In the Gospel reading for last Sunday, Advent 1, Jesus warns his hearers about the future. The short version of what is says is, “Wake up! There is going to be a catastrophic event some day. Don’t be caught off guard!” Jesus seems to be making the point that we are spiritual sleepwalkers and need to wake up.
What is spiritual sleepwalking? Perhaps it means we have become so accustomed to hearing about murder and other acts of violence in our community that we are become desensitized to the horror. At worst we don’t notice; at best we shake our heads and say, “What’s the world coming to.” But are we truly outraged--outraged enough to try to change the systems that foster such violence? If we’re sleepwalking, the answer is probably “No. Not really.” Jesus says, “Wake up!”
Sleepwalking can cause us to allow our purpose in life to shrink to the mundane without even noticing. Once we may have believed we were called to something noble in life or that we could somehow make a difference. But over time, we may lose our passion and sense of mission. I know in my own case, the idealism of my twenties has suffered from my nodding off from time to time. It takes my spiritual chin hitting my chest to rouse me to the creeping cynicism that has set in. “Wake up,” Jesus says.
Sleepwalking results from a slow mist gathering over our spiritual eyes that allows us to miss that our moral compasses is swinging away from true north. In light of the number of local public officials that have been found to be less than fiscally trustworthy in the last several years, I’ve asked myself how this happened. I suspect the first time they stuck their hands in the cookie jar, it was with some trepidation, guilt, perhaps even fear. When they got away with it, the second time was easier. Eventually, it was the new normal as the mist slowly but certainly clouded over their eyes. While none of us is likely to have this level of sleepwalking, we might look to the “smaller” ways in which we have done the same: the fudging on income tax deductions, the unreported income, the pens and paper clips that have come home from work with us, the sick days when we weren’t sick at all. Jesus says, “Wake up!”
One more example of sleepwalking will be enough. Human life is fragile. The end often happens well before we’re ready. We’ve all heard stories of the people who quarrelled just before one left for a journey. Maybe their last words were, “Go to hell!” And then one of them dies in a wreck or from a heart attack. We end up wishing our last words were, “I love you,” but it’s too late. Again, in my own case, I’ve procrastinated making a phone call to a friend for no good reason at all only to learn my friend has succumbed to cancer or organ failure. We need to be awake to the transience of life rather than sleepwalking. If we were, we would find many more opportunities to be compassionate, supportive, or just plain nice to others. “Wake up!” Jesus says.
Advent is a time of expectation. A time when we prepare ourselves to see the wonder of Jesus’ first and second coming with new eyes, to re-appreciate what it means for us. Jesus says, to do that well, “Wake up!”