William Hogarth, The Sleeping Congregation

First Sunday of Advent: Keep awake!

Image: William Hogarth, The Sleeping Congregation, 1736.

From Mark 13:24-37:

Jesus said, “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. … Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.

In the weeks before Christmas, many churches proclaim Bible readings on the themes of darkness and light, of wakeness and sleepness. Jesus calls his followers to awakeness, to alertness, to attention to the world around them. But many people outside the church know that frequently our churches are “resting places.” That is, they are places to remain spiritually asleep: to seek shelter from the difficulties of the world, to pretend they aren’t there and to replace the hardness of life with sweet stories and dreams.

In the words of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., from his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail:”

I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: “Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother.” In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

In this season, Jesus cannot call us to “pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities” for Jesus call us to wake up from our slumber. So frequently the Bible says that God “opens our eyes” to see and understand. Our hymns sing of Jesus who comes to us as a light. In the words of Archbishop Oscar Romero, “a light turned on awakens and of course annoys a sleeper.”

Are your eyes open? What do you see? What bothers and annoys you about what you see? What does God want you to see? And, having seen, how is God calling you to change and to act in the light of what you see?