For all the tinsel and the glitter, Advent is the season of urgency, reminding us that life on earth is a fleeting experience in which we prepare for eternity. All our words and actions matter, as does our failure to speak and to act. The temptation is to focus on the secular aspects of the season -- partying, gift-giving, eating and drinking to excess... It is more entertaining to decorate a Christmas tree than to remember the humanitarian crisis at our borders; it is more comforting to gaze at a Nativity scene than to notice the homeless huddled under viaducts; it is more pleasurable to sing sweet carols than to scream in protest at legislation which endangers the environment....
Perhaps Advent is the time of year when we are least awake and most distracted. By focusing on the Infant Christ and partying in his honor, we tend to forget the Adult Christ who calls us to truth, compassion, servanthood, integrity, and vulnerability. Mesmerized by a winter wonderland of twinkling lights, we forget that we were baptized as priests, prophets and kings, and settle to be consumers instead.
Therefore, stay awake!
For you do not know on which day your Lord will come. Be sure of this: if the master of the house
had known the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake
and not let his house be broken into.
So too, you also must be prepared,
for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come."
Matt 24: 37-44
While lack of sleep can lead to a wide range of health problems, so too much sleep is apparently also hazardous. "Hypersomnia" has, in fact, been linked to many of the same physical conditions caused by too little sleep -- heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cognitive impairment and depression. Of course, there are times and seasons in life when more sleep is a necessity, but if we sleep away our waking hours on a regular basis, then there are repercussions in every aspect of our life, from our relationships to work performance. Spiritually speaking, being "awake to life" is not just about being physically "awake" but also involves being fully conscious. Unlike the householder who sleeps while his house is being robbed, we need to know what time it is and how to respond to all that this moment in time requires of us.
We don't have to look very far for biblical examples of characters who are "spiritually asleep" at precisely the wrong time-- the five foolish bridesmaids whose lamps go out at the moment the bridegroom appears (Matt 25:1-13); the guest at the wedding feast who fails to dress appropriately (Matt 22:11-14); the rich fool who builds new barns for his harvest, unaware that his death is at hand (Lk 12:16-21); the rich man who dines sumptuously each day while Lazarus starves at his gates (Lk 16:19-31); the disciples who fall asleep in the Garden of Gethsemane while Jesus agonizes over his approaching death (Lk 22:44-46)... And, in today's gospel, Jesus refers to the people of Noah's time who
"In those days before the flood were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day that Noah entered the ark.They did not know until the flood came and carried them all away."
While Noah listened to God and built the ark, everyone else carried on with daily life, oblivious to the disaster that was about to occur. Now, there is nothing problematic about eating, drinking and marrying; the issue is that Noah's "neighbors" were so engrossed in these activities that they failed to know "what time it was." Instead of reflecting on their corruption and depravity (Gn 7:11) and turning from sin, they carried on without a care in the world. In contrast, Noah lived an upright life and "walked with God" (Gn 7:9). This meant that could hear God's voice and prepare for the approaching catastrophe. Interestingly enough, he never interceded on behalf of humanity but was quite content simply to save his own family. In his defense, however, one could argue that Noah's "neighbors" must have observed his unusual building project but were so distracted by their own nefarious dealings that they never asked what he was doing or why. Had they done so, they might have realized that it was time to change their ways. Their very lack of curiosity proved to be their undoing.
And what distracts us from knowing what time it is?
Like the sleeping disciples, it may be that we are "sleeping from grief" (Lk 22:45) or because of addictions, or on account of greed and ambition, or because of stress, anger, anxiety, the inability to forgive... Or it may be because of denial, not just about our lives but about the state of the world, the state of the country, the threats to life as we know it. I'm not suggesting that we return to ancient spiritual practices such as meditating on a skull, or lying down in our coffins, or remembering the
"Four Last Things"
(Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell) before we fall asleep at night. Rather, we need to remember that we are children of Light, created in the Divine Image , animated by the Divine Breath, enfolded in God's Love. then, perhaps, we would leave behind our slumbering and wake up to life
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
- On a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the most desirable score, how "spiritually awake" are you?
- What tools or practices might help you become more aware?
- What "limited thinking" gets in the way of your being fully conscious?
- How might you help others to "wake up"?