First Sunday of Advent

KEEPING AWAKE DURING ADVENT

Have you ever found yourself physically present, but mentally or spiritually disengaged? Let me tell you… this happens to me often enough for me to write reflections about it. It happens to all of us, especially now that Advent is upon us.

During this Advent season, we are invited to be fully present in anticipation for Christ’s birth, and all that comes with it. The great irony is that we are over-stimulated by the culture of the Christmas season that tries so desperately to make us fully present and “awake”.

Today’s Gospel reading begins with Jesus telling His disciples, “Beware, keep alert,” and reiterates, “keep awake” more than once. This reading from Mark has a sense of anticipation, of urgency: these unknown happenings are impending. And like a newborn infant arriving, we must expect all kinds of spiritual births. This is what Advent is: the preparation for a new beginning! Wouldn’t you want to be awake for that? So what does “keeping awake” mean for us today?

Often in this time of year, we are told that it is best to avoid the cultural-secular hustle-bustle altogether. We might be told that it is a distraction from what is really important, and to just tune it all out. Instead, I challenge you this Advent and Christmas season, to engage fully with the traditions and experiences that you and your loved ones enjoy most.

When you are preparing baked goods and cooking meals, take a moment to smell, taste and chew what you have labored over. When you are hosting or attending an event, recognize how loved you are, and how many among us crave authentic fellowship. When you are shopping for a special someone’s gift, recognize what importance person is in your life, and what ways he or she has become a gift to you. Instead of mindlessly trudging through the holiday season with a to-do list, take a moment to savour it. These are incarnate, momentary encounters with goodness.

Anticipation is what Advent is about. As Catholics, we have a deepened understanding of what these secularized signs and symbols (like Santa Claus, snowmen, twinkle lights and elves) are pointing toward: awe-struck, joyful, elated expectancy. For it is in these joyful engagements that we find what Jesus was talking about – the true gift of beginning, belonging, and believing.