Some nights I find myself tossing and turning, unable to sleep. Like a low hum, something keeps me from settling into rest. It is a challenge of aging I suppose, as no medical reason has been found. Often, I find myself waiting by reading or praying. When I do the latter, I often think of the need to spiritually stay awake while considering the importance of sleep – I know that is when God does God’s best work. Maybe that’s the paradox, in order to stay awake spiritually, we need to be rested physically and emotionally. It is all a mystery to me.
In today’s Gospel from Matthew however, Jesus is very clear when he says:
Therefore, stay awake!
What are we to make of this command?
We are entering the season of Advent. It is a time of year, at least for those of us in the northern hemisphere when the darkness comes earlier and earlier each day. The weather turns colder and less pleasant as well, often showering us with rain or snow. Many of us want to hurry home from work to change into comfy clothes and zone out in front of our screens, dreaming of longer, warmer days. That is not what we are called to though, we are called to stand in these ever-darkening days and stay awake as we wait for the coming light of the Christ child.
It can be so hard to wait and harder yet to stay awake as we do so I find myself thinking about the same admonition from Jesus, the one we hear during Holy Week. Whether it is a time of being born or a time of dying, Jesus wants us to remain awake. To remain awake means to remain present with him. That is what he asks, and that is what we so often cannot offer. We fidget, we multitask, we fiddle with our phones, scrolling with wild abandon, we text, sigh, and complain. Yet we are invited to settle into this time with hopeful expectation.
Can we do it? Waiting is hard, staying awake at the right time is harder still. Yet with Advent beginning, we need to be ready to do both with joy. How will we find the resilience to do it? By relying on the One for whom we wait. Christ Jesus will be born in us, but we must make a space for him and with presence wait, undiscouraged by the darkness. Our light will come in Him. I’m ready to wait, wide awake – will you join me? I cannot do it alone.