Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you (Ephesians 5:11-17).
I still shudder at the words “some assembly required.” But there was a time when they sounded especially onerous to me at Christmas.
One year when my children were very small I nearly renounced the faith over my labors with a ‘Playskool’ kitchenette set for my daughter. While I’m not very adept with tools, it wasn’t so much the actual task of building the kitchenette that caused me to wonder whether God is a benevolent being. What really did it was being up late on Christmas Eve night, after Christmas Eve worship, after the bedtime routine, after waiting for children to fall asleep. As the night wore on the more it seemed like the instructions for assembly required an advanced degree from Georgia Tech.
That stage of life was a time when the preparations for Christmas morning kept you up late on Christmas Eve night when all you wanted to do was go to sleep. And then, almost immediately, the eagerness of young children woke you up early on Christmas morning when you would have loved sleeping in. Being fully “awake” at Christmas in those years was often a challenge.
C. S. Lewis loved the image of being “awake” as way of understanding the life of faith. To be far from God was to be asleep, walking through life unaware, senseless. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, one of the four main characters becomes friendly with the White Witch only to soon discover she isn’t friendly at all. He soon realizes that he is in fact her prisoner, not her friend. As his misery grows he reaches a point where “the only way to comfort himself now was trying to believe that the whole thing was a dream and that he might wake up at any moment.”
Lewis biographer Alan Jacobs quotes Lewis as having written, “We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade the presence of God. The world is crowded with him. He walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always hard to penetrate. The real labor is to remember, to attend. In fact, to come awake. Still more, to remain awake.”
Our struggle to stay awake at Christmas goes far deeper than late nights with gifts that require assembly, or early mornings with children whose excitement cannot be contained one moment longer. We sleep through the season as we go through the motions of ‘the holidays’ dull to the stunning realities of a true Christmas.
As Lewis wrote, the world is crowded with God. To us – especially in malls and in traffic – the world just seems crowded. We make our way through it as best we can. As we do, we may ignore God’s presence, but we cannot evade it. Our task is to pay attention. To wake up and to stay awake. One of the effects of sin in this world is not to make people bad, but to make them groggy.
What will it mean for you to stay awake this Christmas? As you go through this day, where and how will you attend to the incognito presence of God?
We give you thanks, O God, that while we may sometimes ignore you, we can never evade you. Wherever we look or go, you are there. Wake us up today to your presence. As we learn to see it, grant us grace to point others to it as well, we ask in Jesus’s name. Amen.