Mary Houck, Decatur, GA

Warm-up Question

  • Name a favorite celebrity or a public figure you admire. How much do you know about them and what they stand for? 
  • Should famous people be held accountable for what they believe personally? For example, can you listen to someone’s music, read their book, or watch them in a movie, even if you know their values are different from yours?

Are You Awake?

Public figures, from social media influencers to celebrities to politicians, talk about how “woke” they are.  The term has developed more layers of meaning in the past few years. For example, in one of the key races of the recent midterm elections it was used as a campaign strategy. A candidate for Senate in Georgia, Herschel Walker, used it as an insult for his opponent, Raphael Warnock. Walker wanted the religious right to vote against Warnock because being “woke” meant he was a radical liberal. Governor DeSantis, just re-elected in Florida, also decried the “woke” agenda during his campaign and even signed the ‘Stop W.O.K.E.’ Act, designed to limit what teachers can say in their classrooms on a variety of topics. But  “woke” didn’t start out that way. 

The term “woke comes out of the civil rights movement of the 20th century, when it was used by black people to encourage each other to be more aware of structural racism and to  join in efforts to combat it. In recent years, it has been used more widely than ever on social media and in the news. 

In 2020, following the death of George Floyd, Ahmad Arbery, and others, there was a national wave of interest in learning more about racism and other social issues. Many people started using the term to identify themselves or others as being part of this movement— as people who cared enough to know the truth about how their society was treating some people unfairly due to their race, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability. 

Unfortunately, many people also continue to resist the idea that there is anything wrong. They see our society as already fair to everyone. They put the blame for inequality on certain individuals or groups, saying they could be more successful if they just tried harder and stopped complaining. Public figures and groups trying to appeal to this mindset have taken up the term “woke” as a way to describe people they don’t like. Journalist Ishena Robinson writes, “To some, woke is now a derisive stand-in for diversity, inclusion, empathy and, yes, Blackness.”

Discussion Questions

  • How would you define what it means to be “woke”? Do you see it as a good or a bad thing?
  • How does it feel when you learn something disturbing about American history or society? How does it feel when you belong to the group being treated unfairly? How does it feel when you belong to the group benefitting from the unfair treatment of others?
  • Does the new information change the way you act, speak, vote, or spend your money? 

First Sunday of Advent

Isaiah 2:1-5

Romans 13:11-14

Matthew 24:36-44

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

In Matthew 24, Jesus gives the disciples a variety of warnings and images about the end times and Jesus’ second coming. He repeatedly emphasizes the need to be ready—it could happen today! However, Jesus does not intend for us to live in a constant state of panic. 

Every year during Advent, as we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ birth, we also read Bible passages about the next time Jesus will come. We look forward to that time when all creation will be reconciled to God, when all the ways humanity has messed it up won’t matter anymore.

However, we are not meant to just sit around waiting for God to do all the heavy lifting. God invites us to be co-creators—to help make, through our daily actions, words and prayers, the world God intends. Jesus spends lots of time teaching people how to live in community with each other, pay attention to the needs of their neighbors, and question the oppressive systems and inequalities in their society. Obviously, he wants us to create change.  That is a long-term project. 

It is still true, however, that Jesus wants us to be ready at any moment. On any given day, there is something we can do to make God’s kingdom a reality here and now. When we learn about history from a variety of perspectives, when we call people out for bigoted or insensitive jokes, when we listen with open minds and hearts to each other’s stories, we invite Jesus to be present in that moment with us. When we approach our family, friends, and neighbors (not to mention ourselves) with empathy and compassion, when we give to organizations fighting for justice and equity, when we use our voices to create positive change, we invite Jesus to come again.

This kind of awareness/wakefulness (or “woke-ness”) takes practice. We all start with values and perspectives from the families and communities in which we grew up.  Some are good and true—some not so much. It takes work and a lot of listening to be truly awake, as Jesus implores us to be in this passage. None of us get it 100% right all the time. The good news is that every day we get a new chance to wake up (both literally and figuratively). We get a new chance to live as if at any moment, life as we know it will end and something new and beautiful will take its place, something we helped to create. 

Discussion Questions

  • What do you do to feel ready for something? Ready for school in the morning? Ready for a big exam? Ready for a competition (athletic, musical, academic, etc.)? 
  • What about getting ready for Jesus? How is it similar or different? How often do you feel ready?  
  • Sometimes it seems like there are endless problems to learn about.  It can be overwhelming to think about injustice and inequality all the time. We all have to make some choices about which problems we focus on. What issues are especially important to you? Have you done any work in that area? What kinds of things could you do to help?

Activity Suggestions

  • A “Woke” board: get a piece of poster board and make a collage from magazines that represents the issues your group cares about. 
  • Having discussed which issues are important to the members of your group, are there any you all agree on? What could you do as a group to help? 
    • Create a strategy to raise awareness of the issue in your faith community, for example:
      • do a fund-raiser for an organization that does work in that area and tell people about why you chose that recipient
      • Create posters or flyers that can be hung up/ distributed. 
      • Create a presentation and/or skit. Share it in worship or host a special class to which the whole congregation is invited. 
    • Or, find out about an organization that is working on the issue, and create something to thank them for their work (cards, bookmarks, care package, etc.) Chances are high that they are overworked and underpaid (or not paid at all), and this kind of work often leads to burn out and discouragement.  A little encouragement can go a long way! 

Closing Prayer

Gracious God, we look forward to the day when all creation will be reconciled to you. In the meantime, awaken our hearts and minds to the realities and needs of our neighbors. Inspire us with creativity, determination, and endurance as we work to make your kingdom a reality here and now . Amen.