The Need to Pay Attention

– Sunday of the First Week of Advent –

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” (Luke 21:25-28)

This is not one of those comforting texts and seems to be a strange place to start our journey together. The words are disconcerting, mainly because they hint at a future that seems remarkably like our present. As temperatures rise, storms increase in ferocity, pollution is rampant, and a pandemic renders some unable to breathe, we can wonder whether Luke knew a thing or two.

Maybe he did, although we can be comforted by the thought that there has scarcely been a time in the last two thousand years when Christians have not applied this text to their experience. The specifics may change, but the sense of our not being in control regularly impacts.

What is important here is what Luke says next. It is the call to pay attention that needs our response. For the Christian, a vigilant heart is never an optional extra. We are called to pay attention, always – to what God is doing, what we are doing, and what is going on around us.

Interestingly, this text harkens right back to the spiritual beginnings of the Judeo-Christian faith. Think of the opening lines of the bible. There we see the Spirit of God ‘hovering over the waters’ and bringing order to the chaos (Genesis 1:2). It is almost as if Luke describes the undoing of that initial act of taming the chaos in today’s reading as a precursor to creating something new.

We need not be stressed about this, as long as we are attentive and take what God asks us seriously (Philippians 2:12). God desires that ‘none be lost’ (2 Peter 3:9), and God will provide us with every assistance to ensure that the experience Luke describes need not overwhelm us but be the source of joy (Luke 21:28).

The road we are on is not always easy (Matthew 7:14), which brings us back to the fact that we must pay attention. God’s invitation carries with it ‘risks, challenges and opportunities’ [Rejoice and Be Glad n 2] as gradually we learn that God requires everything we are, say and do – the entirety of our hearts and lives – but only so that he can pour everything that he is, says and does into us (Romans 5:5) [Rejoice and Be Glad n 1]. We are people of joy and hope, for our trust is not in ourselves but in the one who is always faithful (2 Timothy 2:13).

By Shane Dwyer

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