“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 13:32-37
My Thanksgiving memories as a child included watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and waiting in anticipation for Santa Claus to arrive. After we’d have our traditional dinner, my grandmother would invite my brothers and cousin and I to go with her to the “mill” (our family’s knitting and wholesale business), and we’d decorate the customer area with Christmas trees and garland and holiday balls. For as long as I can remember, Thanksgiving marked the beginning of the Christmas season.
This year we’ve heard the news: Black Friday came earlier. We saw pictures and video of men and women camping out and staying awake all night so that they could be one of the first into a store for a great deal on a flat screen TV. This isn’t the kind of “keep awake” Jesus is referring to in the “little apocalypse” of Mark 13.
Liturgically, this isn’t the beginning of the Christmas season at all; it’s the first Sunday of Advent. And, Advent is more about an intentional awareness of the realities of life and the hope of the coming of Christ, than it is about frantic shopping, to-do lists, baking, present wrapping, decorating, etc. Keeping awake in Advent is not about fitting more tasks into our days, but about watching and listening to what’s really going on.
In our own lives … watching and listening to our longing for God, to our hurts and woundedness, to our fears and disappointments. In our culture … watching and listening to the political polarities which are doing more to divide than unite, to the consumerism which drives us to greed and a chasm between haves and have-nots, and to the nationalism which continues to give us permission to exploit cheap labor in less “developed” lands. In our world … watching and listening to the rape of nations, to the warring madness of tyrannical leaders, to the civil uprisings of workers and students, to the hunger pangs of famine-ridden lands. Being on the watch means being alert to the bigger picture.
Keeping awake also involves the intentional prayer, silence, song and meditation involved in watching for what God is already at work, doing in our midst. Peter Woods, blogger, writes, “So excuse me if I don’t get all fear fired up with Apocalyptic fervour, I happen to have seen the Son of Man coming in the clouds when I watched the sunrise this morning.”
And, finally, keeping watch means engaging in service, mission, and activity of bringing hope to our world … to ourselves, to our families, to our communities, to our nation, and to our world. Preparing ourselves to welcome the peace, love, compassion, joy and presence of Christ in our midst.
There is a movement afoot … Occupy Advent … which was based, initially, on Twitter. According to their Facebook page, “#occupyadvent is an on-going conversation about how we can reclaim the holy season of Advent – most importantly in our lives, but also in our churches and ultimately in the culture.” The movement is using social media … blogs, Facebook and Twitter … to engage Christians in conversation. You and your congregation are invited to join the conversation and, most importantly, to reclaim the intentionality of Advent … to keep awake and be on the watch.