Remaining awake through a great revolution by Duane Shank
Keep awake - for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake. - Mark 13:35-37
On March 31, 1968, at the Washington National Cathedral, Martin Luther King Jr. preached his final Sunday sermon. Four days later he was dead. The title of that sermon was "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution," and it is a good reminder as we reflect on Jesus' instruction to "Keep awake."
King began by telling the story of Rip Van Winkle, who went to sleep seeing a sign of King George and awoke to a sign of George Washington. He had slept through a revolution. The story, said King, tells us that "one of the great liabilities of life is that all too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change, and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses, that the new situation demands. They end up sleeping through a revolution."
He pointed out that there were three great revolutions taking place in the world - a technological revolution, a revolution in weaponry, and a human rights revolution. And, he said, "whenever anything new comes into history it brings with it new challenges and new opportunities." Then he spoke of several challenges. We are challenged to develop a world perspective; we are challenged to eradicate the last vestiges of racial injustice from our nation; we are challenged to rid our nation and the world of poverty; and we are challenged to find an alternative to war and bloodshed. These challenges are as urgent for us in 2005 as they were in 1968.
During Advent, we remember Jesus coming as an infant in a manger and we anticipate his coming as the culmination of the kingdom of God. We reflect on God's past, present, and future redemptive acts in history. We celebrate the coming of Jesus the Christ - whose life, ministry, death, and resurrection inaugurated the reign of God - and we await its fulfillment. That is what sustains us in a world that makes no sense. We know that Jesus has come as the fulfillment of God's promise, and we know that his ultimate reign will surely come.
As we await that ultimate reign, we are called to live as if it were already here. We are called, as Walter Brueggeman said, to be "a community rooted in energizing memories and summoned by radical hopes." We have the memories of the child born in the stable, and the hope of a new earth. We believe that in this in-between time, we are to live like Jesus, work for justice, work for peace, and create a new community that lives in the kingdom. And that by living in the kingdom, fulfilling its promise in our lives, we help hasten its culmination. Preparing for the coming kingdom of God means beginning to live and work as if it were already here.
God will fulfill the promise. The kingdom is near. Justice and right will be in the land. Keep awake.
For this first week of Advent, I urge you to read and reflect on Dr. King's testimony. He remained awake, and he challenges us to do the same.
Duane Shank is policy adviser at Sojourners.
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