In the Romans commentary, Martin Luther noted that the Scriptures talk about sleep in three different ways. There is sleep which means death as in the Old Testament where it says a king would “sleep with his fathers.” There is the sleep which is blessed, the rest He gives to us in the night. The kind of sleep of grace our Lord had in the boat with the storm raging all around Him. Psalm 127:2 says, “ It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. (ESV)” The ability to sleep even when the world is crying and pulling their hair out in clumps, because we know our Lord is King of Creation and that all things are Christ’s.
Then there is the sleep to which we are called to cast off. Wake, O Sleeper! The sleep that looks like living, the sleep that looks like activity and busyness but is a blindness to reality. This is the sleep we must fight against.
We hang the lights and set up the displays. We plan for weeks the gift lists of giving and receiving. We plan the dinners and the parties. We fret about the time that sped too quickly this year and make our end-of-year donations. We buy our tickets and watch the weather. We begin thinking about 2014 and your personal and work objectives. You are people living in the moment, living in this glorious time of year that looks a lot like Christmas. The longer your to-do lists, the bigger your purchases, the more intricate your plans, the more diligent you are.
And this is a dream and fool’s gold, the Spirit of God warns us. Here we are in the season of Advent, and what do we see? As St. Bernard wrote, “For the unhappy children of Adam, turning aside from serious and salutary reflections, give their minds only to that which is perishable and transitory.” These words cut to my heart when I read them. What perishable and transitory things do you reflect on? Oh, we could name this or that, like sports or politics, like music and celebrity gossip, like salt water fish tanks and cars and guns and fabric. But the problem is not one of these as an idol, but the gallery of transitory worries and obsessions and accumulations which gather around ourselves and our spirits and numb and lull and sedate ourselves into. It’s all of it. And as much as we rail against 94.Whatever playing Christmas songs beginning in early November—early November!— we are part of that slumbering system of consumerism and sedate pleasures.
Wake up, O Sleeper! Arise and shine. Open your ears to those things of permanence and imperishable joy and goodness. Open your eyes to that which Christ has prepared for you. You are surrounded by saints and angels—and these images remind you of this. Your name is in that Book of Life, cradled by the Cosmic God-Man Jesus Christ—see that is an image of it, to remind you. You are part of the Creation and Salvation of God, gathered in this body, this mystical body of Christ I see in front of me. You have been pulled from darkness and slumber, from rot and decay by this blood of Christ which is given to you this day. Christ’s death and rest in the tomb has reversed death, has made the dead alive, has brought the Spirit into this world, has reversed the curse and inaugurates you into the imperishble Kingdom of Heaven which is right in front of your eyes, which is preached into your ears, which is placed in your hands and on your lips and of which you are royalty.
Jesus has awakened you from the dream of death, that dream that made Adam think he could be like God. Jesus has awakened you from the dream of decay by opening His own tomb and giving you Himself to wear. Jesus has awakened you from the dream of sin, that claustrophobic desperation of feeling and seeking joy in those deeds of the flesh, in those things of the night, so that awake you may step outside and see the infinite of heaven, the light of joy, the openness of the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus has awakened you from the dream of the devil, who lulls you fear and desperation.
Awake and watch for Jesus. Make no provision for the flesh, as St. Paul says. Here in this season of decadence and feasting and fudge and peanut brittle and gum drops, turkeys and Christmas geese we have this warning. Tryptophan may do more than make you sleepy.
So how do we carry out this great awakening to the promises of Christ in this wasteland of consumerism? We don’t want to loose our Christmas traditions, do we? No, but let us temper this with the Advent observances. Start the Advent wreath at home. Limit your television time. The Orthodox Christians have a strict fast during Advent that rivals Lent. Here in the west, the tradition of Friday Fasting and Abstinence can be renewed in Lent, as well as the Ember Days: this year, December 18, 20 & 21. As Luther says in the Small Catechism, fasting is good outward preparation for receiving the gifts of God.
Of course we rely on the Grace of God for the strength and help and forgiveness in living as wide-awake Christians. Self denial and spiritual disciplines are only tools for us, not merits to earn. Ultimately we set our eyes and hopes on Jesus above all.