The time of advent is not only the beginning of the cycle of the Christian liturgical calendar, although it is that and its significance is that we wait for the coming of God. Advent also signals a constant and perpetual state of the spiritual life, namely, that we always and everyday are under judgment and might be called to account. “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” So we should wake up and live each day as if it were our last. We should not be like those who carried on unwittingly while Noah prepared for the flood. Remember the two men in the field, one taken and one left behind. Remember the two women at the grist mill, one taken and one left behind. “Keep awake therefore,” said Jesus in Matthew’s account.
Now Jesus did not mean that we should prepared to die today in a literal sense, although death will take some people today. He did not mean that you should forget your exams and term papers, tempting as that might be this week. Or that you should not prepare for a distant career. Or that you should leap to instant gratification at the sacrifice of discipline and investment in long term goods. It was Omar Khayyam, not Jesus, who said “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”
What Jesus meant was something more like this: are you doing what you really want and should do? If so, then throw yourself into it with all the passion that comes with knowing that God is therefore in your heart, mind, and muscles. Or are you hiding from life? Is your current occupation a way to avoid what your heart says is your real calling? Are your current friends people who facilitate suppressing the flaws of your soul that need fixing? Do they keep you from loving those people you should? Does your current way of life prevent you from prioritizing your efforts correctly? Are you honest and open about your heart’s desires, your sexuality, your deepest ambitions? If you are living as if this were not God’s kingdom, to use that ancient symbol, but were the kingdom of this world where we hope we can get to the end covered by our deceits, Wake Up, says Jesus.
In many of the Advent texts, including ours from Matthew that was read the first Sunday in Advent, the warnings of judgment are pretty stark, and reflect first century apocalypticism. Wake up, so you won’t be condemned to some kind of eternal punishment. But remember that the core meaning of Advent is the incarnation, that God comes to us. So reflect, if you will, on the words of our hymn. “Lo, how a Rose e’er blooming from tender stem hath sprung! Of Jesse’s lineage coming, as those of old have sung. It came, a floweret bright, amid the cold of winter, when half spent was the night. Isaiah ‘twas foretold it, the Rose I have in mind; with Mary we behold it, the Virgin Mother kind. To show God’s love aright, she bore to us a Savior, when half spent was the night.”
The Advent of God in Christ reminds us that we perpetually live under the judgment of the ultimate perspective. But that need not be frightening. Do you not want to be seen by the ultimate lover? Do you not exaggerate your faults to those you fear and hope might love you, so that they know what they are getting into if they come to you in friendship? Do we not test God by saying, with some symbols or other, you surely can’t mean to accept and redeem such a wretch as I who have done x, y, z, and have screwed up everything else? Of course we want to be seen in all our faults and love anyway! That is what Advent is about. No matter how we fail, sleep, sin, or deceive ourselves, God is coming anyway. These texts remind us that we cannot help but be loved, and that we would be a lot happier if we would just wake up to that fact. “To show God’s love aright, she bore to us a Savior, when half spent was the night.”