Reflection for Sunday – November 27, 2016 First Sunday in Advent

Readings: Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24: 37-44
Preacher: Marlene Bessette

“Two men will be out in the field; one will be taken, and one will be left. Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken, and one will be left. Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day your Lord will come.”

By all outward appearances, the people described in Matthew’s gospel are the same and yet one is taken and one is left. Then we are immediately admonished to “stay awake!” so that we won’t be the one left behind. What does it mean to stay awake? Those who were left behind were equally immersed in the busyness of everyday life, seemingly doing exactly what they were supposed to be doing—so what is missing from those left behind?

This passage immediately brought to mind the wonderful people I work with in the not-for-profit world, or as I like to think of it, the for-purpose world. Whether in agencies, healthcare or ministry, we are people who work long hours each day, typically at a lower rate of pay then we might otherwise earn in the for-profit world, experiencing high levels of stress, low levels of funds and ever increasing expectations.

But I, and the vast majority of those I work around, love it because it is purpose-driven work. I for one, regularly feel that I am exactly where I am meant to be and doing the work that God intends for me to be doing. So because of how I spend my days, does that mean that I’m any more ready for the day the Lord will come than anyone else?

Well, based on today’s gospel, the answer is, not necessarily. Our actions are not necessarily a reflection of our spiritual readiness or even a reflection of our life’s purpose regardless how noble they appear. This is not meant to diminish in any way the good works that so many do each day—but simply to remind us that we can just as easily get so wrapped up in the good works we do that we neglect our spiritual growth and nearness to God. In fact, I would argue that it is even more likely that those who labor each day doing what might be called “the work of God” will not take the time to simply experience their relationship with God.

I confess that I am more likely to abandon my commitment to prayer and contemplation as the demands of the workday increase. And I find that I readily excuse myself because the work we do is to serve the poor and vulnerable—so how could God be upset with me for that?

I have come to realize that what I should be concerned about is not whether good works make up for not praying but rather when I neglect my prayer, I am denying myself the gift of experiencing the love and presence of God in my life. I am denying myself the growth and awareness of self and world that comes from a regular practice of prayer. Just like physical exercise, in order to get the benefit, one has to practice, and prayer is the exercise to strengthen our spiritual self. Without a consistent prayer-life it is more likely that I will allow myself to fall asleep spiritually, regardless how busily I scurry each day to carry out what I think is God’s purpose for me.

How appropriate that this call to “stay awake” comes at the beginning of Advent, a time of preparation as we wait for that day when the entire Christian community across the globe welcomes Jesus into our hearts. So as we wait and prepare for God’s coming, I will attempt to prioritize contemplative time and pray that I am aware of and open to God’s will each day. I also pray that as we wait on Jesus and Christmas we recognize God is always there waiting for us, waiting for us to enter into a prayer of communion with God and all of our brothers and sisters throughout the world.

So, don’t let yourself spiritually fall asleep, especially as we enter the insanely busy time right before Christmas and the end of another year. Don’t let the busyness of everyday life, even if that busyness is directed to family, work, friends and good works, prevent you from taking those moments every day to sit with God and relish the love that surrounds you.

Marlene Bessette
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