hard for mentally ill people to manage. Anxiety and depression get ramped up in all of us, and particularly in those with mood disorders. It gets harder to pay attention, harder to be awake and aware in December. Now is also the time when people with seasonal affective disorder start to experience the worst symptoms, because this is the darkest month of the year. This is what people walk into church feeling, and many of them try their hardest to cover it up. In some congregations, there is an unwritten rule that you have to be happy and have your stuff together, or you shouldn’t be there. (Very much like the cultural expectations of the Christmas season, in fact.) The masks are on today in a big way, but beneath those masks lives a wreck. To then hear words like these is terrifying: “One will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.”

We hear this as Law. We hear Jesus telling us, “Keep awake, or else!” Or else what? We fill in the gap there, and think, “or else, God won’t love me anymore.” Or maybe, “or else, I will go to hell.” It sounds so hard. So hard, and maybe even impossible.

But I think there is another way to look at it, and we see it most clearly in the second reading from Romans. In that reading, Paul writes, “Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers.” On first glance, this also sounds like Law. Paul saying, “now is the time you’d better wake up, because salvation is close, and if you don’t wake up, you’ll miss it.” But I think it can also be read as gospel. What if Paul’s words can also mean this: “Salvation is near, so very near right now. It’s right at the doorstep, and so now is the time of waking up. Now is the moment you will wake from sleep.” What if that’s what salvation is? God waking us from our slumber?

There have been moments in my life when I felt like I was truly waking up. Moments when it felt like the veil of depression I’d been living under for months has finally lifted. One way I’ve described this feeling to others is by saying, “I feel like I just woke up.” I once knew a man named Feryl who was in a terribly deep depression for well over a year. No treatment seemed to work, until he tried electroconvulsive therapy. Through ECT, he woke up again in an almost literal way. Suddenly, for the first time in years, he could see the colors on the flowers. He could smell the beauty all around him. He could experience joy. That’s waking up. Feryl was grateful for the ECT, and the doctors he worked with. But he attributed the miracle to God.

“Now is the moment for you to wake from sleep,” Paul said. This is good news to people stuck in unhealthy thinking patterns. “Salvation is coming, and now is the moment when you will wake from sleep!” This is very, very good news. And this helps us look at the Matthew text in a new light. Matthew writes, “If the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” Jesus compares himself to a thief who will come in, but if you stay awake constantly, you can prevent it. But we don’t want to prevent Jesus from coming in! We want him to come, to touch us right where we are, to save us from what we need saving from, to heal us and wake us up. And that’s what Jesus promises here. “I’m coming at an unexpected hour, so be ready. I’m coming at an unexpected hour, so expect the unexpected.” This can bring hope to someone stuck in the claws of depression or anxiety. I can’t tell you quite when, but I’m coming. And when I do, I will wake you up.

Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear what you think. Leave a comment below. If you like this site, please consider sharing it with others. You can like Biblia Luna on Facebook at @BibliaLuna, and follow on Twitter at @LunaBiblia. If you’d like to read some of my other writings, check out my primary blog at thescholtes.com.

4 thoughts on “First Sunday of Advent (Year A)

  1. I’m happy to learn of your blog. A colleague told me about it today. Would you please consider adding a printer friendly option? I’m a chaplain in a hospital with a geriatric psych unit. I’d love to print these out to share. Thank you for your ministry.

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  2. Michael you look so young to have such insight. I suffer from mental illness and would love to communicate it the way you have. I’m sure there are many that can relate to this but would rather die than be labeled having a “mental illness.” But if you can admit. It and get help not only is your life richer you just might help someone else. And yes drugs can help but it doesn’t make you dependent if you have a qualified brite Psychiatrist. I think I’m gonna give this a try!

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