Advent Week 1: Practicing Watchfulness

Matthew 24:36-44

(36) “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. (37) For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. (38) For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, (39) and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. (40) Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. (41) Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. (42) Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. (43) But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. (44) Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

Several years ago, I had a powerful encounter with this passage. I had just preached a sermon on this text that week, focusing on the call to be awake to God and each other in this season of hope and anticipation. I heard the text inviting us to set aside the distractions of this day and age and delve deep into God’s presence. As I prepared the sermon, I imagined a long, pensive season set to the haunting tune of “I Wonder as I Wander.” I longed for such a reflective, angelic season (with more ancient Enya-like songs as background music, of course).

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Not 24 hours post-sermon, I found myself frantically searching travel sites trying to firm up plans for a vacation over spring break.  The trip was a major component of our children’s Christmas gifts that year—and one of the only true surprises. I’d been researching for months, reading travel tips and restaurant reviews, trying to be a good steward of our time and money. We’d probably only visit this spot once. So I was working hard to make sure we could squeeze every last drop from the experience.

By 10:53 p.m., which is late for me, I was hunched over in bed, trying to read the fine print on a confirmation e-mail, without my contacts in or glasses on, of course. My shoulders were tight and sore, my temples throbbed and I suddenly sat up in a moment of un-OCD sanity, thinking I just wasted an entire evening of peace and quiet!  In our household of three young boys and two ministers, an evening of peace and quiet is worth its tick-tocks in gold.

Sound familiar? From Cyber Monday deals to calendar juggling to sugar overload, the distractions of the season are legion. They aren’t intrinsically bad, just powerfully tempting. Seeing as I am human and live in the real world, I probably won’t ever be able to resist fully and that’s not such a bad thing. Advent will keep happening; Christmas will still come.

So my prayer is that the time between the slipping into distraction and the wake-up What am I doing?! moment will lessen. My Advent discipline this year is to carve out time in each day—OK, maybe every other day—to breathe, think, be quiet, listen. A little ritual of stillness, a time to be awake to God, may be just the antidote to a season of constant distraction.  Four days into Advent and this discipline, accompanied by some Enya-like background music, is already helping. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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A native of Atlanta, GA, Reverend Alicia Davis Porterfield is a writer, teacher and Board Certified Chaplain. She is a graduate of the University of Georgia and earned a Master of Divinity and a Master of Theology from Duke University Divinity School. After graduation, Alicia completed two years of chaplaincy training at Rex Healthcare in Raleigh, NC. For six years, Alicia served as chaplain at Quail Haven Retirement Village in Pinehurst, NC before her family moved to Wilmington, NC. Her husband Eric is senior pastor at Winter Park Baptist Church and together they stay busy learning and growing with their three sons: Davis (12), Luke (10) and Thomas (8). A frequent retreat leader and guest preacher, Alicia enjoys reading, singing and re-learning piano–to make some use of those four years of lessons her parents funded long ago. 

 

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