Our readings for this First Sunday of Advent reiterate God’s promise to send a savior, one who will bring justice and safety and security. They encourage the members of the Christian community to continue to love each other. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus urges us to pray for strength and to “be vigilant at all times” (21:36).
I don’t know about you, but for me, safety and security sound like a nice dream but awfully far away from the reality in which we live. People who come to the US seeking safety are met with violence, and the number of hate crimes throughout the country keeps rising. I would love some assurance of safety – not just for me (who rests in enough privilege to feel a sense of actual safety) – but for people who are genuinely not safe but instead are threatened and fearful. It is easy to be discouraged. We know that Jesus, the One we’ve been waiting for, has come into the world. How long must we wait to experience a world of safety for the most vulnerable?
Even though this Advent season is about hopeful waiting, there is still a twinge of sadness in it for me. The fulfillment of the Kingdom of God is still not yet. It’s that not-yet-ness of the season that sometimes makes my mood during Advent pensive. We are still a people waiting in darkness. The kingdom is still becoming. By the kingdom, I don’t mean heaven, by the way. I mean the Kingdom of God now. I mean the reordering of the world so that division is eradicated and love is the foundation. I mean the last being first and the first last, with everyone sharing what they have until everyone has enough. I mean the Beloved Community whose members love and share even in their diversity. I long for it. I see it in glimpses sometimes – in our small group sharing, in playing with my sweet nieces, in listening to my wise older sisters – but I don’t know it in its fullness. I hope for it. And wait for it.
Advent is a time of waiting, to be sure, but as I reflect on these readings, I see how passive my waiting is. I am looking for someone outside of me to do something about the state of the world, but maybe Advent waiting is not meant to be a passive activity at all.
Jesus offers a call in our Advent waiting: Do not become drowsy. Stay vigilant. In other words, stay woke.
Many of us are familiar with the expression “stay woke,” but just in case you’re not, I’ll offer a simplistic explanation of a phrase with a history rooted in the Black Lives Matter Movement (and I hope you do some research to find out more about it). But for now, I’ll say that it is an invitation to connect with the reality of the injustices of our time (particularly racism), whether they affect us directly or not. It’s a call to examine our own privilege and to educate ourselves about the intricacies of justice issues and the web of people affected by them. It’s an invitation to deepen awareness and to take action.
Jesus’s invitation to vigilance and his caution against drowsiness is a call to become woke. Don’t sit on your butts and wait around for heaven. Wake up, take an honest look at yourself and the signs of the times, pray for strength, and do something to work toward the fulfillment of the Kingdom.
So, there is hope in our waiting, even during discouraging times. The hope is in God, and God is also in us – in God’s Spirit present in our prayer, in each other, and in our efforts to become woke, our striving to grow into the people God is creating us to be. It’s in our community-building and care for each other, a mirror of God’s care for us.
Let’s not sit in idle waiting, but in attentive, action-oriented waiting that strives to bring about the Kingdom of God.
by Sister Leslie Keener, CDP