“Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” – Simone Weil (1909-1943)
The First Sunday of Advent stands as “new year day” for Christians, which commences with a Scriptural admonition from Luke’s Gospel to “Be on your guard!” (Luke 21:34 – J.B. Philips Hew Testament translation), and then a couple of verses later, this: “You must be vigilant at all times, praying that you may be strong enough to come safely through all that is going to happen, and stand in the presence of the Son of Man.” (Luke 21:36 – J.B. Philips New Testament translation). How unexpected such an admonition for us Christians to have on our new year day.
We would, as we do on January 1st, consider it more appropriate for a new year day to be celebratory and to congratulate ourselves in our confident adoption of resolutions about some significant change to be effected in our lives: “This year is going to be different.” We make our resolutions (which for most of us are lost from our awareness, and practice, within a couple of weeks); watch Football a lot throughout that day; have final drinking and feasting with our guests who must need return home tomorrow or the next day.
So why this warning to be on guard? How does it serve the lovely season of Advent for the Church to endeavor to scare us concerning “all that is going to happen”? Is the Church trying to scare us when it directs our attention to this text from Luke 21?
My suggestion would be for us to pay more attention at Luke 21:36c to the concluding phrase – “and stand in the presence of the Son of Man,” and then to understand “be vigilant” in relation to this.
In other words, the whole purpose of Advent is about God Who, by pure grace, overcame the conditions that kept humanity from finding Him with confidence, making it possible for us “to stand in the presence of the Son of Man.” Our longing is to have such a grace, to have unimpeded access to God Who loves us, as centuries before Christ the Psalmist prayed to have (Psalm 27: 8-9, New Revised Standard Version, Catholic Edition):
8 “Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!”
Your face, Lord, do I seek.
9 Do not hide your face from me.
What this text from Luke is appealing to in us is our “Psalmist’s desire,” if you will, to want to know God freshly, personally, with deeper understanding. Do you feel such a desire in you for a re-awakening of attention to your Beloved Lord? Do you know what it feels like in any close relationship to have the experience of re-discovering your beloved, of being able to find him or her again freshly, not allowing the dreary predictability of your current knowledge to hide your beloved from you?
If we feel this as a real desire in us, then we are experiencing the grace of the holy season of Advent.
Once we have this, then all that “Be on guard!” and “Be vigilant!” means is everything our society uses to clutter and distract our attention, lest in finding Him again freshly we find ourselves suddenly “rich enough, and asking for nothing more.”
 The New Testament in Modern English by J.B Philips copyright © 1960, 1972 J. B. Phillips. Administered by The Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England.
 New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.