For some it’s blessed relief after the business, or busyness, of the day.
For others it’s something that’s troubled – difficult to get into and difficult to sustain, full of tossing and turning, with restless dreams.
Some fall seamlessly into 8 hours of the deep and dreamless, while others struggle to get 3 or 4 uninterrupted hours at a time.
How much sleep do you need and how much are you getting?
Someone wise has said that ‘the amount of sleep required by the average person is five minutes more.’
Some other, wise quotations on sleep are: ‘people who say they sleep like a baby usually don’t have one.’
Hemingway said, “I love sleep. My life has a tendency to fall apart when I’m awake.”
An eminent doctor said “You’re not healthy unless you’re sleep is healthy” and Anthony Burgess remarked, “Laugh and the world laughs with you. Snore and you sleep alone.”
My favourite personal anecdote about sleep took place when our eldest was a toddler.
It was a hot day and it was tea-time. He was sitting in the high chair after a big tea when Daddy came in from work.
Some of you know Chris has recently got a Bishop’s Permission to preach and is going to undertake some training to this end in the new year.
In those days, Chris was new to preaching and he had written a talk that he was preparing to give in church.
He’d sweated hard over this talk and he decided to try it out on me, at the tea table.
Our toddler was happily finishing his sandwich, and seemed content to carry on sitting there, and so Chris began.
He was very proud of that talk – he’d put a lot of effort into it and had thought through the bible passage carefully and thoroughly.
He began. I listened.
It was an idyllic family scene.
In those days we only had one toddler and he was pretty settled, sitting happily in that high chair, although it was a hot day…
It’s quite helpful to read a talk out loud, and Chris was getting into his stride.
Five minutes elapsed. It was a good talk.
Ten minutes and he came to his final, serious point.
He hadn’t looked up from his paper, but now he did, with a hopeful look on his face.
“What did you think?” he asked.
I said something encouraging. He turned to our happy toddler, and as a joke, asked, “What did you think?”
Our well fed toddler, having been ignored for ten whole minutes, though he was sat in a stiff high chair and was normally quite active and wanting to run around after tea, was absolutely fast asleep.
We both dissolved into helpless laughter.
Hoping that the same effect is not achieved at the end of this talk, let’s ask ourselves why it is we are asked to stay awake in today’s gospel.
Of course it’s the beginning of Advent, and we’re reminded that Christ is returning.
Mark records that Jesus taught about the coming of the Son of Man at the end of time, and the first Christians lived in expectation of this event being fairly soon in the future.
May years have passed and we still wait.
But just because it's been a long time, we don’t give up the expectation, and part of Advent is about recalling this hope yearly, and asking ourselves, how should we live in the light of it?
Three times in the gospel Mark records Jesus as saying ‘keep alert; keep awake.’
Because ‘about that hour (that is the hour of the return of Christ) no one knows.’
‘Beware, keep alert, for you do not know when the time will come.’
‘Therefore keep awake, for you do not know when the mater of the house will come.’
If you know a burglar is operating in your area, you don’t become complacent about security; you tighten it up.
Because you know you need to be ready, you act in certain ways.
You tighten up the windows; you lock up the shed and double lock the front door at night.
We’ve all seen the films where someone’s trying to penetrate a high security setting, like James Bond or Johnny English, and first you see them approaching the CCTV, wondering how that's going to go, and then there’s a shot of the security guard…
He’s usually a big guy, not terribly bright, and ah, what a surprise, he’s fallen asleep (or been drugged with a sleep potion).
Whoever it is creeps past the camera and gains entry right under their nose.
When that guy wakes up and sees the CCTV footage he’s going to be in for big trouble.
Keep alert! Keep awake!
It’s the message of Advent.
So, given Christ is returning, how should we live?
How do we keep awake, spiritually?
If someone said to you, what’s it like to be spiritually awake, what would you say?
How would you describe a spiritually awake person?
Here are three suggestions for keeping awake spiritually (you’ll have your own I’m sure).
We had an interesting discussion at PCC about how prayerful we are as a church.
We asked the question, to what extent do prayer needs of our community reach our ear and then reach our worship on Sundays?
Could we pray for each road in our parish, as they do in some churches?
How do we feel about midweek prayer groups, honesty in prayer and praying for ourselves?
When did you last read a book about prayer?
What strategies do you have to be a prayerful person?
Do you know God’s guidance in prayer; have you learnt to discern his voice?
Can you sit for five minutes in silence, in the presence of God, and know his loving gaze upon you?
When did you last offer to pray for one of your neighbours?
It’s a bit like Have I Got News For You.
If we don’t know what’s going on in the world, how can we pray for it?
As a little barometer, here are some current or recent stories: how well up are you on them?
What are the hot topics in the UK at the moment?
*Child sex abuse scandals
Finally something that we need Christians to do deeply, wisely and theologically:
Reflecting on the news is a step deeper than merely consuming the news or even praying about it.
It involves being prophetic.
How does God see our nation? What is really going on spiritually?
So with immigration: what is fact and what is opinion?
How do the newspapers sway our opinions?
How does Jesus view the stranger?
What do the Scriptures say about the stranger, the poor and the weak?
In which of our MPs do we see the fruits of the Spirit? Are they people of good character; are they wise?
Child sex abuse scandals: What kind of country are we where large numbers of children are routinely abused and civic bodies fail to notice or do anything about it?
Where is repentance?
How do we value children in our own community?
Black Friday: why is it that people will crush each other underfoot in supermarket queues to get £20 off a coffee maker? What are our values? What could the Church’s contribution be to this?
How do we stay awake?
1. Be prayerful. 2. Be informed. 3. Reflect.
During this Advent time, may God give us grace to stay awake and to grow together in these three things.