“Wake up!” – seems to be the message of this morning’s gospel reading – and possibly not a bad one for Morning Prayer at the end of November!
But, I think, the appeal to keep awake needs to be heard against the broader Advent themes of Watching and Waiting.
Waiting is certainly one things we’re accustomed to just now – waiting for announcements of new tier systems; waiting to hear what will or will not be possible this Christmas.
And there has been an anxious wait for the production of a vaccine, as the only real solution to our currently restricted way of life. And so, now, we celebrate the good news that, earlier than expected, more than one vaccine looks likely to be widely available soon.
Now that that the longed for vaccine has become a reality – the anxious waiting might just morph into anxious questions: Will it really work? And for how long?
Is it really safe? What might the side effects be?
And, if I get the right answers to that lot,
when will I be able to get some?
Waiting for an ideal, then, does not necessarily mean that we are prepared for it – when we are finally confronted with it as a concrete reality.
And so, to Advent – when we’re reminded that we are still waiting – for Christ to bring all things to completion. Whether we think in literal terms of Christ’s Second Coming, at the end of time, or of a more gradual outworking of his promises – there is unfinished business in the struggle against evil.
Our first hymn uses the word “longing”:
“longing for light we wait in darkness”,
and it implores Christ to “be our light”.
In the Book of Psalms, the psalmist cries out: “When? When shall I come before the presence of God?”
Here again there is an urgency in the waiting – an overwhelming desire to see God – to see Christ face to face – and perhaps to know then, for sure, that faith has not been in vain.
But how will that reality feel when we finally get to encounter it?
We might imagine ourselves, like the disciples, sitting at Jesus’ feet as he explains to us the things we’ve never really understood.
Or we might think back to last week,
and the image of Christ as judge,
before whom we’ll stand in fear and trembling
– in which case we might be happy to wait a bit longer!
Perhaps we have no clear preconception of what that reality will be like – just a strong sense of being called to that eternal home which still lies beyond our grasp, but not quite out of sight or mind.
St Paul contends that the faithful are already enriched in Christ and strengthened by him; that Christ is already present among us, and visible in the spiritual gifts that he has given and continues to draw out from us.
And so, if we really do long to see the face of God, it’s not entirely a matter of waiting for God to act – it requires us to be awake and alert, and to watch for the signs of Christ’s presence among us – to recognise the gifts we share, here and now – to give thanks for them
and to put them to good use.
This season of Advent reminds us that, as Christians, we live in a kind of dual time zone – engaging fully in the everyday reality of our mortal life, while eagerly anticipating the eternal reality of life in God’s presence.
Advent reminds us that the kingdom of God is both “now and not yet” – IS already being established here but not yet complete.
Advent calls us to sit still long enough to notice what’s there under our noses: the gifts and graces that counter our fears and anxiety – the eternal light that continues to shine through each temporary darkness.
This is not a time for busy-ness then – a time to “prepare” with plans and “to do lists” and frantic running around – but a time to prepare ourselves –
to cultivate an attitude of mind: of openness to present realities we haven’t seen before; of glimpses of all that lies beyond those present realities.
And, as we watch and wait for the signs of God’s life among us, awake to the opportunities that he sets before us, perhaps we may see more clearly the next steps in our own lives that will bring us closer to the kingdom of God.