My family is originally from Pittsburgh (Go Steelers). We moved down to Richmond right before I started kindergarten, and so almost every holiday, we would travel back to the ‘Burgh to go see my Grandma and the rest of my relatives.
While it wasn’t a terribly long drive — maybe 6 hours or so — it sometimes felt like an eternity to my little sister and me. So we resorted to various tactics to make the trip go a little faster. Snacks helped pass the time. Music did too. But the most magical way to pass the time… was sleep.
If we managed to get a solid nap in, we could wake up and be half-way to our destination without even realizing it. In a blink of an eye, you could already be practically to Grandma’s house — if you could just fall asleep.
Now this strategy certainly works beautifully for road trips, flights and train rides — but it does not work for life.
Your life has a destination. You were created with a goal, a definitive end, in mind. You are not an accident. You were hand-crafted by a God who loved you into existence. He is our destination, and the Church — the Body of Christ, the Sacrament of Salvation — is the vehicle that will take us straight to Him. Pope Francis recently tweeted the following: “We do not live aimlessly and without destination. We are awaited. We are precious. God has prepared for us the most worthy and beautiful place: Paradise.”
It doesn’t take long to realize, however, that we’re not there yet. In fact, we have a long way to go. We’re still on the way. And if we’re honest, the road ahead looks impossibly long, dangerous, and… tiresome. It might be tempting to think: Can’t we just fall sleep and wake up when we’re closer to the destination? Can’t we snooze right through the majority of this trip? Make it go faster, God! I don’t want to have to do the hard work of waiting!
Let me slump into my usual, comfortable hibernation — Netflix binging, dirty websites, food and drink, distractions, sports, online shopping, the constant stream of 24-hour news. Let me dream about being successful, financially secure, and wildly popular. I’m too tired for virtue or penance. I’m too exhausted to enter into spiritual warfare. Let me just rest my eyes! It’s no big deal. Wake me up when we’re closer to the destination!
Temptations to fall asleep like this are even harder to resist at this particular moment in history. Let’s face it — we are all feeling really worn out right about now. The year 2020 has been absolutely exhausting in so many ways. I bet most of us really do wish that we could just go to sleep and wake up when all of this is over. Wouldn’t it be nice just to doze off and wake up halfway to Paradise?
But here comes the rude awakening: That is not an option for us: That is not an option for Christians.
Jesus, our Master, tells us point blank: “Be watchful! Be alert! May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’”
In other words: Stay awake! Keep your eyes wide open! Stay engaged. Don’t check out!
GK Chesterton once observed that images of the Buddha always depict him with his eyes shut… with his eyelids heavy and sealed with sleep, looking inward. The Christian saint, in sharp contrast, is always shown with his eyes “very wide open — “frightfully alive” as Chesterton puts it — they’re always looking outward. Always active in the sense of being open to God’s prompting.
He’s right. The Saints are wide awake. They are frightfully alive with Divine grace. Their eyes are really open, really able to see.
God wants to wake us up, too.
Because He is about to do something new! Do you not perceive it? He’s about to “rend the heavens and come down” as the prophet Isaiah said in our first reading. We await the coming of our Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Annunciation — THAT one is about to arrive. That’s what the word Advent literally means: To arrive. It’s about the arrival of God.
He arrived once in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. He will arrive again at the end of the world. Are we waiting for Him with eager expectation? Are we wide-eyed and ready?
Because like it or not, the Lord is about to land in enemy-occupied territory. He’s about to come right to our doorstep. Right into our hearts.
In just a few minutes, he’ll even go so far as to come right into our hands, into our mouths! — The Holy Eucharist will arrive in us!
O Come, o come, Emmanuel, indeed!
If all of this is true — if the fact of Christmas really does change everything and really can give us hope and joy — then we have to fight the urge to fall back asleep in defeat. We need to shake off all that discouraged laziness that consumes us so often. We must resist the fatigue of our secular age, of all the materialism and skepticism that drags us back under our blankets, distracts us from praying, and makes us more and more unwilling to share our faith with others. Now’s the time to grow in virtue, to be converted more deeply to Jesus, to stay wide awake in the Spirit. To keep the Lord and His Church as our top priority!
Saint Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans: “You know the time! It is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.”
We can’t afford to doze off for a second. We can’t sleep through the car ride to Heaven. It’s an active and urgent journey. The liturgy is a foretaste of our destination, and as we worship together here, we should heed Christ’s words now more than ever:
How can we do this?
Well, if you’re feeling a little groggy, a little sleepy — then here are some of what I’ll call Spiritual Espresso Shots to wake you back up.
Go to confession! How easily we allow our consciences to fall asleep! How quickly we justify and explain away our guilt! The Sacrament of Reconciliation is here to wake us up to God’s infinite mercy.
Come to Adoration! Gazing upon Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist is such a privilege. From the Monstrance, He is alert and awake, ready to have a conversation — looking at us in love. Why not look back?
Talk to someone about what God is doing in your life! How refreshing it can be to share what the Lord has accomplished! Share your story with one another. It will keep you awake and possibly wake others up around you!
Pray the Rosary! Mary is the first and greatest disciple of her son, Jesus. Her mission is to open our eyes to His goodness and His love. Talk to her!
Above all: Be not afraid: God will help us and support us. He Himself means to wake us up and keep us alert! The Lord’s grace helps us remain tireless — helps us to keep moving toward our destination, one mile at a time. Saint Paul tells us in our second reading this weekend that “He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“God is faithful,” Paul reminds us.
In other words, If we stay close to the Lord, He will help us stay wide awake spiritually, despite our spiritual exhaustion.… despite whatever Cross we are being asked to carry.
I’ll end with this final reflection… because I think it’s important:
Perhaps a good role model for us this Advent is St. Joseph. If you’ve read the Bible, you’ll know that St. Joseph actually seems most productive when he is sleeping. This might seem ironic given my entire homily has been about NOT falling asleep. But hear me out…
St. Joseph is a perfect example for us of a human being who is wide awake — a soul that is absolutely alert to God’s will, while simultaneously trusting the Lord enough to fall asleep. To put it slightly differently: He sleeps in the right way. He believes God. He loves God. And even while he rests — He is totally open and attentive to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. The angel visits him in a dream, and he responds immediately. He sleeps, yes — but not in a self-indulgent or irresponsible way. His is a rejuvenating sleep, a refreshing sleep ordered towards readiness to accomplish the work of the Lord at a moment’s notice.
That’s a key lesson for us today. Our goal is to be prayerfully attentive, alert, peaceful and prudent — not constantly on edge… wringing our hands, wondering if everything is going to work out. Remember that God is our loving Father. Nothing is beyond His Providential care. We are the clay and He is the Potter.
As we enter more deeply into this beautiful season of watching — of waiting — may we, like Saint Joseph, remain spiritually wide awake to the Lord’s will in our lives, as we trust completely in Him.