taking the words of Jesus seriously

EDITOR’S NOTE: This reflection by Brian McLaren is part of the 2019 Growing the Light: Advent Reflections on Farmworker Justice.

“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; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” — Romans 13:11-12

Advent is a season of waiting, a time for preparing our hearts to celebrate the birth of a baby who proclaimed “good news of great joy for all humanity.”

For centuries, faithful people have used this time to sweep out the stable of their hearts, to fill their inner manger with hay, to make sure there is room within them … not just to celebrate Jesus’ birth as a historical memorial, but to actually experience a new birth of Christ within them, spiritually, personally, experientially.

The first step in preparing is waking up.

The scriptures for this first Sunday in Advent join together to make this point.

“Wake up!” Paul says in Romans 13. “It might seem really dark, but don’t fall asleep. The new day is about to dawn!”

Jesus makes the same point in Matthew 24. He recalls the days of Noah, when people were partying like there was no tomorrow. They had no idea about the flood that was coming until the water was rising from their ankles to their knees to their necks.

However you interpret this text, the message is clear: Be awake! Be prepared! Don’t go on autopilot, or slip into numbness, or be complacent and unaware. Otherwise, you’ll miss your opportunity to experience “the coming of the Son of Man.”

I think a good paraphrase for “the coming of the son of man” is “the coming of a new generation of humanity.” Jesus is recalling a passage in the Book of Daniel where a “son of man” refers to both an individual and to a group of people who represent a new generation of humanity, a new kind of people who are living in a new way that pleases God. They’re the kinds of people who, in Isaiah’s words, want to make gardens, not war, so they melt down their spears and swords into pruning hooks and plowshares. 

Seen in this light, these passages are like a mirror in which to see ourselves.

Think about it. Some people today remain in sleepy denial about our environmental crisis. They party on through the night (or count their wealth week after week) without giving a thought to how we are impoverishing the soil, the oceans, our fellow creatures, and the climate upon which we all depend. A very literal flood is coming, and they are not preparing. When will they wake up?

We could say the same thing about economic injustice. Many people are simply trying to make a fast buck (or billion) for themselves by any means possible. They’re oblivious to the growing gap between a super-rich super-elite few and the many of us who are often left to pick up the pieces after their schemes fail. They don’t realize that whenever a few hoard luxuries while the many lack necessities, instability will result … with petty crime, organized crime, political corruption, mass migration, war, terrorism, and civil war. When will they wake up?

We could say the same about weapons proliferation. Our world is being flooded with more and more dangerous weapons, from assault rifles to biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons of mass destruction. Yet many people still think that the more weapons we have, the safer we will be. They will face a rude awakening later if they don’t wake up now.

If we wake up, we’ll see that there is “a new generation of humanity” being born all around us. A new generation of people who want to live responsibly and reverently with the earth, healing it rather than exploiting it. A new generation of people who want to help rather than exploit the poor and oppressed, and hold their oppressors accountable. A new generation that wants to build the conditions for peace rather than hate and bloodshed.

One such group is the Coalition of Immokalee workers. I’ve been privileged to be part of the Coalition’s movement for many years now. I’ve watched as a new form of social activism called Worker-Driven Social Responsibility has taken shape, building alliances among workers, consumers, and business leaders to improve working conditions and pay. It started in the tomato fields of Florida, and now the movement is spreading to other kinds of farm and factory workers around the world, nonviolently freeing people from poverty and exploitation. This is a really hopeful sign, reflecting a new generation of humanity, a new way of doing business, a new day. It would be a shame to sleep through the revolution …

Kind of like forgetting to prepare for Christmas, and missing all the joy!

Prayer: Living God, help us not to sleep-walk into trouble. Help us wake up and prepare for the new day, the new day Jesus’ birth is meant to signify for us all, a day of “good news of great joy for all humanity.” Amen!

Learn more about how workers in other industries and supply chains are adapting the groundbreaking Worker-Driven Social Responsibility model to achieve advances in human rights —  from protecting the safety of over 2 million garment workers in Bangladesh to guaranteeing the rights of Vermont dairy workers in Ben & Jerry’s milk supply chain to protecting fashion models!

Searching for a gift that matters this Christmas? When you make a donation to the Fair Food Program in honor of someone, your gift goes to protect and advance farmworkers’ human rights. And the Fair Food Program has beautiful holiday cards you can print or which can be emailed. Give a gift of justice, respect, and hope today

About The Author


Brian D. McLaren is an author, speaker, activist, and public theologian. A former college English teacher and pastor, he is a passionate advocate for "a new kind of Christianity" - just, generous, and working with people of all faiths for the common good. He is an Auburn Senior Fellow, a contributor to We Stand With Love, and a leader in the Convergence Network, through which he is developing an innovative training/mentoring program for pastors and church planters.

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