It is the first day of Advent; New Year’s Day for the church. Today, we enter into a season marked by waiting and by hope. With great expectation we wait for the promised one, the messiah, Christ, to come and deliver us just as the prophets said he would. After his resurrection, Jesus said he would come again and finish the establishment of his kingdom, so we wait. We wait and we keep watch. To guide our waiting, we look back and remember what it was like to wait for his first coming. We turn again to the manger.
Yet, it’s been a long time since Jesus entered into the world, walked upon it, displayed his power, and testified to his upside down reign. It’s been a long time since he gave us his charge to proclaim good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for the imprisoned, open the eyes of the blind, set the oppressed free, and declare that this is the year of the Lord’s favor. It’s been a long time.
Is he really coming back? He didn’t come back last year, or the year before that. Perhaps he forgot. Perhaps his return is something our far distant descendants will have to deal with. Perhaps we should not worry about such things. Perhaps we should just get on with our lives.
Jesus had something to say about that:
“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’” (Mark 13:32-37 NIV)
“Keep watch,” he says. “Don’t get caught sleeping!” he urges. “Stay woke!” he implores. How quickly his followers forget. Very soon after Jesus spoke these words to his disciples, they got caught napping:
They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.”
Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” he said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to him.
Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Mark 14:32-42 NIV)
He told them to keep watch. He told them to stay awake. Yet their bellies were full of bread and wine and they were satisfied and drowsy. So they fell asleep, but he woke them. Once more they drifted off and, when confronted by their master, they were speechless. There were no words for them to explain or justify their behavior.
This is a dark time in America. Our ugly racial history has bubbled up once more, returning to confront us and wake us from our slumber. We closed our eyes to the systemic injustices in our country and in doing so, we blinded ourselves. We were supposed to be keeping watch. We were supposed to be setting the oppressed free. We got caught napping.
We must not drift back to sleep this advent. In the press toward Christmas we must not succumb to the consumerist lullaby that promises everything will be alright if we just spend and buy. We must not turn up the holiday music so loud that it drowns out the cries of the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed. Like the disciples in the garden, we have no words to explain or justify our slumber. Now, our eyes are opened again; we are once more awake and alert. We must keep watch.
If you want to keep “Christ in Christmas,” stay woke.
But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said: “Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. (Ephesians 5:13-17 NIV)
You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober. (1 Thessalonians 5:5-6 NIV)
Join me this advent in reflecting on what it means to “stay woke” by using the hashtag, #StayWokeAdvent. There is a synchroblog that will curate reflections on this advent’s lectionary readings at https://medium.com/stay-woke-advent