Friday, December 16, 2005

Sleepwalking Through Advent

Advent is the season of watching and waiting. It is a season of hopeful expectation. It is a season of preparation. As the paper fills with news of torture and domestic spying it is tempting to roll over and go back to sleep.

But, above all, this is a season of and for wakefulness.

Of course we know that wakefulness is not always easy. We want to turn away from what is difficult. We want the solace of sleep. This is nothing new under the sun.

Jesus’ disciples turned away from the terror in the Garden of Gethsemane and they fell asleep. Their sleep did not stop the crucifixion. Nor did it stop the resurrection. Their sleep did not stop the radical reorientation of life that is the gospel, and, of course, neither will ours. As the psalmist says, “In peace I will both lay myself down and sleep, for you, Yahweh alone, make me live in safety.” When the terror is too much, when the valley of the shadow is too deep, God promises to be with us, and keep watch over us as flocks in the night.

Nevertheless, we are called to wakefulness. Even now, in the midst of a season of great darkness; especially now when such a season cries out desperately for light and more light. For advent means coming, and we are called to be awake to what is being born in our very midst.

And what is that, or, more to the point, who is that begin born here and now among us?

It is the one who calls us to awake; the one whose coming radically reorients all of life, even our definitions of what is lowly, what is weak, what is broken.

As Bonhoeffer put it, “Where the understanding is outraged, where human nature rebels, where our piety keeps a nervous distance: there, precisely there, God loves to be; there [God] baffles the wisdom of the wise; there [God] vexes our nature, our religious instincts. There [God] wants to be. … God in lowliness – that is the revolutionary, the passionate word of Advent.”[1]

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Mystery of Holy Night (New York: Crossroad, 1997) 8.

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