First Sunday in Advent

by Matthew B. Harper

So then let us not sleep, as others do but let us keep awake and be sober.

(1 Thessalonians 5:1-11)

Today we light the first candle of our Advent wreaths. A candle that welcomes light into our world, and a light in the window to wait for our coming Savior.

‘Let us keep awake and be sober’ cries Paul to the Thessalonians. What a difficult command this is to us. In our culture, in prison and out, we do not want to wait or be sober. Instant gratification and indulgence are the mantras of the culture. But seeking the desert, as Jesus did after his baptism, was about being quiet, and waiting on God. When we create stillness, then there is room in our lives for God to fill.

As a child I loved to devour the toy catalogs. As Christmas approached I would make longer and longer lists of the things that I ‘just had to have.’ In prison I am prone to do the same. I read my magazines and books full of boats, and scuba diving, and in my mind I make my lists. But I have to wait, and wait. In prison I have had to learn patience, it has been forced upon me. It has not been easy, but it has been a gift. I am learning how to be quiet and present to reality, and neither to live in my past or my future.

We stay busy. This time of year we seldom slow down even for a moment. In prison I work hard to stay occupied with productive things. But the hardest spiritual work there is often comes when we do less, and do it better. When we find times to deliberately slow down, and quiet down, to spend time with God.

I have my dreams, and sometimes they console me while the pain and longing grips me; but when the pain is the most intense, and the yearning reaches to the depths of my heart; in those times I cannot dream, I can only grow quiet and sit safe in the hand of God.

Hark! A thrilling voice is sounding. “Christ is nigh,” it seems to say; “Cast away the works of darkness, O ye children of the day.” (Hymn 59)

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