Keeping Awake in Advent

Watch ye, for ye know not when the master of the house cometh…

…at even, or at midnight, or at the cock-crowing, or in the morning;

lest coming suddenly he find you sleeping.

Mark 13:35, 36

The opening sentence in Morning Prayer (Rite I) during Advent quotes the gospel appointed for our first Sunday of this expectant season: Mark 13:24-37. What is rendered “watch ye” by the early modern reformers is translated “beware, keep alert” in our gospel reading this Sunday, each a translation of the Greek word that Mark uses three times in this short passage: grégoreó.

(Continue Reading…) It is a powerful word, fitting for Mark who prefers the shorter, more abrupt, action-packed, straight-to-the-point narrative style. The word means literally, with all the exclamatory vim you can muster, “STAY AWAKE!” If you were just starting to feel your eyes getting heavy and your head beginning to bob with slumber, this word busts into to the room and shakes your shoulders, shouting: “Wake up!”

I am mindful of my two-year old daughter who comes running into our room every morning at the break of dawn, climbs up into our bed, and tries to open my eyeballs for me, exclaiming: “I waked up, daddy!” Implying, of course, that I must therefore wake up, too. So much for alarm clocks. Luckily, she understands that I then need coffee. Unluckily, she can as yet only “pretend make it” from her kitchen set.

Our early modern forebears preferred the word “watch,” in the sense of “keeping watch” or “vigil.” But it is one in the same word and concept, stemming from the Old English wœcce, “watchfulness,” or wœccende, “remaining awake.” The idea here is fighting off that urge to just “rest our eyes” because something so important is about to happen we just cannot miss it.

We don’t usually think of this season as an especially languorous time. Usually it’s the exact opposite. We’ve barely begun putting the Thanksgiving dinner into Tupperware when somewhere the seasonal starting pistol is sounded and the mad dash to Christmas begins. From Black Friday to Christmas Eve, it’s just one big, frenetic scramble of travel arrangements, lights, shopping, meal prep, and year-end busyness. And then, in what seems like an instantaneous blur, it’s suddenly all over and we’re back to work after the New Year. Hardly a December to remember.

St Mark’s invitation to us this Advent is to remain awake and watchful amid all the holiday hubbub. God has promised to be with us, God is with us––if only we have the wakeful eyes to see.

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Stay awake and focused on the coming of Christ this Advent. Get your Advent wreath and find devotionals for you and your loved ones here. And use an Advent calendar to help you mark the time and count down the days to Christmas. And Forward Movement has some wonderful Advent devotionals here.