This Sunday marks the third Sunday of the Advent season. Though historically neglected by many evangelicals, Advent has made a resurgence in recent years. To that end, we are going to be offering Advent meditations throughout the season here at Mere-O. They will appear the Friday before each Sunday.
“Watch and pray.”
This is the command that Jesus gives to Peter during his struggles in the Garden of Gethsemene. And in that respect, it may seem to be a commandment better suited to Good Friday than Advent, for it reminds us of our Lord’s suffering.
But Jesus’s exhortation recalls the parable of the ten virgins, which concludes “Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour” of his arrival. The echo suggests that Jesus’s command in the Garden points beyond the Garden, first to His triumph over the grave, then to his return to the earth.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the exhortation in the Garden is in response to failure. Peter, unable to stay awake, is chastised for the weakness of his flesh. The same Lord who had shone in glory in the Transfiguration is now all too human, eager to pass by a cup he would rather not drink. And those same disciples, so fortunate to see him on the mountain, are unable to remain with him in his agony. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.
This, then, is the opportunity which Advent presents to us: watch and pray. It is an invitation to join with Christ in his agony over this world’s sinfulness. It is a challenge to overcome the weakness of the flesh, to overcome slumber with the activity of waiting and watching.
Of course, we do not watch and pray from the same perspective as the disciples in the Garden. The decisive moment in history—the Resurrection of our Lord—irrevocably altered our understanding of the world. We watch and pray empowered by the understanding that the weakness of the flesh, the infirmities of this world, have been overcome and transformed by the victorious sufferings of Christ.
It is in this knowledge—in the powerful presence of the same Spirit with whom Jesus was anointed—that we watch. It is in the victory of light over darkness that we wait. And we wait with eager hearts and eyes wide open, in joy at the prospect of the King’s return.
And it is in this knowledge of God’s ultimate triumph—and, consequently, the confidence that he will return—that we pray for the world around us. It is in this hope that we pray for the salvation of the lost. It is in this hope that we pray for those who suffer.
The message of Advent is the message that Christ has come and that Christ will come again and, as such, it is a message of reconciliation for the world. It is a message of triumph over sin—a triumph that demands death. It is a message of hope and victory, and a message that invites us to join in Jesus’ working in the world.
Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.