TIME TO WAKE UP – FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT 2013

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house

not a creature was stirring not even a mouse..

And mamma in her kerchief and I in my cap

Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap

Chance would be a fine thing. All I want for Christmas is a complete night of sleep, without interruptions from cats, dogs or children. Can anything compare with the pleasure of snuggling down in your own warm and cosy bed? Perhaps the feeling of rising refreshed next morning, ready for all the day may bring. This is the sleepy time of year, when the plants sink gratefully back in Mother Nature’s bosom to rest until spring calls to them; when the squirrels and bears tuck themselves away to sleep out the cold days. Sleep is the necessary and unavoidable prelude to renewed vigour.

Sleep however is also associated with our final sleep, from which we do not awaken, at least not this side of eternity. Bedtime prayers and evening hymns often do double duty for funeral services. This is the sleep of slipping away. The old Advent hymn “Creator of the starry height” speaks of the human race being on its death-bed, slipping away from what it was meant to be, losing its sense of being in the image of God, until Christ arrived at the last minute to recall it to life.

Thou, grieving at the helpless cry Of all creation doomed to die,

Didst come to save our fallen race By healing gifts of heavenly grace.

When earth was near its evening hour, Thou didst, in love’s redeeming power,

Like bridegroom from his chamber, come Forth from a virgin-mother’s womb.

They say that hearing is the last of the senses to go; so we can at least hear what the Epistle and Gospel are shouting in our ears today: Wake up!

Hark, ‘tis the watchman’s cry: Wake, brethren, wake!

Advent shakes and rouses us from the sleep that is a slipping away into a greater awareness of ourselves, of the world around us, and of what God is doing.

Wake up to yourself. Who am I? What is going on in my life? I can think of periods in my life, looking back, when I was so inattentive to reality that I might as well have been asleep. Of course, sometimes we hide in inattention because we are afraid of what we might see. Perhaps if we keep our eyes closed the monster will go away. That might work for imaginary things but not as a rule for reality. We have to be courageous and deal with things. And often we find unexpected resources for coping.

Wake up to the world around us. It’s very tempting to burrow down under the duvet of our own little world and pretend there’s nothing outside. The world is big and dark and full of difficulties and we can’t bear to hear more bad news, to see more suffering that we can’t imagine, and to be presented with more problems that we can’t solve. Well, we are not expected to solve them, but we are expected to be aware of them. We can’t love our neighbour, be they near or far from us, if we won’t first of all look at our neighbour. And pray for them.

Wake up to what God is doing. The images in our Gospel today are of people who are unaware of the bigger picture, and the purpose of God.

In those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away..

 All living the normal life of our animal nature, feeding and mating, but without any awareness of the higher dimension of human life; of the judgement that was being formed and the catastrophe that was imminent.

So too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.

People engaged in their daily activities, not aware of the radical judgement being formed, until God’s purpose is revealed.

It’s always tempting for us to place God’s action in the past. Christmas is about what happened 2000 years ago. The Bible stories are ancient legends, fadó fadó. Advent wants to shake us out of that little dream. If God only acted in the past, then he may as well not have acted at all. God always acts in the present, and we are not aware of it, not attentive to him, slipping away into oblivion. Wake up! Pay attention to what God is doing, in your life and in the world around you.

  

Sleep is for sons of night; ye are children of the light; yours is the glory bright,

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