“But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
“Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”
Mark 13:32-37 NIV
“But Gaga, I need you to listen with your eyes!”
Apparently, I wasn’t paying very good attention. It had been a long, active day with the W’s (the grandsons), who at that point were 8, 6 and 4. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, the three of them together are like a hurricane...except that you want them to hang around for a good while. I was worn slam out, as we say in the South, and all I wanted was to take a little mental vacation and let it all pass in front of me for a while. So I was catching up on my newsfeed when Wallace Warren tried to get my attention. “Yes, dear,” I said, distractedly, “what did you say?” “You’re not listening!” he complained. “Of course, I’m listening,” I replied, smiling absently and scrolling down further and further. “But Gaga,” he insisted, “I need you to listen with your eyes!” Uh oh, I thought. Busted. The child knows full well that I’m paying only very partial attention. “Sorry!” I apologized, “just trying to do two things at once! Multi-tasking, you know!” He was not impressed. “But I don’t want you to do mul-ti-tas-king,” he said, struggling over the word, “I want you to do me!” I put down my phone, gave him my full and undivided attention, and things got better right away. “Gaga,” he intoned adorably, twining his little arms around my neck, “I just want to tell you that I love you.” I felt my heart strangely warmed.
It still chills me to the bone to think that I might have missed that moment were it not for his 4 year old persistence. And I keep wondering how much else I’ve missed because I wasn’t “listening with my eyes.” The omnipresence of so many screens and so much instant communication has rendered many of us half-witted, at best. Even when we don’t have our heads bent over our devices, we’re often fractionated; all the information overload has trained our minds to prefer distraction. Which means that we’re seldom really where we are; rarely are we fully present to ourselves, to God, or to anyone else. In other words, friends, we are quite literally missing our own lives. And we’re not going to get another one just because we glazed over on this one.
Into this vast morass of “multitasking” (as we so proudly call it) comes the season of Advent with its clarion call: Be on guard. Keep alert. Stay awake. Or, as Jesus himself phrases it: “I say to you what I say to all: Watch!” Because, to put it bluntly, you just never know what might happen, nor when...witness the last 9 months. Most important of all, you just never know when Jesus might show up unexpectedly, as he did the first time around in Bethlehem (all those prophecies to the contrary notwithstanding), and as he’s promised to do again, in a big way, at his Second Coming in glory. This is the promise of our Savior: the only way to be ready for his arrival is to stay alert and keep looking for him. Half-hearted attention won’t cut it.
Yes, I know; all of that sounds pretty dire, and I’ve never been much of a hell-and-brimstone preacher. I still deplore attempts to terrify people into believing. Nonetheless, I’ve always quaked in my boots when reading the Advent gospel lessons; there’s something sorta scary and strange and well, apocalyptic, about all those “You Better Watch Out” warnings of Jesus. But then I remembered Wallace Warren’s long ago words, “But, Gaga, I want you to listen with your eyes!” Now I’ve realized that there’s another way to read those words from Jesus. There’s something kind of touching, something almost heart-rending about Jesus’ insistence that we keep watch for his return. The Savior wants us to be waiting for him when he comes again, no matter when that might be. After all, who wants to to come back and find nobody waiting for them? Apparently, not even Jesus.
All that remains is to figure out how we’re supposed to do it. Over the centuries, the Church has come up with various aids to attention: the season of Advent itself, with its 4 Sunday countdown; the Advent wreath, with its 4 Sundays of candle lighting; a veritable plethora of prayers and hymns and traditions attached to those very Sundays, all meant to help us hear and heed the call of Advent. But even the aids themselves can sometimes get to be distracting. This year, some of them just won’t be able to happen, and maybe that’s a gift in disguise. Maybe, just maybe, the best way to prepare for the celebration of Jesus‘ birth - and maybe the best way to prepare to welcome him in his promised return, as well - is to keep watch for where Jesus might be showing up in our own everyday lives. That’s a way we can wake up this morning, or this afternoon or tonight; a way we can train ourselves to keep watch and stay alert to the presence of Jesus, right now. All we have to do is to turn our full attention to the present moment, and ask ourselves where Jesus might be waiting to meet us...in the co-workers on our Zoom call, in the next-door neighbors, in our spouses, or children, or friends. Something tells me we will find Jesus in a lot of unanticipated people and places, just waiting for us to “listen with our eyes.”
How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven.
No ear may hear his coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him, still the dear Christ enters in.
Lord Jesus Christ, open our eyes to see you, our ears to hear you, and our hearts to welcome you, wherever and whenever you appear. Amen.
Pastor Susan Pate Greenwood