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I would like to say I am one of those people who wakes up right on time every morning, without an alarm clock, and then jumps out of bed— bright-eyed and clear-headed, eager to meet the day. I would like to be one of those people for whom waking comes naturally, easily, joyfully.
Instead, more often than not, I’ve stayed up too late the night before and, when my alarm goes off—sounding something like a meditation bell chiming from far, far away—I am in deep sleep. I don’t want to wake up!
Now don’t get me wrong: It’s not that I’m not thankful for my life and my ministry and all there is to experience, enjoy, and do in a given day. I’d just like to do it . . . later. That is especially true at this time of year, when my alarm goes off at dark o’clock and I think, I don’t want to get up; it’s still dark outside.
And so I hit the snooze button, sometimes actually falling back to sleep, which—as you probably know—is not helpful at all. By the second time the alarm sounds, I’m either just as sleepy as before or just awake enough to consider how comfortable my bed is, how cold it is when I remove the covers and—hey, it’s still dark! I don’t want to get up!
No, I’m not proud of it.
Almost all sleep experts agree: The best way to get up, the most effective way to greet the day, is to wake up and as, Black Lives Matter activists might put it, stay woke.
Which, as it turns out, is also the best, most effective, most transformative, faithful, and rewarding way to live: To wake up and stay woke. But for some of us—most of us, actually—it’s also pretty hard.
Our lives are full—most times with good things and other times with pain and grief grief that are too much for us to bear. Sometimes it is all we can do to keep up with what has to be done. Sometimes, more often than we’d like to admit, we sleep-walk through our days, moving on auto-pilot: leaving the house without putting in our contact lenses; hardly knowing how we got from the driveway to the office; barely noticing that a friend is upset; failing to see the signs of the times; completely missing the ways that God is alive and active in the world and in our midst; even forgetting all about the Holy.
Unfortunately, there seems to be in this a long-standing element of human nature. Apparently, I am not alone in my tendency to hit the snooze button.
Come on! the apostle Paul tells the Christians in Rome. Come on, you know what time it is. Now is the moment for you to wake from sleep. Come on, get up!
“But it’s so dark outside!” I can hear them saying as they close their eyes and roll over. “Just a few more minutes!” they beg.
The Gospel of Matthew actually has Jesus speaking of this wake-up time in negative terms—not as the sing-song-y invitation to the day every parent tries to perfect, but as a warning. Keep awake because you don’t know on what day your Lord is coming. (Could be today!) Stay awake so your house doesn’t get broken into. Be vigilant. You have no idea when or how the Human One is going to show up.
Or have you forgotten? That Christ is always coming again. That the Holy One is forever breaking in—to your heart, into your day, moving around and disrupting the ways of this world. The question is not whether God is here or when Christ will show up but if we will be awake enough to notice, if we will let the signs of the times shake us out of our comfortable beds, if we will prepare for and welcome his coming as the hope and promise that it is.
As much as anyone, I love Advent for its promise: that God is working wonders of healing, hope, and justice even now. Especially now. I love Advent for its affirmation of my hopes and longings, for its invitation to consider that they come from God. I love Advent for its spiritual practices of waiting and watching, preparing and making room—making way for God to break into our reality again. I love Advent for its metaphors of light and darkness, for its assurance that, though the darkness be all around us, though the darkness be deepening, it cannot overcome the light. I love Advent for all the quiet, beautiful ways it reminds us that the light of Christ has come into the world.
Advent is both wake-up call and warning, invitation and alert, promise and omen, possibility and peril. Sometimes God comes as quietly as snow, as tenderly as new love; other times God’s love arrives with all the disruption and demands of a newborn, up-ending our routines, turning our lives upside-down. And occasionally God shows up as an alarm clock that won’t stop ringing, a message that gets ever louder, signaling us to wake up, Wake Up, WAKE UP!
Friends, I think Advent came early this year. We have gotten a wake-up call—and we ignore it at our peril. We are in a season of reckoning, and it is not pretty.
We are seeing open expressions of hatreds that we had hoped were long gone. We are watching hate crimes and hearing abusive language. We are witnessing naked power plays and the elevation of white supremacists, gay bashers, and public-education detractors to positions of influence, where they will have both potential and power and to do real harm. Many of us are worried about what will happen, and some of us are trembling in fear.
We are at the beginning of a major disruption, and it’s hard to believe God might be in it somehow, that God might manage to use it for our good, that Christ is coming even now. That this is God’s clarion call to let the Spirit be born in us again, to make room for God’s love-light to shine through us again, to rise up against the forces of evil and oppression.
No, most of us are lost in that vast wilderness between wake-up call and silver lining. We are in shock and denial, still smarting from a sense of rejection and instant marginalization. It’s disorienting. It’s frightening. It’s painful. We’ve gotten a a wake-up call but it’s so, so dark outside. Worse yet, we’re discovering that it’s dark inside, too. We want to go back to sleep, to retreat into our own bubbles of head-shaking, like-minded, same-thinking people.
And then Advent comes for real, shouting, Wake up! Keep awake! Love is coming. Stay woke! Hope is here.
But it’s so dark out, we mumble from under the covers.
Well then, Paul says, put on the armor of light.
Replace disillusion with real hope. Shine in the midst of the darkness. Stand firm in spite of defeat. Love in the face of hatred and rejection. Resist evil in all its forms. Wake up to Christ’s presence in your midst. Make way for God to do a new thing.
Put on the armor of light.
Trust that into all the world’s brokenness and suffering—a cacophony of hate speech, divides wide as canyons, injustice, oppression, and all forms of violence—God is breaking in. Hope is breaking in. Be vigilant. Don’t fail to see that God is breaking in to the heart of our own grief and fear, the darkness of our despair over what has happened, the depths of our anxiety over what might happen.
Into all the real stuff of life, Advent arrives, reminding us that this is not all there is, inviting us to live in hope, shaking us to wake up to God’s working among us, even now.
Yes, these are disheartening times. Yes, the darkness is deep. Yes, the temptation is strong to cover our ears, close our eyes, and crawl under the covers of safety and privilege. If we could just take a nap, we think, maybe we would discover it was all a bad dream. If we could just sleep a little longer, maybe it would all be over when we awaken.
Yes, waking from a deep sleep can be disorienting. What time is it? we wonder. What day is it? Where am I? Who am I? It’s unsettling, but disorientation prepares the way for reorientation.
Christ is up to something new. Christ is coming to empower us, to heal our wounds and bridge our divides. Christ comes to transform hatred into love, to defeat all forms of oppression, even death. Christ comes to save us from the worst of ourselves.
Wouldn’t you hate to miss what God is up to this time? Don’t you want to see how she’s going to redeem this mess? Don’t you want to be part of it?
Well, then, get up! Well, then, stay woke. Well, then, put on the armor of light.
The light of Christ has come into the world and the darkness cannot overcome it. The light of Christ is coming ‘round again, and the darkness will not overcome it. So let us make room. Let us stay woke. Let us keep loving. And, in the meantime, let us live in hope, rejoicing all the while in God’s love for us.
O come, O come, Emmanuel!