“Watch, therefore; you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming…May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!'” Mark 13:33-37.
We begin Advent and the liturgical year by listening to the Gospel of Mark. It is the oldest of the gospels, the shortest, and written in Rome around 70 A.D. at a time of Christian persecutions.
Today we hear Mark 13, which comes toward the gospel’s conclusion, and just before the passion narrative. Next week, in Mark 1, we’ll hear the prophetic call of John the Baptist.
Now Jesus tells his disciple to be on the watch, keep awake, and alert. Advent is a great awakening!
Researchers tell us that we spend one-third of our hours sleeping that can add up to 229,961 hours based on the average person’s full-eight hours of sleep. That’s plenty of time in the sack.
None of us wishes to sleep through life. In 2020, I suspect a few of us would have joined a family of brown bears in their den to remain in hibernation for the year. No such luck! We must be alert to the political, social, and health concerns during this tumultuous year.
Take Rip Van Winkle, a figure of Washington Irving’s literary imagination, he slept for twenty-one years, only to wake up after the Revolutionary War. At long last, Rip awakens to the world around him, and his story remains a powerful metaphor and a cautionary tale.
In French, there are two words for sleep: “reve de jour” is like our day-dreaming, whereas “songe” is that dream state as we come out of a full-sleep and into everyday consciousness. Putting aside our dreams, arising from sleep, or just getting out “on the wrong side” of the bed can spell trouble.
More recently, in the American vernacular, “woke” has become a commonplace term signifying greater political awareness of social and racial justice issues. “Stay woke” began as an African-American expression and now refers to a more precise grasp of community issues and our collective deep-seated social and cultural problems. Such matters that we may be blind to and require an awakening.
Advent is a great awakening. We sing “O Come, O, Come, Emmanuel,” to shake ourselves from spiritual slumber so that the coming of Christ may become a wellspring of promise and imagination.
As Isaiah says: “No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen such deeds, any God but you – doing such deeds for those who wait for him.”
How can we be watchful and stay awake?
Theologian Ronald Rolheiser, OMI, has an insightful point of view. He writes:
“So, how can we be watchful and stay awake? By staying awake to what’s ultimately important. By staying awake to the truth that God is with us even when most everything in our lives and the world seems to belie that. By staying awake to the only things that will really matter when we say farewell to this world and our loved ones: love for each other, faith in God, and a heart grateful enough to let go and forgive all the anger, bitterness, and frustrations we had in our lives.”
Rolheiser concludes: “Advent invites us to be watchful and awake to what ultimately matters in life.” (“What Advent Should Be,” Give us this Day, Nov. 2020, page 298.)
We end a Thanksgiving weekend, this very curious moment surrounded by a limited number of family members or connecting via Zoom, Facetime, or the telephone. The Lord invites us to be watchful and awake to those we hold dear, our small family community of faith. We know the Lord is near to those who call on him and especially near to those most in need of his grace.
Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.
On Thanksgiving, The New York Times published Pope Francis’ essay, “The Covid-19 Crisis Reveals What is in Our Hearts.” Please read the pope’s inspiring message.