I keep seeing these ‘5 hour energy’ drinks around all over the place. They popped up a few years ago, and now it seems that almost every place you can get a candy bar has them. They are just the latest addition to what seems like a continuous increase in various types of energy drinks you can find these days. And also on the rise: coffee shops – they are everywhere now, Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, Tim Hortons... Can’t get enough coffee. Or as a friend of mine used to call it, “happy juice.”
If an outsider were to encounter our culture for the first time, I think he or she might logically conclude that the people who live here are having a hard time staying awake.
Now… that seems kind of strange, doesn't it? We are doing so much less manual labor today. When you think about how people used to work their bodies so much harder than we do - all the hard, physical labor that used to be required, both at home and at work. We have all these machines to do so many things for us now, you would think that we would have no trouble keeping awake. But this is not the case.
So why are so many people so tired and worn out all the time? Now certainly there are physical reasons - we grow tired when our bodies wear down, and many people are running from one thing to another. But hard work or a lack of rest is not the only thing that causes sleepiness, right? Otherwise, why would children wake up at the crack of dawn to find out what Santa brought them after staying up half the night? Or hunters wake up bright eyed and bushy tailed early in the morning to go out?
Sleepiness is also heavily related to our psychological state, to our desires, our feelings. I think it is pretty clear that if you are happy or seeking something you think will make you happy, you can do an immense amount of work without becoming sleepy. On the other hand, if you are miserable or caught up in doing things that you do not feel will be rewarding even the most trivial things can be exhausting. In fact, two people could be doing the exact same work, and one, because that work has no meaning, will come to the end of the day exhausted, while the other, who finds meaning in the work, will come to the end of the day refreshed.
Sounds a little like what Christ is speaking about in our Gospel, doesn’t it? Two men out in the field, doing the same work. One is taken, one left. Why? Because he was sleeping. Two women grinding at the mill, doing the same work. One is taken, one left. Why? Because she was sleeping. One found the work exhausting and sleep inducing, one refreshing and life-giving.
“Stay awake,” our Lord tells us. “It is the hour now for you to awake from sleep” St. Paul announces.
And what awakens us? What keeps us awake? It is not necessarily a matter of resting more or working less. But there is a profoundly powerful interior dimension to staying awake. What is it? Think back to the kids and the Christmas tree, or the hunter preparing to hunt, or whatever situation that would make it so that you would find it virtually impossible to sleep… and underneath that, what do you find?
Might we call it an eagerness? An excitement and anticipation? A sense of heightened engagement? An unbounded and unrestrained joy? What gives rise to these sentiments?
Pope Francis this week released his first apostolic exhortation on the proclamation of the Gospel in today’s world called ‘Evangelii Gaudium,’ or The Joy of the Gospel. These are the first lines of the exhortation:
“The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus. Those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness. With Christ joy is constantly born anew.”
“In this Exhortation I wish to encourage the Christian faithful to embark upon a new chapter of evangelization marked by this joy, while pointing out new paths for the Church’s journey in years to come. The great danger in today’s world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor. God’s voice is no longer heard, the quiet joy of his love is no longer felt, and the desire to do good fades. This is a very real danger for believers too. Many fall prey to it, and end up resentful, angry and listless. That is no way to live a dignified and fulfilled life; it is not God’s will for us, nor is it the life in the Spirit which has its source in the heart of the risen Christ.”
God made us to be full of life, to eagerly greet each day, to find joy in serving him and our neighbor. To be alive, fully awake in him, watching and waiting for the day when he will come to bring us home with the same excitement and anticipation that children have to open their presents on Christmas morning.
How? Not by drinking 5 hour energy, my friends. Not with happy juice either. Nor even by producing events and shows that elicit in us passing emotional highs and moments of enthusiastic fervor.
No, a wakefulness that is grounded in a deep and lasting joy can only be found, Pope Francis says, in the heart of the risen Christ: when we walk in the love of God. This Advent Christ wants each of us to encounter with a renewed intensity the love and the joy of his love. Animated by his love, we will be able to stay awake with him no matter how much work and sacrifice are required of us. This holiday season we can do the same things: the same work, throw the same parties, buy the same gifts, run the same errands, and sing the same Christmas songs… But we can run without growing weary. When we walk toward Christmas animated by Christ’s love, we arrive in Bethlehem refreshed, not exhausted.
The Pope have given us all an invitation in his recent Exhortation. And I repeat it for all of you and encourage you to take him up on his invitation this Advent:
“I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day. No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since “no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord”.
The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step towards Jesus, we come to realize that he is already there, waiting for us with open arms. Now is the time to say to Jesus: “Lord, I have let myself be deceived; in a thousand ways I have shunned your love, yet here I am once more, to renew my covenant with you. I need you. Save me once again, Lord, take me once more into your redeeming embrace”.