Sunday, November 28, 2010

First Sunday of Advent

Romans 13:11-14 / Luke 21:25-33

There are many ways to divide the human race, but at least one of them is to distinguish what it takes to wake us up from sleep. For some of us, the divide between sleep and wakefulness is a nearly impenetrable barrier, and it calls for great and dramatic effort to leave the world of dreams. For such persons, being a wake is radically discontinuous with slumber, and only something in itself terrible and unavoidable — an intensely loud alarm clock, or the most vigorous shaking of a shoulder — can assist in the passage from the one to the other.

For the rest of us, wakefulness comes best when experienced as continuous with having been asleep. It is not that we cannot be awakened by a fierce alarm; rather, it is that we find such experiences jarring, and our subsequent morning, perhaps even much of the day, suffers because of it. No, such persons prefer something gentle, non-intrusive, and may even awake, regularly, without fail, but not needing any outside assistance.

This natural truth is no less true of our supernatural need to be awake to Jesus Christ's return, his coming in a cloud with great power and majesty. For some, only the most discontinuous events in life, disasters on a human, or even a global scale — signs in the sun and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, by reason of the confusion of the roaring of the sea and of the waves: men withering away for fear and expectation of what shall come upon the whole world —only these kinds of events will succeed at turning our minds away from our daily patterns to prepare in hope for Christ's happy, terrible return. For others, it is the gentler indications, the natural progression of the soul infused with grace from light to light, glory to glory, that almost passes unnoticed, the shoots of the fig tree by which we know that summer is nigh.

Whether we need something discontinuous and jarring or continuous and gentle, the crucial point is that we know we need to wake up. Whether light sleepers or heavy sleepers, whatever the accuracy or our internal clock, we all know that a late night of carousing, of dulling our minds, our ears, our bodies with stimulants far beyond their natural power to adjust, to remain in a facsimile of wakefulness far beyond the time our bodies have begged us to get some rest — this is sure to put into serious doubt whether we will succeed in waking up in time to make any use of the day at all. And as this is true for earthly life, again it remains all the more so for our spiritual waking to prepare for the world to come. Let us therefore walk honestly, as in the day, Paul reminds us, not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and impurities, not in contention and envy. We can so dull our spiritual ears, so exhaust our souls, that neither the clarion call of disaster nor the small but no less clear signs in the spiritual life will succeed in rousing our attention. We can, that is, be so bound up in either serving our pleasures or in conflict with those who oppose us, that we neglect to get out of our spiritual beds and do the real and difficult, even if joyful and hopeful work to prepare for the coming of the Savior.

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