There it is in Mark’s Gospel reading for Advent I—”Keep awake.” (Mark 13:24-37)
Hmmm. I don’t actually know anyone who is getting a good night’s sleep. Do you? Between the pandemic and it’s ancillary product line of economic, social, political, and religious turmoil, the people I know want more strategies for getting asleep and staying asleep! Keep Awake—not so much of problem.
Every one of our readings for Advent I invite us into the heightened alert that Advent means. They pull us out of the spiritual complacency into which we might have been lulled over the last year. Oh my goodness, I don’t know about you, but a little “lulling” looks pretty good right now.
But, as Mark’s words roamed around looking for the right place to land inside me in this very different year, I started to think about the different kinds of “awake.”
There’s a difference between “keep awake” because everything is out of your control, you can’t fix most of what happening, and it’s getting downright scary—and “keep awake” because God never ceases to be at work, the Spirit is doing a new thing, and you don’t want to miss any of it!
Keep awake. Is it a symptom of fear and distress? Or is it the anticipation of what is already on its way to us from God?
Let’s take a look at what the prophet Isaiah and the apostle Paul add to this conversation.
Isaiah 64:1-9 It sure sounds like Isaiah is having an anxious moment and he doesn’t hesitate to tell us why. The deck seems stacked against Israel by verse 7. Should they keep looking up for that breakthrough? No. Isaiah asks them to look within. Isaiah celebrates God’s “hands on” connection with us. We are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.(v.8b) It’s another way to affirm that God is at work, but in this case that work is with us. Sometimes our attention needs to move off what we want to change around us to what can be changed in us. We “keep awake” to what God is doing there.
I Corinthians 1:3-9 These kinds of passages are like “curtain openers.” Here’s what the playwright wants us to see and know from the start of the story they will tell. It’s what will remain true all the way through whatever drama unfolds. In this case we don’t stay awake because we lack anything in ourselves, or because God is not faithfully tending to creation. We stay awake because of how all these truths will be revealed in the story we are living together with God.
Keep Awake. God is at work. Keep awake. God’s hands are on your life. Keep awake. What is true about what goes on between you and God will remain true from the beginning until the end. In these advent days when there is much to worry about and fear becomes the toothpicks propping our eyes open all night, these verses remind us that we are in story much larger than we might be thinking right now. These readings take their best shot at the tyrannies that washed us up in Advent 1, 2020 and the things that keep us up at night are swept away with the affirmation of God faithfully creating something out of whatever facts we cannot change.
What will happen next? Within me? Within my community of faith? Within my community? This is the time when God does God’s best work. Keep awake! It’s Advent with God!
Diane Strickland, ordained for 33 years, is a Community & Workplace Traumatologist, Compassion Fatigue Specialist–Therapist and Critical Incident Responder. She is retired in The United Church of Canada, serving special emergent needs–like supporting ministers and ministries during a pandemic.
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