If you pray with the monks at the Gethsemane Abbey in Kentucky, you have to rise early—in fact, most would consider it still the middle of the night. Vigils are at 3:15 A.M. (That’s 2:15 A.M. Alabama time). It is dark, and cold in the winter, hot and humid in the summer. However, night in and night out the monks arise to do what Our Lord commanded all of us, his followers to do—to keep vigil (watch).
Visiting the monastery some years ago, I managed to make it to one of the “Vigils.” I struggled through the prayer period, then went back to sleep, missing the next hour of prayer “Lauds” (Praise) which occurs every morning at 5:45. The monks, of course, did not go back to sleep, but prayed silently in between the two periods.
Keeping “watch” is not easy, even for one night.
Years later I experienced a different sort of night watch or vigil, when my wife and I were awoken to the cry of a hungry baby in the middle of the night, right around the time that the monks of Gethsemane would be gathering for their Vigils. Again, I went back to sleep after my short “awakening,” while my wife remained awake, silently feeding the child.
On the night before he died Jesus took three of his disciples with him to pray; only he didn’t tell them to “pray,” but rather he told them “Remain here, and watch with me,” (Matthew 26:38). I relate well to what Jesus found them doing a short while later: “he came to the disciples and found them sleeping.” (Matthew 26:40)
Advent is a time to keep vigil—to watch. It is not a time to watch those old Christmas reruns that we’ve all seen a hundred times, nor all those commercials for the latest gadgets, but a time to watch for the Lord’s coming. Perhaps as we begin this season we can recapture this sense of alertness, awaiting the coming of Christ by fostering quiet in our homes; turning off the television, the computer, the cell phone—while listening and watching for the Lord. Then as we go out into the day, let us continue to watch and search for His presence; in our spouse, our children, our coworkers, the strangers who cross are path, all the time remembering His words to us: “Watch therefore–for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning—lest he come suddenly and find you asleep,” (Mark 13:35-36).
Now is the time, during Advent, to awaken to His presence, so that when Christmas comes He is the present we will share with one another.