“Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” Matthew 24:42
Sometimes it is difficult to keep our eyes open. Our tired bodies need rest. At other times is not that we are tired but that we need to get away from it all, depression, anxiety, or just sadness sometimes overwhelm us and all we want to do is sleep. As we take a look at our world it would be easy to want to go to sleep. Wars, pestilence, genocide, extreme poverty are only some of the afflictions in our world today.
In the midst of all of this we arrive at the season of Advent. Like every other year it sneaks up on us. We wonder where our year has gone? As we settle in our churches wanting to sing Christmas songs the scripture shocks us. A vision of end, of urgency, and of in-braking. It asks us to pay attention, to stay awake. Are we awake to the realities of our community, our nation, our world? Are we going to keep awake or go to sleep because we are overwhelmed?
In stores Christmas began a few weeks ago. Shelves were full of decorations, gift possibilities, and seasonal foods. People were already cranking up the Christmas music and making holiday plans. The key word for the season “busyness,” leaves little time to slow down and reflect upon the season. Instead we’ll ride the bullet train to Christmas without even thinking about it, then we’ll move to the next thing.
In the Church we are playing the Advent/Christmas dance. As a pastor I try to help people in my congregation to engage the waiting of the season while appeasing those who do not want to wait but want to have Christmas now. In me there is a strong sense for the need to help my congregation to experience the formative power of this hopeful, active, waiting, season.
The scriptures for this season force us to recognize that it’s not Christmas yet. Messages of cosmic change, of something not being right, of a needed coming, do not fit the happy, joyful, glitz of Christmas. Something else is happening here, a message of warning, a message of caution, a message of hope?
In fact in the Advent lessons we are forced to recognize that something needs to be made right in the world. A savior is needed to make things right, to return things, all of creation, to its intended purpose. The ancient Advent carol says it this way:
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
Advent forces us to wait. It forces us to acknowledge that we are indeed captive and that we are in need of being freed time and time again. The call of those who gather in Advent is for a savior, “O come, O come,” say those who gather during this important time.
We wait while keeping awake. Awake to the needs of the world, awake to the reality that I am powerless in light of the mounting needs, awake to the ways that through God’s Spirit I can make a difference in our world, awake to the possibility that today will be the day when God will make all things right.
This season I’m waiting, I am not rushing, I am not taking any substitutes, I only want what God has to offer. No thing can be my savior, no splurging can make things right, no busyness will fill the void. I’m waiting so that I can pay attention and be fully present to comings and goings of our world. This is how I will keep awake: by preparing the way, by acknowledging the need, by being an agent of God’s loving grace each day, everywhere. O come, O come . . .