Grace and Peace to you.
Keep awake—for you do not know when the homeowner will come—
in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn—
or else, coming suddenly, they might find you asleep.
What I say to you I say to all: Keep awake!
— Mark 13.35-37
Advent is upon us, a season of prayerful anticipation of the coming of Christ. It’s increasingly hard to honor Advent amidst society’s commercialization and trivialization of Christmas. But observing Advent isn’t about complaining about the culture; it’s about living in a different way. We give our attention to the coming of Christ, and let the rest go.
We anticipate Christ’s “coming“ in three dimensions: the birth of Jesus long ago, in the coming of Christ into our hearts right now, and in the future coming of God’s Promised One who will initiate God’s consummation of human history. It’s the one in the present—allowing God to be “born” in us in a new way—that can guide us most effectively in the Advent season.
Jesus coaches us to stay awake. God doesn’t come to us very often in big splashy miracles, in splendor and grandiosity. God comes in quiet awarenesses, little revelations, a slight, subtle presence that we have to look for to notice. Jesus is not just talking about believing in a future miracle; he’s inviting us to be spiritually attentive. He’s asking our souls to be awake.
The frazzle and dazzle of the commercial world might seem likely to keep us from dozing off, but in fact they dull us to the presence of God among us. Busyness is a drug that impairs our awareness of the holy. To stay awake we have to let go of all that shine and hustle, and pay attention to what is. Be present in the moment. Listen for the faint, foreign whispers of angels. It takes some intention, some discipline. It takes some quiet, some focus, some letting go.
I encourage you to find one thing that helps awaken you to God’s presence this Advent. Maybe it’s an extra five minutes every morning in prayer. Maybe it’s a pledge to drive the speed limit for the whole month of December. A little bell. A candle. A tiny ritual. Maybe reading the Sunday scriptures beforehand on the church website. Maybe it’s the usual baking, decorating and shopping, but this time you pray with every cookie, pray for every shopper, pray with every little decoration you hang. What helps you stay awake to God?
An Advent calendar is that kind of tiny ritual. Once again this year I’m sending out an electronic Advent calendar: a very brief daily scripture and prayer, by either email or phone text. If you want to receive it, reply to this email and let me know your preferred platform (and your cell number if you want it by text). Whatever you choose, I invite you to actually prepare for the coming of Christ, not just the coming of Christmas: something that helps open your heart to this mystery: Christ is preparing for you, preparing new life, preparing a blessed coming, for your sake and for the sake of a new world. You don’t want to miss it. Stay awake.