Keep Alert!

December 1, 2017 by Beth Richardson

Vigilance is the spiritual posture of Advent, when the soul is bent forward in anticipation of the One who is to come. And vigilance is also the spiritual perceptiveness of Christmas, when the soul recognizes the One who is to come in the Bethlehem newborn swaddled in ordinariness. 

-John S. Mogabgab
Weavings: A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Life (November/December 2007)

I’m always surprised by the gospel readings for the First Sunday of Advent. In each of the three years of the lectionary, the scripture for Advent’s first Sunday calls us to “Keep alert. Keep awake.” It is a message of watchfulness, of waiting, of preparation and making room, of being on guard lest we miss what is coming.

This watching and waiting – it’s not the sentimental, soft-lens picture of watching and waiting – for reindeer clatter on a roof, for presents under a tree, for candle light and “Silent Night” and the sounds of a cooing baby.
The scripture calls for an Advent watching and waiting – like watching from a forest fire watchtower. We are watching and waiting, not just for the birth of a baby, but for the coming of redemption to a broken world.

The season of Advent is not about nostalgia or sentimentality. It’s about hope -- the deep, inextinguishable hope that shines through hatred and fear and prejudice; through natural disasters and random acts of violence; through aching loneliness and paralyzing grief.

“Beware, keep alert;” Jesus says, “for you do not know when the time will come” [See Mark 13:24-37]. Our hearts and minds are so cluttered with distractions that we are in danger of missing God’s arrival. Our lives are so full of tasks and to do lists and stress. … They are so full of the worries of this world that we have no room for God’s generous gift.

This first Sunday of Advent calls us to take a countercultural step – to make space in lives that are crammed full of meetings and parties and planning. Cherish silence. Beware. Keep alert. Stay awake. Make room. For the Holy One is coming …

Prayer: God of Advent, open my eyes, my ears, my heart for the coming of hope. Free me from any distractions that keep me from making a place for you. For you are our light, our hope, our love. Amen.

Resources for lighting the first Advent candle.

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God’s transforming presence . . .

“Spiritual vitality in our churches stems from our openness to God’s transforming presence, not in anxious striving. Tending the soul of the congregation starts with attending to God’s presence in our lives as leaders, then bringing the same prayerful openness into the meetings and ministries of the church. Our work is to help the people to pay attention to, listen to, learn from, and live in the Spirit.” Read more.