"Watch, Wait, Stay Awake:" Bishop's 2020 Advent Message
November 25, 2020
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
When the Pevensie children first enter Narnia through the wardrobe, they find themselves in a hard, frozen land where it’s “always winter, and never Christmas” (C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe). Some have described the past nine months of life in Covidland as a place where it’s “always Lent, and never Easter.” I get it.
But now, we are entering Advent and a new Church year. If nothing else (and, trust me, Advent offers so much else!), Advent brings us the news that time is not stuck, and life is moving and purposeful. Our lives and our time are moving toward a God-given fulfillment, even as God is moving toward us, his beloved children.
The brief, beautiful and holy season of Advent reminds us that the Church is always in Advent - living in the meantime, that in-between time of now…and not yet. The weeks of Advent help us remember to live as the Church is always called to live: between what has been, what is, and what is to come. The startling, enlivening themes of Advent invite us to “get real.” We are called to watch and wait. Our attention is directed to the past, so that we might remember God’s saving acts in history as we prepare to celebrate his chief saving act in sending Jesus at the first Christmas. We are drawn to consider our present days and current circumstances, and to watch carefully for the ways that our Lord comes among us now. And we are urged to wait and live with hope in Christ’s Second Coming, when God’s gracious will for his creation will be brought to completion.
In the reduced circumstances of our present lives, Advent recalls us to look deeper, higher and longer at the fullness and grandeur of life, and of God’s movement into it, revealed in his Son Jesus Christ.
The biblical stories we hear during Advent are peopled with those who embody faithful living regardless of whatever life is like in any particular time. John the Baptist, Anna and Simeon, Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph all are looking, waiting, longing; resilient and hopeful; watchful and open to moments of God’s movement.
If we’ve ever been tempted to think that, when it comes to Advent, we’ve heard it all before, the dramatic changes in life from last year to this should cure us of that. While the themes and people of the season are the same, we are certainly different. We are bringing a different set of concerns, hopes, fears and priorities with us into the spiritual geography of Advent.
Jesus’ words on the First Sunday of Advent are spoken to us: “Keep awake.” In a time of distraction and dislocation, Jesus calls us to pay attention and watch; watch for the signs of his powerful, transformative presence - not just around us, but within us. Pay attention to the strong, unseen emotional and spiritual currents that pull at us as we move toward Christmas. In a normal year, memories and longings, losses and hopes, tend to have a profound effect on us. In this pandemic, such currents might become rapids and riptides. Pay attention, stay awake...and be ready to receive - or to offer - a loving, helping hand.
Advent invites us to quiet down, be still, simplify. For many of us, it feels as though we’ve been doing that for months now, as the pandemic has enforced varying degrees of “alone time.” But the watching, waiting, and preparing of Advent people brings opportunities for renewed and purposeful activity. From the prayerful lighting of candles to daily devotions and regular worship, to the decluttering of our lives and the generous support of parish ministries and local charities, we all have ways to participate in preparing the way of the Lord for ourselves and for others.
Attached to this letter are links to several resources for prayer, study, giving and service. As the Church in West Texas prepares the way of the Lord this Advent, let us do so with boldness and gladness, trusting that Jesus is truly the One "who is and who was and who is to come.” (Revelation 1:4) Long after the pandemic, when our children are telling their incredulous children improbable stories about 2020, this will still be true: In this wintery, Lenten-like time, Jesus is Emmanuel, which means, “God-with-us,” and Christmas is coming. Perhaps this Advent might become for us more than the usual frantic countdown to Christmas morning. Maybe it will mean more to us than in years past, when we were able to take so much, and so many, for granted.
Watch, wait, stay awake. O come, O come, Emmanuel.
Faithfully yours in Christ,
David M. Reed
Bishop of West Texas
Advent Resources List
Episcopal Relief & Development presents new Advent resources, including prepared activities, prayers, and more. Click here to learn more and access the resources.
The diocesan Christian Formation Committee offers five creative ways to celebrate the Advent season with your church family in the midst of COVID-19. From printable at-home activities and virtual Christmas Pageants, to Family Chapel service on the lawn, let us share our lights with one another as we prepare our hearts to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Click here to read more and access the resources.
New and updated Advent and Christmas resources for congregations, dioceses, and communities of faith are available online from The Episcopal Church, with additional resources coming soon. Available now: Preparing to Become the Beloved Community Advent curriculum; Way of Love Digital Invitation Kit; updated Journeying the Way of Love Advent calendar and curriculum; AdventWord 2020; Episcopal Migration Ministries Refugee Prayer Vigil; and daily Advent and Christmas emails. Click here to explore new Advent and Christmas resources from The Episcopal Church.