Advent Expectations: Keep Awake

I’m joining with the Advent Synchroblog writing on the theme of “Jesus Is Coming: What Do You Expect?” This is a way for me to be intentionally present in this season, and to be encouraged by others journeying in the same way.

But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven. “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.” (Mark 13)

I love following the lectionary, particularly during these holy seasons. And yet, I find myself balking at these texts for the first Sunday…wishing for something different…something a bit more…Cheery. Uplifting. Hopeful. As Andy notes in his sermon for Sunday, Jan Richardson says out loud what many pastors, and perhaps congregants, are thinking—the lectionary readings to kick off this Advent season make us cringe. She writes, “I have been wishing for an easier start to the season, for words that would welcome us into Advent with a more graceful sense of hospitality. This reading doesn’t so much beckon us across the threshold as it throws open a door, tosses a cup of cold water in our face to wake us, and shoves us through.” (A little teaser for the FPCB-ers, if they catch this before tomorrow.)

Being away from doing full-time ministry, I find myself floating a bit, and feeling disconnected from the normal rhythms of the church. Now that I’m home with the babies, and have been for the last nine months, I find myself caught up in an unfamiliar rhythm, a significantly new routine and ritual, and while I love these moments with them, I am longing for the comforting rituals of this season.

But, I forgot. The texts are always a bit gloomy in the beginning, and like Jan says, it’s almost like a slap in the face and a kick in the pants through the door to this season. As the darkness around us grows deeper, I can’t help but be confronted by the darkness inside as well. And it’s…disconcerting. The darkness comes in many forms these days, not just longer dusks and early sunsets, but in peaceful protests being met with unspeakable violence all around the world, increasing stories about human trafficking, and the overwhelming numbers of those suffering in poverty, disease, and terror. The darkness is crushing. In some ways, I don’t want to be awake during this time. I want to sleep, and sleep for a long time, and perhaps, wake up when some of these nightmares are over. I want to wake up to a world where the rough paths are made easier for my tender feet, where ferocious beasts naturally lounge around with their prey, and weapons of war and destruction are reconstituted into tools for growing food so that every weekend is Thanksgiving for EVERYONE.

I feel I’ve spent much time in the dark these last nine months – what with the babies and their tendency to wake up at odd hours…and stay awake for odd hours. Sometimes, even after they’ve fallen asleep, I find myself still awake, trying desperately to fall back asleep so I don’t have to face all that is in me…my pent up frustrations, all my new-found anxiety, and that looming uncertainty about my future, my career, my identity. The darkness is truly deep, and yes, I’d rather find myself in some peaceable slumber.

Perhaps I should take my cue from the gurgling, dolphin like noises the twins make when they are up. They are content. And, they are keeping awake. The text tells us to keep awake, and while all my body and mind revolts against the idea of anything else keeping me awake, I’m struck by the urgency in this message. What compels me is the coming of the Son of God, and while it may seem like doom and gloom here, it is a reminder of God’s crazy, gracious presence in the world. Now. Even in the midst of the darkness. This paradoxical hope compels me to keep awake, and to search out any glimmerings of light, any small and possible light, that would suggest God is coming, and God is here, right now, in the midst of my exhaustion, my insanity, my neediness and brokenness.

Advent is a time of expectation, and in these last months of indescribable fatigue where I have felt I can’t even expect anymore, my prayer is that I would embrace this season, this darkness, even though it threatens to swallow me whole. My hope is that I would keep awake, and seek out the miracle of God’s mysterious presence even in the midst of what seems impossible.

God, help me to keep awake, even in a darkness that beckons me to sleep, lulls me to complacency, drowns me in indifference…Help my eyes to be open, eager and desperate for your presence, in any way it may manifest itself, and may I have the courage to continue to wait and expect, with others, in your Spirit. Amen.


Here are the rest of the links so far…

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