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by Dr. Deirdre Egan, Assistant Professor of English and Director of American Studies Program
Throughout scripture, there are many instances in which Jesus tells us to “wake up!” Often this idea of wakefulness refers to end times: the end of the world in an apocalyptic sense, the end of one’s life on earth through death, the end of Jesus’ own life as he awaits his crucifixion. Typically we are told that we must wake up to be prepared for such eventualities. It is important to note that Jesus bears his humanity in these moments. As his disciples fall asleep in the garden, for example, he speaks to them in anger and disappointment, urging them to wake up and accompany him through his final suffering. But the readings for today, interestingly, come at a time of beginnings. These readings mark the beginning of the liturgical year and the beginning of advent. In this beginning of a new church year and of this season of waiting for the Christ child, the gospel of Matthew tells us to “stay awake!”
What does it mean to stay awake in these beginning, waiting times? Often we think of waiting as a tedious, even passive, experience. Anyone who has waited for a bus or airplane, for the next stage of life to begin, or for the semester to end, knows that waiting can seem like a sleepy limbo time. But the message of the gospel, like the message of Jesus, runs counter to our expectations. Jesus tells us not to sleepwalk through our waiting times, but instead to take on a spirit of being aware, alive, active, and engaged. This might mean that we find creative ways to refuse the prevalent culture of consumerism that dictates much of the secular Christmas season. Instead, our advent waiting could involve serving a meal at a soup kitchen or listening to a friend in need, despite the busyness of these days. It could mean that we meditate on how this is a time of newness and renewal for us. Instead of making New Year’s resolutions as our culture insists, we might decide on a new path now. Today.
The Christian mystics and Buddhists, Saint Ignatius and the Norbertines teach us much about an energetic spirit of waiting, about active contemplation. They teach us to seek mindfulness in our activities, to experience deep relaxation in the midst of deep awareness. These seeming contradictions can in fact direct our paths as we progress through this new liturgical year and advent season. Let us wake up to consider these ending days as beginning days, and this beginning as part of an ending, too.