Last week’s cold spell reminded us that winter is upon us. Christmas lights twinkling in the town make it obvious that Christmas is coming; it’s practically three weeks away. Some of us have already made a start on the usual preparations, like making domestic arrangements for Christmas, searching for and wrapping presents, writing Christmas cards… Some of us will postpone all that by the proverbial ‘couple of days.’ Then we will be surprised by Christmas’ sudden and immediate arrival, and will hit a mental ‘panic button’. Personally, I keep an ace up my sleeve for such an eventuality: I can always say that I’ve been busy in the run-up to Christmas. Advent has only just started, but I already have my excuse to hand. So, in a way I am prepared for Christmas…

My excuse of being busy isn’t actually one I made-up. When I look at my diary, I can see that it’s genuinely going to be a busy three weeks. Many of you can flick through your diary and say something similar. It seems that retirement from paid work is anything but a time of slowing down and of peace & quiet. It seems that many retired people find themselves busier than when they were working. Being active is good for maintaining mental and physical health, and it often provides valuable social interaction. Being active is highly commendable, particularly when the activity serves others as well as the person in question.

However, possible dangers lurk in all those activities we undertake. Sometimes we agree to do things just because we don’t want to upset those who are asking us for help. Sometimes we find ourselves unable to say ‘no’. Sometimes we are trying to fill a void in our own lives. These and many other things in life that we do can be dangerous over the longer term. They can drain our mental or physical strength. They can produce a false sense of one’s own importance, subsequently leading to disappointments or fallings-out. In that sense, being active can be dangerous. But please don’t get alarmed – yet.

The season of Advent, and today’s gospel in particular, both offer us a useful piece of advice. This is contained in the phrase ‘stay awake.’ To be honest, the English translation of the original Greek word doesn’t do it justice; it’s defined too narrowly. Be vigilant, watchful, attentive – these words give us a better understanding of what is intended. A couple of days ago I was waiting for an important delivery and I didn’t want to miss it. After I’d got a phone call from the courier I kept going out and looking out for the delivery van despite the bitterly cold and wintry weather. My presence in front of the church was kind of peaceful but watchful.

Advent brings you an invitation to develop or to refresh that sort of spiritual watchfulness regarding your life. It isn’t necessarily because your life is full of sinful or bad things; quite likely your life is pretty good and righteous. This attitude is more about reflecting on your life in order to make it better. It’s more like pruning what is already pretty good; it’s about cutting out those bits that slow your growth. So, I have a suggestion or two. During your busy Advent, whether or not you are well organised, why not try to find a moment every day for prayerful reflection or meditation. Why not visit the church for a quiet moment with God – it’s open daily during daylight (the church, that is: God’s open 24/7). Deliberately pause every day for a moment and look at life from God’s perspective. You may find it rather rewarding and perhaps eye-opening.

Photo by Comfreak