Toorak Uniting Church

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Awake and alert

Mark 13: 32 – 37   Isaiah 11: 1 – 9
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
27 November 2005

Have you ever tried to stay awake all night? Just for the fun of it? Because you wanted to know if you could? Or because you wanted to know what happens after you’ve gone to sleep?

On Friday, when we were waiting for the bus to return from camp with a whole bunch of other parents, we discovered that this is quite a fashion in the higher years of our local primary school at the moment. Staying up all night is in fashion and there are a lot of tall stories doing the rounds at school boasting about children keeping themselves awake till impossible times like 3 o’clock or even later.

Parents of course often pay the price on the following day with grumpy kids crowding the house and going to sleep on them in the car on their way to the supermarket.
These things happen and it is all part of growing up.

I am sure there are others here who have actually stayed up until they saw dawn break or even later. They will have discovered that there indeed is a limit to the amount of hours one can stay awake, even when attending an exciting party or having a good time with good friends.

My brother was in the navy for a while. Well those guys where quite remarkable because they were trained to stay up for an impossible amount of hours or even days and stay alert. To make this possible however they would take every possible opportunity to nod off in a corner somewhere and have a powernap. 5 minutes and they would be as right as rain again, but they did need those 5 minutes every 10 or 12 hours or so or otherwise they too would, in the end, be overcome by sleep.

What I want to say I guess is that it is not easy to stay awake and that it takes some effort and motivation to do so.

Fear will keep you awake. Or worry. And that can be quite irritating. You desperately want to go to sleep and somehow something keeps you wide awake and completely alert. A funny noise outside that suddenly makes you aware there could be burglars on the prowl. That terrible fight you had with somebody and didn’t make up. Worries about the results of a health check you had. The illness of a loved one.
They are wonderful for keeping one awake at odd hours and wearing ones energy down. Because that too is part of staying awake and alert with worry or anxiety: It gobbles up energy in enormous amounts. We need our sleep to relax, to recharge, to re-create ourselves, and if we don’t get it we will all, slowly, succumb in the end.

Unless, unless yes unless we are kept awake by something positive, by an exciting prospect or the anticipation of something wonderful and great about to happen.

Most people will find it difficult to sleep on their wedding night, most children will have trouble going to sleep before a birthday or on Christmas eve. And strangely enough, on those occasions we seem to gain energy more than lose it by staying awake. Sure, after the event we will often feel in need of a nap, but first thing in the morning when what we have anticipated so eagerly is finally going to happen most of us will be full of energy and go. And in that sense staying awake can be a positive and rather exhilarating preparation for things to come.

I think the staying awake Jesus is referring to in the gospel is that kind of staying awake. Staying awake in the sense of eager and joyful expectancy, staying fully alert and ready to roll. Ready for God’s love to break through, ready to act and react when God’s light starts to show itself in some dark corner or other. Ready to take up God’s work should they opportunity present itself. Eagerly anticipating good and even better times to come.

Staying awake and alert, looking if we can see signs of God at work in the world and ready to immediately join in and take up the challenges it confronts us with.

We are eagerly awaiting another world, another order, another way of life and living. We are waiting for God’s light and love to break into the world and make a change. And Jesus, the one on whom the spirit of God rested and who showed as no other how to live in such a way that this other way of life and living will come within our reach, is telling us to stay awake and alert for it to come.

Eagerly scouring the horizons of our existence for signs of his coming, of his presence, of this other way of life where wolves have stopped devouring lambs and lions are no longer interested in tearing a calf apart to feed themselves. This other way of life where children will be leaders and grown ups will no longer hurt or destroy one another.

Will it ever happen? Many of us have probably lost some of their eagerness awaiting this new order. Because it is not easy to stay awake and alert when it has been taking quite a while. We nod off, thinking that yeah, maybe, but probably not just yet.

What Jesus urges his disciples and through them us to do however is to keep our eyes peeled for signs. And when there is even the tiniest hint of something happening in that direction immediately spring to attention and join forces with it with excitement and anticipation. Awake and alert, with a 5 minute powernap in between, expecting the best to come.

And in that way we will not only be trying to keep awake, but probably too busy and excited to get much sleep. Because if we do open our eyes and look for signs there is plenty to see. And more than plenty to do. Here in Toorak, in Melbourne and in the whole wide world.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2005

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