Staying awake for Advent absurdities

Based on Lectionary readings for the first Sunday of Advent:  Isaiah 2:1-5, Matthew 24:36-44, Romans 13:11-14.

Colombia Christmas
This photo is from the Day of the Little Candles (Dia de las Velitas), in Bogotá, Colombia. It’s the official start of Christmas, where families light candles at night for each member of the family and to welcome and guide Mary on her journey to Bethlehem.

Most November days I find it difficult to wake up. The mornings are dark with days getting shorter, the nights are colder, trees are bare and in Ottawa at least snow often doesn’t come until December to cover the dead leaves and brown grass. Most days I’d prefer to sleep until maybe Easter.

And yet the scripture passages for the first Sunday of Advent call us to awake from sleep and stay awake. But for what? Do we stay awake for a new natural disaster somewhere in the world each month, or more reports of gang violence in our cities, or higher unemployment rates?

None of these really seem like good incentives to stay awake. A nice long quiet nap seems much more preferable.

When it comes to the beginning of Advent, though, scripture calls us to prepare for the unexpected and the world certainly does have its unexpected surprises.

Learning that the people of Colombia rejected a peace accord that could have ended over fifty years of violent conflict was certainly surprising to me. Waking up on Nov. 9 to learn that Donald Trump had become president-elect of the US was certainly unexpected for many people, and even absurd to some. Hearing that Syria continues to be bombed when there is nothing left to bomb, except for the injured and the destitute, seems sadly absurd.

However, the promises in Isaiah 2 are equally absurd. The idea of nations giving up war forever seems absurd in the extreme. And while being able to witness swords being beaten into ploughshares would certainly be unexpected and worth staying awake for, I have a feeling the wait may be long.

However, waiting, and staying awake while we do it, seems to be what Advent is about.

Throughout Advent, we’ll wait patiently to celebrate joyously the birth of Jesus Christ while hoping for peace in a world filled with conflict. We’ve done it all before and we’ll do it all again next year.

Sometimes we feel frenzied or anxious as we stay awake waiting, while at other times we are able to be contemplative as we quietly keep watch. But what we are waiting for never changes. As we wait we continue to long for the usual promised gifts of hope, joy, peace and love, even when they may seem absurd in our current realities.

Advent’s gifts or absurdities—depending on your perspective—are also blessings and when we are called to keep awake, we are also called to recognize the needs and sorrows present around us.

This first Sunday of Advent we are called to live and wait in hope. For as absurd as it may seem, the baby born 2,000 years ago in lowly circumstances did change the world. And as the passages in Matthew and Romans remind us, Christ will return and when he does the world will experience full transformation.

During these dark months, as we keep awake to wait for the light, may we find ways to share our hope with a broken world in desperate need of a little Advent absurdity.

By Monica Scheifele, Program Assistant for the Ottawa Office.

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