When I was younger I was a long time member of the Boy Scouts and I was also very active in the Order of the Arrow, a part of the Scouting program. I was a Vigil Member of the Order of the Arrow which was the highest level and it meant that I had to pass through a night of vigil in preparation to receive the honor. The vigil consisted in being left in the woods alone with the wood to start a campfire and then the task of keeping the fire burning throughout the night. To successfully pass through the vigil, one had to stay awake the entire night. If a person was to doze off during the night then someone would come by and douse your fire. I remember spending a great deal of time that night in prayer. I felt that it helped me to stay awake and it also allowed me the state of mind to examine my life and think about the future. Certainly the best place to be during that dark night was next to the light of the fire that I was keeping burning. The best thing to do to keep from falling asleep was to keep busy with small tasks and tending the fire.
This First Sunday of Advent we begin our Advent season with the instruction to keep vigil. We are awaiting the coming of the dawn, the coming of the Lord. We are cautioned to stay awake and keep a watch on our hearts and on our lives. We are reminded that we live on the border between light and darkness. We have been called out of darkness in our lives and we now live in a wonderful light. In his letter to the Church, St. Peter reminded us, “But you are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises” of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1Pt 2,9) St. Paul tells the Ephesians, “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth. Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them, for it is shameful even to mention the things done by them in secret; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore, it says: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”” (Eph 5,8-14) While we live, we await the dawn, and while the night grows short around us we look into the light of Christ to keep us from falling into darkness. As St. Paul says to the Romans, “It is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now that when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” (Rom 13,11f)
As we await the coming of the Lord, we are to remain vigilant and to keep watch through the night so that our spiritual house is not broken into by the “thief in the night”. We must keep busy with the works of light. As Isaiah prophesies, we must climb the mountain of the Lord, the place of worship in the house of the God of Jacob, and be instructed in his ways and walk in his paths. During this time that we are waiting for the coming of the Lord we should be continuously learning about our faith and walking in the way of charity and service. As Isaiah says, “Come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!” (Is 2,5)
St. Paul urges the church in Rome, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.” (Rom 13,14) The flesh desires sleep and indulgence but now is the time to “put on the armor of light” and to remain awake and watching. Jesus exhorts his apostles, “Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mt 25,41) While we are in this time of waiting for the coming of the Lord we must continue to pray and mortify the desires of the flesh. Even in the dark night of this world, we walk in the light of Christ and we put on his garment of light.
During Advent, the world will be shopping and decorating and going about mundane chores, thinking that Santa is coming, unaware of the coming of the Lord. We must live differently in this time of preparation. Now is the time to prepare a place in our hearts to receive the Lord. Now we must be watchful, pray, put away sin through confession, grow in your understanding of the faith and walk always in the light of his ways, learning what is pleasing to the Lord. We don’t know when the new day will come with the advent of the Christ, but if we stay awake we will be ready to receive him in joy!