We will inevitable fail to stay awake when we focus all our attention to only keep awake but do nothing else to preoccupy ourselves. And it becomes impossible to stay awake in this way waiting for an event when we do not know when this event will occur. As we enter the first day of Advent in preparation for Christmas we are told precisely this, “Stay awake!”
Christmas celebrates the coming of Christ into the world. It is an historical fact. Through our baptism we have open the door to allow Christ to be born in our hearts. For those of us baptized, that too is an historical fact.
We celebrate Christmas to remind ourselves that Christ has come once and he will come again. And our life in fact is in between these two comings. Our waiting is not for Christmas Day but for his second coming into our life. We are called to prepare for this. “So stay awake, because you do not know when the master of the house is coming, evening, midnight, cockcrow, dawn; if he comes unexpectedly, he must not find you asleep.”
Trying to stay awake by doing nothing will quickly result in us falling asleep while waiting. Even doing something but doing it routinely will also result in us falling asleep. We may just have to ask ourselves how many times we have gone for Sunday mass obediently fulfilling our Sunday obligation for years but find ourselves physically present but spiritually asleep.
“Stay awake!” is not about being Christian in name and status. It is a pro-active stance. If we do nothing about our faith life, if we do not lift a finger to help those around us in need especially when we have the gifts to do so, even if we do not do bad things, we are still falling asleep in the presence of Christ. We have left him outside as he knocks on the door of our heart.
In between the two comings, life often take us away from Christ. We can be too pre-occupied by our desires of this world. We must be careful not to be complacent in our spiritual life. Calling ourselves “Christian” and going to Church every Sunday will not be enough if Christ is left outside our heart. “Stay awake!” is a pro-active effort to make sure that Christ is always in the centre of our heart and the compass of our desires.
To “stay awake” is the constant search and check for the presence of Christ in our desires, priorities and in all we do. Not all of us can maintain this presence constantly in everything we do. For most of us, spiritual life is a pendulum swing between good and bad. To “stay awake” is to be aware of the swing towards bad and to actively re-direct ourselves toward good. To “stay awake” is to be aware of our need to constantly return to God. The first reading laments, “Why, Lord, leave us to stray from your ways and harden our hearts against fearing you?”
“Stay awake!” is to be aware of God’s generosity. He has made himself available not only for one day in the year but in every moment marked by our every breath. To be aware and to try to return to him each moment is stay awake while waiting.
1st Sunday in Advent