On the first and last Sundays in Advent, we will sing at communion “Sleepers, wake!” This hymn reminds us what we are preparing for in Advent—and why. We need “oil in our lamps” because the Bridegroom is coming, bringing with him the light and joy and celebration of his Kingdom. We need to be ready to welcome Jesus Christ when he comes again, and we need to be ready to be part of his Kingdom. So, we must be awake, aware, alert, alive, attentive.
The biggest mistake we are likely to make as contemporary Christians is that this readiness is to be achieved by working harder, doing more, finding resources to help us get ready better. Rather, the opposite is true. In order to be well and truly awake, aware, alert, alive, and attentive—we must rest. When we do not rest, our work suffers, our relationships suffer, and we can lose our bearings and our perspective on what is truly important in our lives. This is why we must—we are commanded to—practice Sabbath keeping. The root word of Sabbath means to cease.
Of the Ten Commandments, the only one to use the word holy is the fourth: “Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” For six days the Great Creator labored, and on the seventh day he ceased his work and rested, enjoying the goodness of what he had made. God rested and savored the relationship he now had with his creation. Likewise, God expects us to follow this practice of holy rest, giving our attention to God and all the good things God has done for us.
To say this is a challenge in our present world is an understatement. Most people work more total hours in a week than their ancestors did. This is true of both the privileged and the poor. When not “at work,” we are available and working through our electronic devices.
Even our relaxation and recreation has become work for us, as we travel more, spend more, and do more than our parents did. How can we possibly have time for Sabbath rest?
We have time by setting it aside as a priority. For this short season of Advent, why not try that as an experiment? Keep the Sundays in Advent “holy,” as far as you are able. Come to church to worship God and nourish yourself in communion with the Body of Christ. Then spend time being (rather than “doing”) with people you love. During the weekdays of Advent, carve out a small period of “Sabbath time” each day to rest in God’s presence. You can do this by devotional reading and meditation on God’s Word. And you can also do this by listening to music, spending time in nature, or simply visiting with someone you care about. Try to think of this time as “holy,” moments that are sacred because in them you turn toward God and become available to him.
This is how we really get ready for Christ’s coming—putting oil in our lamps, filling the tank—by ceasing our busyness for a time and resting in God. My prayer for each of you this Advent season is that you will feel and know God’s love in the time that he has created for you.
The Very Reverend
Beverly F. Gibson, Ph.D., Dean