This weekend’s Gospel from Matthew marks the beginning of a new liturgical year and the first Sunday of Advent. In today’s Gospel, we hear Jesus speak with his disciples about the importance of wakefulness or readiness.
On the first reading of today’s gospel, it sounds really scary, as though if we are not awake and ready, we will be ‘left behind’. It seems like such a strange gospel for the first week of Advent, the week when we are encouraged to reflect on hope. Yet, if we explore the context in which it was written we can discover a transformative understanding of what it means to hope and wait.
The historical community being addressed by this text were caught in the in-between. Many Biblical scholars believe that the Gospel of Matthew was addressing a mixed community in Syria that were culturally in a tug of war between Jews and Gentiles in the developing Christian faith. They were trying to understand how to follow Jesus and embrace his teachings without abandoning what they already knew. They were also waiting for a new age free of idolatry, sin, injustice, violence, sickness, and exploitation. It is in this in-between context that the Christian community were called to actively hope, to keep living faithfully as Jesus taught them to live.
Our context today is not too different. We too live in a world of division, injustice, and violence. It can be easy to become fatigued witnessing to hope in the face of the brokenness of the world, yet as Christians we are called to keep living faithfully as Jesus taught us to live.
But what does this have to do with “staying awake”?
The text talks about staying awake to prevent a thief from breaking into the house, but protecting our possessions is not what Jesus talked about in his ministry. The point of keeping awake is not so much about the wakefulness, because no one can function without sleep, it is more about what are we doing with our consciousness. Are we being truly present to those around us or are we so busy and focussed on ourselves that we are not aware of what is happening around us? When we are truly ‘awake’ and paying attention, we can see the needs in the world around us.
So, throughout this Advent season as we wait in anticipation for the coming of the Lord, may we challenge ourselves to be ‘wakefully’ present to the world around us and live faithfully as Jesus taught us to live.