WAKE UP! STAY AWAKE!
Is 2:1-5; Rom 13:11-14a; Matt 24:35-44
Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of a new liturgical calendar of the Church. On this day, following the readings that the Church puts forward for our reflection, Christians are invited to stay spiritually awake and to prepare for the Lord’s coming at the Parousia or second coming. The call is to “wake up” (Rom 13:11) and “stay wake” (Mt 24:43). “Waking up” does not imply that we are literally in state of deep sleep, although some people are perennially in that state! What it means is to wake up from spiritual slumber. In short, it is a call for self-examination.
- THE HYPNOTIC CONDITION OF GOD’S PEOPLE, WHOM WE ARE
In the second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans (13:11-14), the Apostle to the Gentiles exhorts the Christians in Rome that this is the hour to awake from their sleep, “for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness (and) put on the armor of light. The Greek word for sleep is “hypnos,” (Rom 13:11), which is the root of the word to be “hypnotized”. People can easily become so accustomed to the normalcy of evil that they seem to live under its spell, as if hypnotized by a power outside themselves so much so that they cannot discern or dislodge themselves from its grip.
In today’s Gospel reading from Matthew (24:37-44), Noah’s contemporaries were unprepared for the flood. They ate and drank and married. They did not dream of an event that would mark the end of time as they knew it. They were so caught up in everyday affairs that they failed to take precautions against the flood. They seemed hypnotized. The gospel text tells three parables in order to remind us of the necessity of vigilance, and staying awake, in preparation for the Second Coming which has no “estimated time of arrival.” In the verses (Mtt 24:40-41): “Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left”, the former probably means taken into the kingdom; the latter, left for destruction. People in the same situation will be dealt with in opposite ways. In this context, the discrimination between them will be based on their readiness for the coming of the Son of Man. The theme of vigilance and readiness is continued with the bold comparison of the Son of Man to a thief who comes to break into a house (Mtt 23:42-44).
During this time of Advent, we are posed the question: “What are the hypnotic conditions that we experience without our consciousness of them?” The exhortation of St. Paul, in the Second Reading highlights the whole idea of staying awake. There, in that text, we can see four different pieces of advice given by the Apostle:
- KEEP PERSPECTIVE
Paul tells us that we must understand the present time. We need to know what is going on. We must wake from our slumber and realize where we are. We need to understand that we live in a world that is hostile to the things of God. We are living in Satan’s domain. The values of our society are not the values of the Kingdom of God. We need to understand that this world is not our home.
Talking about “waking up from sleep”, it is like someone who takes a nap in the afternoon and suddenly wakes up. At first, he/she looks dazed, not recalling what day it is or what time it is. It might take several minutes for him/her to gain perspective and gain his/her bearing. We also need to recognize that our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. St. Paul takes cognizance of the fact that many believers are living in a spiritual stupor. They are just going along without any real direction or purpose. Such people seem to be in a kind of spiritual coma. Paul’s cry is for us to “Wake Up!” We understand that we could die or Jesus could return at any time. Paul suggests that those who understand this fact will change the way they live. He uses the metaphor of changing clothes. He says that we need to change from the “deeds of darkness to the armor of light.”
- GET DRESSED
St. Paul says, “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light.” Imagine someone who is still in his/her pajamas well into the day. Such a person is not really “up and going”. It is when one has showered, dressed, and gotten ready to go that the feeling of ‘just loafing’ disappears. (This is for normal people; because some people don’t ever see themselves out of place with their pajamas on even at midday.) St. Paul is saying that too many believers are still in their pajamas. They have declared their faith, they are sure of their salvation, they believe that are headed for heaven, but they are not dressed and ready to go. When we understand that we are living on borrowed time either because of the imminent (or any time now) return of Christ or because we realize that we are not guaranteed a single day, we would not waste another moment. It is time to put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. It is time to on the move. In 1Thessalonians 5:6-8, St. Paul further cautions us: “So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.”
- ACT APPROPRIATELY
Next St. Paul tells us in that second reading, that we should put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. He asks us to behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. First, we are called to live as in the daylight. In other words, we should live our lives as if others are watching us. Second, we should get rid of the things that erode our relationship with God. Paul gives us a representative list: “not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy.” Our job is to get focused on what is truly important. We only have so much time and we ought not to waste it playing with the Devil. Instead we are to clothe ourselves in Christ. That sounds good but the question is, “What does it mean?”
It means trying to develop the character traits of Jesus. A certain spiritual writer, Ray Pritchard, makes a list,
v Put on his holiness.
v Put on his beauty.
v Put on his humility.
v Put on his purity.
v Put on his compassion.
v Put on his wisdom.
v Put on his forgiveness.
v Put on his righteousness.
v Put on his zeal.
v Put on his patience.
v Put on his love.
- THINK CORRECTLY
St. Paul concludes by saying, “Do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” Here, Paul may be saying, “Don’t waste your time on these things by even thinking about them.” Instead of wasting our time thinking of sinful things, fantasizing about sin, and imagining ways to justify our behavior, let us just live the right way. Furthermore, the Apostle, Paul warns us of the fact that thinking often leads to acting. When we imagine things long enough, we wear down our resistance and find ourselves doing that which we thought we would never do. In this case, St. Paul is telling us to keep a strong watch over our minds. We must decide right now that we are going to say “No” to sin. We cannot negotiate with temptation! We need to remove ourselves from things that easily get us thinking in the wrong way. We need to be careful where we go on the Internet, what we watch on TV, what movies we watch, and what people we hang around with and what games we play. We must not indulge the sinful nature!
- NO LONGER BUSINESS AS USUAL
Advent reminds us that it is no longer business as usual. Something new is about to happen. This is the holy season of longing and waiting for the Messiah. We are called to take stock of what we are doing and how we are living, so that we do not become like the people of Noah’s time who were so caught up in everyday affairs that they failed to take precautions against the flood.
The color of liturgical vestments in Advent is purple, symbolizing the character of the season which is one of repentance and conversion. But unlike the season of Lent, Advent season emphasizes that we must repent for the coming of the Lord is near. The season of Advent is an opportune moment for us to prepare for the coming of Christ on Christmas and for His second coming. We must all eagerly anticipate this coming by making our hearts renewed and filled with love and goodness.
It is time for us to take off our pajamas get dressed and ready for action. During advent, our physical preparation which is more evident should be coupled by a spiritual preparation. Conversion is not only associated with the Lenten season. It is also applicable during Advent season. The conversion should include the conversion of our hearts. There has to be a movement from selfishness to selflessness; from being stingy to being generous. Indeed, generosity is a meaningful spirit of the season.
Let us pray to God that He may give us His grace of waiting so that we may become more vigilant and still awake when He will come again.