If we have watched the television news over the last couple of days we've seen images of huge crowds waiting in long lines outside store entrances for sales on a day called Black Friday. As the doors open, the folks barrel in, trampling over one another, and then sometimes actually fighting over items they hope to purchase. These are scenes of frenzy and panic, in which we see products given priority over persons. Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is nuts! Consumerism run amok.
If we've been caught up in this, or to the degree to which the desire to possess just for the sake of possessing inhabits our hearts, we are likely to feel a bit sheepish as we ponder the Scripture readings for Sunday, the first of Advent. They remind us of just how far off the rails we have fallen when we are obsessed with possessing. Jesus is teaching us about what is really worth "waiting in line" for: eternal life. When God made us human beings, he made us for himself, to be with him for all eternity. That is why there is within every human heart a deep longing, which only God can fill. Advent reminds us of this by drawing our attention to the end of history, thus enabling us to keep in mind where we are going and what alone can fulfill our searching. In this light, the mad rush to fill the heart's longing with the latest deals at our favourite box store, instead of with the love and mercy of God, is more than a little embarrassing.
It is truly remarkable that people will get up very early, or not go to sleep at all, in order wait through the night to get into a store; staying awake in order to get something of which we will soon tire. Jesus calls us to stay awake, to be always alert, for something that will never lose its attraction and joy. He asks us to remain awake to meet him when he comes to take us to himself. This second advent of the Lord will be either at the moment of our death or at the end of time, either of which can occur in an instant. This calls us to be "awake" not just through the night but at all times.
Clearly Jesus is not asking us to give up all physical rest. Rather, he is summoning us to wake up from the lulling effect of falsehood. Possessions, self-advancement, money and so on are illusory achievements that lull us into the dangerous sleep of complacency and distraction. From all of this Jesus calls us to awaken, to clear our heads in order to see clearly what is important, to grasp that for which we truly do long, and so to order our lives around him, and not ourselves, that we are ready to meet him when he comes.
Black Friday is probably better called Sleepy Friday. Let's wake up from the nonsense and live sensibly in the light of the Gospel.