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Awake, you who sleep

26th Sunday after Pentecost / St. Gregory the Decapolite / Eph. 5.8-19; Luke 12.16-21

F/S/HS. Brothers and sisters, one of the greatest mysteries is the many different ways that God comes to us.  He comes to man and woman in the Garden of Paradise.  In a burning bush.  On the wind; in the light of a golden dawn or a twilight dusk.  He comes disguised as an angel; and disguised as sojourners in need of hospitality.  He came to us as the Christ-Child Jesus, a baby born of a woman.  And He continues to come to us; in our worship; in the Chalice; in the faces of loved ones, strangers, and even our enemies.

That God comes to us at all is to say that He wants to be with us; God is for us; He seeks to make His abode in our soul and commune with us.

And our task?  Our task is to remain vigilant to His many visitations; to remain wide awake, alert, ever ready, oil accompanying us to keep our vigil lams filled and burning bright.  Our task is to listen for His still small voice—Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

You were once darkness, the Apostle Paul says in this morning’s Epistle, but now you are light in the Lord.  Walk as children of light….  Awake, you who sleep

You who sleep!  Fr. Daniel, are you awake!  Or are you sleeping!  My own history is that sometimes I am awake and alert to the mystery of God’s visitations to me.  While other times I am sorrowfully asleep and numb, and thus entirely miss my Lord’s mysterious visitations and His presence.  Holy God, help me, help us, to remain ever vigilant, alert and awake, walking in the light, every ready to see and receive Your presence in our midst.

This past week, on two occasions, my soul overflowed with gratitude on at least two occasions; something in me during those occasions must have been especially open to God’s visitations and His presence.  The vehicle, the catalyst for both of those occasions was music.  The first occasion was at the Walla Walla Choral Society concert this past Monday evening.  And the second occasion was during our Advent Paraklesis, this past Wednesday evening.  But more about these two occasions in just a moment.

This morning’s Gospel parable, uttered by Jesus, has always rather haunted me.  Ostensibly it is a parable about greed; a parable especially given to us by mother church during the season of Nativity, where almsgiving is the medicine to cure the passion of greed.

But it is as well a parable about a man utterly blind and deaf to God’s presence amongst us.  This man cannot see or detect God.  He does not hear God.  God is nowhere to be found in his life.  And rather frighteningly, observes our church fathers and mothers, this man is a prototype of a certain kind of human being, a human being that I, that many of us, easily succumb to from time to time.

This man has many possession.  He is made even richer because this particular year his crops yield a greater than normal bounty.  V. 17: “And [the man] thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’”  And his answer, again to himself: I will pull down my barns and build greater ones, to store my crops and my goods.  

And then, the parable goes on, this man says to his soul, as if his soul was just another of his possessions: Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.

 Jesus concludes the parable by saying, But God said to [the man], ‘You fool!  This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?  So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich towards God.

Not rich towards God!  What did Jesus mean by those four remarkable words—not rich towards God? For one thing, this man is entirely dishonoring of the ancient Jewish custom of almsgiving—of giving a portion of his wealth to the needy and the poor.  For another, he is entirely absent of gratitude to God; nowhere does He give thanks to God for his home, his land, his wealth.  And for yet another, he is portrayed by Jesus as unaware of the many ancient Scriptural warnings about the accumulation of possessions and wealth, and how these contribute to poverty of soul. 

But perhaps most dire is that this man is unable to be rich towards God precisely because he is caved in, sunk in, on himself.  And I will say to my soul, Soul … Such language suggests a man—a rather soulless man really—who hedonistically cares only about taking ease, eating, drinking, and being merry.  He is a man entirely awake yet totally unaware; awake yet absent vigilance; awake yet a walking zombie.  He is darkness and not light.  Richness towards God does not reside within his self-enclosed soul.

In other words, this man is far far far from the human being that God designed him to be.  Like God Himself, we humans are designed to receive God, and to go out of ourselves to God; to receive the love of others, and in turn love others.

