Homily given today for the first Sunday of Advent (Year B) at the Holy Name Church, Manchester

Stay Awake

images We know that there are certain activities that we engage in where it is dangerous when we are tired, when we are sleepy ……  Probably top of the list is driving …. driving vehicles. If you nod off at the wheel, just for a few seconds, it can be fatal.   On Motorways and A roads in Britain they have rumble strips on the side of the roads – so that if you start drifting off the road, when you reach the edge the tyres hit these rumble strips.  The vibrations of the tyres rattles the whole car – so that you are alerted, you wake up, to drive safely and stay on the road.  Advent is the liturgical equivalent of these rumble strips…..  Jesus’s central message in this first advent Gospel is ‘Stay Awake….. ‘   ‘Be Vigilant’……  this is the spiritual state that we have to cultivate in Advent –  Being Spiritually Alert …..  Sharpening our senses as we watch and wait.  And what are we waiting for – the coming of Christ both now (soon at Christmas) but also the final and definitive coming of Christ.

So there are two ways we can enter advent – firstly let us think of what is it that makes us Spiritually Drowsy….. and secondly…. What is it that distracts us from being vigilant? ……   Or if you like what sedates us and what distracts us.

Complacency makes us spiritually drowsy…….  whenever I go home and visit my mum and brother, I love to light a real fire….. I love the sound of the logs crackling, or the heat of the coal.  You can relax, forget about all your worries, everything is all right and inevitably I fell drowsy and nod off.  So it is complacency that makes us spiritually drowsy…   The big challenge of advent is to feel the need for a saviour ….  it is so easy to think of Jesus as a guru, or a nice guy, a teacher…..   Jesus is greater than that…..  He is our saviour – our redeemer.   In a culture that is obsessed with ‘self help’, it is tempting to think that we can sort all our problems out with discipline, having a healthy lifestyle etc…… but you just to have look at the news to see how this is no enough.  St Paul famously said ‘I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.

If we are honest we know we cannot do it ourselves –  if we think of the world of addiction – the universally popular recovery programme, for alcohol, or gambling, or sex …. Is the 12 step programme –  and the key to this is  Embracing a higher power ……………. Even in the field of psychology  and therapy – there is more and more written about strategies of ‘Intervention’.  The incarnation, the birth of Christ, God becoming man – is intervention at a cosmic scale. Advent is a time to wake up – out of our spiritual drowsiness, out of complacency and remember that we need God, that we need Christmas.

Secondly – Jesus tells us in today’s gospel – it is not just about staying awake, it is also about being alert – watching and waiting.  Not to be distracted from what really matters.   Technology is creating a culture of distraction – just look at how we use our mobile phones…. Perhaps this hour in church for some of us is the longest we go in our waking hours without checking our phones………  Advent is a time to refocus….  To hone our expectation …. To keep focused on what we are waiting for ……   The key way of doing this is prayer…..  A Jesuit told me once that prayer is making yourself ‘extraordinarily available to God’.  However for many of us prayer is not easy – we get bored, easily discouraged. This is why next week we are offering a Week of Guided Prayer …..  It is a superb opportunity to learn how to pray – we will be providing a team of spiritual directors – who are available for a daily meeting, at whatever time is convenient, as well as evening workshops on prayer on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. It is the best way to prepare for advent ….   We have some places left – however I strongly suggest you pick up a form at the back of church and fill it in as soon as you can if you want a place…..

So let us use these four weeks of Advent well – Staying awake, watching and waiting, praying and learning to pray – so that this year we can enter into the joy of Christmas in a deeper way than ever before….