We sometimes hear people say “The lights were on but no one was home”. It`s a way of expressing frustration that someone simply wasn`t listening. “You haven`t heard a word I said!”, says the increasingly irritated wife. Because she can tell he`s `elsewhere` by the way the newspaper still shields his face- or he hasn`t even looked up from the TV.
It`s there in the eyes, isn`t it? It`s the glance over your shoulder or the body language that indicates that they`ve grown tired of you and would rather be off to the next person. And even if they are looking at you- you know they`re basically somewhere else.
This illustration may lead you to believe that this is a common experience of mine! However, it`s just my way of trying to introduce what is for me one of the essential themes of Advent: learning to be Attentive.
In the more apocalyptic passages of the Gospels which are often read at this time of year we hear Jesus using words which emphasise this theme. He says things like `Watch`, `Look`, `Behold`, `Stay awake` and so on. In short, he calls us to give our full attention to what God is about.
What intrigues me however, is the way he seems to insist that we do NOT pay heed to what we might regard as the more obvious `signs`. He acknowledges that there will be things such earthquakes, signs in heaven, wars and rumours of wars- and even religious celebrities trying to gain our attention. However, it seems these are not the things he wants us to attend to.
My own sophisticated theory- for what it`s worth- is that this is because the presence and action of God among us is not to be found in the extras or more sensational features of life. Rather, it would seem that the Kingdom has a rather more ordinary and `under your very nose` quality about it.
So, to what are we to give our attention? To what do we need to be attentive? What are we looking for? To what should we be awake in this season of Advent?
I find myself drawn to the incident in the Book of Genesis where the Lord God calls out to the man and woman `Where are you?`. I wonder whether this may help us?
This is such an evocative question. All sorts of things happen when I ask myself- `Where am I just now? (I`m actually on a train leaving Preston) But clearly and without getting into psychobabble it may help to become attentive to what`s going on under the surface- so to speak.
It`s sometimes said that the definition of a bore is someone who, when you ask them how they are, they actually tell you! But if someone asked you how you are- how would you reply, if `fine` wasn`t an option?
For it is surely here that the Lord God wishes to meet us. He desires to find us `where we are`- not where we imagine ourselves to be; or where we want to be (when we get life organised) but where we are now.
He comes in search of us insisting that `fig leaves are not required`. Indeed he wonders where we get these silly notions from; that we can somehow insulate ourselves from his intimate and loving gaze.
This Advent season is a good time to become attentive to the Christ who comes to us. But this means owning up to where we are. We have to give an honest answer to the question `Where are you?` and there you will meet him.