Which is one of the central messages of Nativity.  The very nature of God, the Apostle Paul says, is that He emptied Himself, humbly taking the form of a bond-servant, born of a woman, being made in the likeness of us (Phil. 2.7).  Jesus’ entire earthly ministry reveals Him as a man rich towards God: Ever receptive to His Father, always giving thanks to His Father, praising and glorifying His Father; ever open, ever receptive in suffering compassion for those who suffer and are in need of compassion; ever receptive to the pain of others, so much so that He cries when others are in pain.

Our Lord’s entire earthly life, in other words, is the complete antithesis of a man caved in on himself, who cares only to take ease, eat, drink, and be merry.  Nativity, dear ones, is a reminder to avoid at all costs becoming a certain kind of human being; and Nativity is a reminder to be another kind of human being—one forever open to God’s many visitations, and forever open to going out of ourselves in love for others, as did the God-Man Jesus, and to receive the love of others.

Dear ones, I ask my soul this morning: Am I ever receptive to God and His ways amongst us?  In my case, the answer is sadly sometimes No!  And my best way to account for this No is to see myself as similar to the man in this morning’s parable—I too easily succumb to taking ease, eating, drinking, and making merry.  O Lord, have mercy on my soul! 

But this past week there was at least two occasions where my soul felt rich towards God; where I was indeed receptive to the mystery of God coming to me—coming to me these two times by way of the medium of music.  Both experiences made me feel fully alive and fully human, as God made me to be.

The first occasion was the closing hymn sung by the Walla Walla Choral Society this past Monday evening, at their beautiful winter concert at the Power House Theatre.  That hymn was O Little Town Of Bethlehem, a version unlike any I’ve ever heard. 

I do not know how to capture in words what happened during those six minutes of that hymn.  Tears began to stream down my face.  The soprano saxophone, the piano, the cello and violin, all weaving in and out of each other, followed then by the sopranos and altos, the tenors and basses, layering their lyrics on top of one another, these lyrics themselves weaving in and out of that saxophone and piano, that cello and violin.  It was as if the Christ-child was coming to me and saying Daniel, remain awake and vigilant and humble. I am here, receive Me into yourself and let Me live in and through you, that you might be My instrument to this hurting world.

During O Little Town of Bethlehem, I found my heart going out of myself, crying out in prayer for the many peoples in that region of Bethlehem—for the nation of Israel and the peoples of the Palestinian lands; crying out that God would bring peace, just as the Christ-child brought a renewed sense of peace upon all the earth and to those whose souls were rich towards God.

And then there was this past Wednesday evening, when we chanted the Advent Paraklesis as a part of welcoming the Nativity season into our midst.  Certain lines from the Akathist landed on my soul as if God was visiting me yet again, just as He had visited me two evenings earlier.  From Ode Four: The great King comes in haste to enter a small cave, that He may make me great who had grown small, and that, as transcendent God, by His poverty without measure He may enrich me who had grown poor.

From Ode Eight: The blameless Lady was amazed at the height of the mystery, in truth past speech, that covered the heavens with knowledge, and she said: ‘The heavenly throne is consumed in flames as it holds Thee; how is it, then, that I carry Thee, O my Son?

And near the beginning of Ode Nine: Let the kings of the whole earth sing rejoicing, and let the companies of the nations be in exceeding joy.  Mountains and hills and hollows, rivers and seas, and the whole creation, magnify the Lord who now is born.

And finally, near the conclusion of that same Ode Nine: O sweetest Child, how shall I feed Thee Who givest food to all?  How shall I hold Thee Who holdest all things in Thy power?  How shall I wrap Thee in swaddling clothes, Who dost wrap the whole earth in clouds?  So cried the all-pure Lady whom in faith we magnify.

Dear ones, dear sisters and brothers, two kinds of human beings: One whose soul is sunk in on him or herself, a soul inclined to take east, eat, drink, and be merry.  And the other a human being whose soul is rich towards God.  Let us strive to be that human being—humbly awake, alert, walking in the light, every ready to receive the Christ-Child Lord in the multitude of His many manifestations to us, that we in turn will be His humble presence shining light into the darkness that does not know that Light.  F/S/HS.