Awake, my Heart! (A reflection by Fr. Ogoe, based on Luke 21:34-36)

 

As we begin the Time of Advent, the scriptural readings urge us to prepare for the coming of the Lord. In Luke 21:34-36 the Lord exhorts his hearers to be ready, to watch and pray in order to have the strength to stand before him. How are we to prepare for the Day of Judgment? In what does the preparation consist? Of course, there is no one simple answer to the question, because many things go into preparing for the Coming of the Lord. In the text we want to examine today (Luke 21: 34-36), however, Jesus points out what seems to be the most essential aspect of this preparation.

Jesus does not mince words. He points clearly to the human heart as the essential place of preparation for his coming. What goes on in the human heart will determine the outcome of our judgment. Because this text of is so important let us reproduce the entire text. This would hopefully help us to walk through the path of preparation indicated by the Lord. “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth. Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.” Notice that the Lord directs a warning to the human heart. The key exhortation is to be vigilant in prayer. The Greek word which Luke uses is from the verb agrupneo (which literally means to be sleepless, to keep vigil or stay awake). The Latin equivalent is vigilare, which also carries basically the same meaning. Used in the context of the Lord’s coming, it means to stay continuously awake in order to avoid imminent danger and to be ready to receive the Lord’s coming promptly. More importantly, we must emphasize that the exhortation is not to simply stay awake, but to stay awake purposefully; to deliberately refuse sleep and keep watch with the purpose of warding off real danger.

The Lord, therefore, warns against the temptation to grow weary and drowsy. The Christian must fight against anything that can put him to sleep. If he fell asleep, he would be vulnerable to whatever danger there is. More precisely, it is the heart that must stay awake, for it is the place where we decide our eternal destiny (heaven or hell). We can choose to let the heart stay awake or choose to let it go to sleep. For the heart to stay awake, the Lord warns against carousing and drunkenness and anxieties of daily life. These things, when allowed into our life, cause the heart to be weighed down. It then becomes practically impossible for the heart to wait on the Lord (i.e. to stay awake). When the heart goes to sleep, the entire system is asleep. We may be physically walking around, but our hearts may be asleep. If we live by the pleasure principle, we are always anxious to have more and more of comfort and pleasure. Such a lifestyle is a recipe for disaster, as far as preparing for the Lord’s coming is concerned. To prepare to meet the Savior, the heart must be in a praying-vigilant mode, always turned towards the Lord. In other words, the one desire of the heart must be the Lord. A praying heart is a vigilant heart. If, instead the heart is given to worldly pleasure, anxieties and the like, it goes into the sleep mode. Once it goes to sleep it becomes more the human person becomes more vulnerable to the snares of the Devil. Moreover, in a heart-asleep-mode the person cannot wait for the Lord. Result? The Day of Lord catches him by surprise like a trap. Now, let us be clear that God does not set a trap for anyone. It is Satan who takes advantage of our weakness to ensnare us. And that is why we are exhorted to stay awake, so that the Evil One does not use the Day of the Lord as an occasion to entrap us. This is a real warning about a real danger.

In 21:28, the Lord says: “But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” Again in 21:36, Jesus continues: “Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.” In both verses, we are told to “stand straight”: “stand erect and raise your heads”; and have strength to “stand before the Son of Man”. In light of these exhortations, we understand why Jesus warns against letting our hearts be drowsy or weighed down by sinful pleasure. Normally people who are weighed down or drunk can hardly stand straight or be steady. Neither can they keep their head straight. In addition, we know that drowsiness affects the person’s judgment, and often he is hardly aware of what is happening around him. Because he is drunk, the affected person can hardly sense danger around.

It makes sense again to note that Jesus talks about looking out for the signs of the end (see Luke 21:25, 28-31). When people are drowsy or drunk, they can hardly “see” any “signs”. Consequently, it does not matter to warn them. What do drunkards care about warning signs? In a way, we can say that they are “numb” to signs. Yet, this is precisely the problem Jesus is addressing; that we must not be drowsy or drunk with sinful pleasures and anxieties in the first place. The nature of his coming will require us to be as sober and as watchful as possible. Furthermore, the nature of his coming will require that we have the strength to stand firmly before him. We cannot admit anything that can adversely affect our stability on that day. Certain ideologies, lifestyles, choices, positions, and trends in our modern culture can be potentially intoxicating and cause us to be drowsy. Each person must examine himself in the light of the Gospel to determine the specific ways he should stay awake and not be weighed down.

St. Paul understood the prime importance of letting the heart stay awake. Writing to the Thessalonians about the Lord’s coming he had the following to say: “And may the Lord make you increase and
abound in love to one another and to all men, as we do to you, so that he may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints
” (1Thess 3:12-13). He prays that the Lord himself will establish their hearts. In other words, he prays that the Lord will graciously set their hearts firmly fixed on God, awake and waiting for the Lord’s coming. With reason, therefore, David also prayed: “My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast!  . . . Awake, my soul!” (Psalm 57:7-8), and further admonished: “Put no confidence in extortion, set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, set not your heart on them” (Psalm 62:10).

 

In conclusion, we must come to take the matters of the heart more seriously, because what happens there will largely determine on which side of eternity we end up. May the Holy Spirit keep our hearts awake and afire with the love of God and neighbor, so that when the Lord appears, we can stand erect, raise our heads and run proudly to meet him. Amen.

Prayer:

Dear Lord, with you is mercy and fullness of redemption. Cleanse me in your precious Blood. Send your Spirit to fill me, and to keep my heart always awake, waiting upon you. Establish my heart unblamable for the Day of your Coming. Thank you, Lord. Amen.

 

 

Published by

Stephen

Motivationa speaker and spiritual teacher.

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