Advent is anticipatory: the glorious in-between, somehow suggesting the sheer veils that waft between past, present and future. It is a space for lingering, treading lightly, remembering. Advent glows with treasure: the tenderness of the waiting and wanting, the cradle of becoming. Yet, it exists in a frenzied secular structure that obscures Advent’s most meaningful invitations: to quiet reflection and contentment of purpose, focus on meaning.
In the bustle of holiday magic and the pressure of seasonal gatherings, the blur of shopping expeditions and celebrations, and the stressful demands of ordinary life, how can Advent be lived? What sort of experience can be most meaningful for now?
The readings of the day focus on that very element of uncertainty, on the way to focus on what might seems ambiguous or even meaningless to someone else. The Gospel message in Matthew 24:42 makes that very clear: “Keep awake…for you do not know on what day the Lord is coming.” To be awake means to be attentive, to be open and to be observant. As much as Advent is about waiting, it is also about staying awake. Staying awake means so much more than simply being physically present.
Stayng awake means daring to take a moment to step aside, to breath deeply, to know for a moment the richness of the life we are called to live. That can happen anywhere: on line in a grocery store waiting at a gas station, struggling with phone features. It may be a moment unlocked to share with a neighbor, take time with the elderly, or even allowing a driver to merge ahead of you.
Staying awake means being attuned and honest about the intricacies of self. It is easy to miss the emotional flailing of the season, the frustration of shopping and the shortness of time. It is a busy time of year, but if you are stressed, use that bit of knowledge for making choices. De-stress before anger flares and tension escalates. If you are weary, try a cat nap. Put the activities aside, and focus on what matters, like health and well-being. You cannot do for others if you are spent. So cutting back can be considerate, and begging off can actually be a service to another.
Pressure to produce has its own rewards; there is a thrill to striking through the items on a to-do list. The pressure to BE may be less visible, but it is no less rewarding if we let it happen. There are the natural social interactions and exchanges, the unanticipated feedback from folks at the gym or colleagues in a break room. In the rush of things, those moments are easily lost. But that may be exactly where goodness is waiting to be shared and exchanged. That might be a great reason to stay awake.
Staying awake means recognizing those spaces where God is waiting. It means choosing to do less and be more. It means allowing days to reveal themselves rather than be buried in the demands of a to-do list that is bursting with good intentions. These opening days of Advent are an invitation to a new beginning, a way of living that invites both purpose and becoming. Staying awake is just the start.