Go to sleep…..
My message for you flies in the face of what Jesus says in Mark’s gospel reading for this Sunday. Jesus tells his disciples to ‘keep awake’ because the Son of Man will come without warning; only the Father knows the exact hour and the disciples must not be caught off guard or unprepared when the time comes. The whole of Mark 13 is full of eschatological tension with warnings to ‘watch out’ and be ‘on your guard’. And our readings for the last three or four weeks have all given some kind of warning about being prepared. This reading is all about the end of time as we begin the season of Advent and we’re urged to ‘keep awake.’ But I’m going to suggest that you go to sleep. Now that may seem a complete contradiction but I suggest you go to sleep for very good reason. (Maybe wait until you’ve finished listening to this though!)
Many years ago I watched a sleep deprivation documentary, in fact it was the first of its kind and has never been repeated; again for very good reason. It was called ‘Shattered’ and was an experiment in which 10 young contestants took part to see how long they could stay awake for. Of course there was a significant prize fund of £100,000 which was clearly a very attractive and motivating factor. The winner was a young female police cadet who managed to stay awake for a total of 178 hours. Imagine that! 178 hours without sleep. That’s more than a whole week.
For ethical reasons, ‘Shattered’ would probably never make it onto our screens today. And this is undoubtedly a good thing, because as the hours passed, the contestants experienced a marked deterioration in their physical and mental health and ability. Their judgement, reasoning and decision making skills were drastically altered as the minutes and hours ticked by. In fact the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy described the show as ‘misconceived and dangerous’.
I have to say I'm inclined to agree because I'm an advocate for good rest and good sleep – and even the occasional power nap! The benefits of which are well documented. We need our sleep.
Good sleep improves our brain performance, our mood and our health; it plays a critical role in tissue repair and hormone regulation, and the list goes on. In other words when we sleep well – we feel so much better and we’re so much more alert and prepared for all that our waking hours can sometimes throw up at us. I think that’s the point of Jesus’ message. Not so much ‘keep awake’ as ‘stay alert’, ‘be alive’, ‘be attentive’. We can’t do or be any of that if we’re sleep deprived.
This time of year can take us off in all kinds of different directions; there are so many distractions, deadlines, priorities and pressures. Today’s Gospel reminds us that the season of Advent is about more than just our preparation for the celebration of Christ’s birth at Christmas. It’s also about preparing ourselves for Christ’s return in glory at the end of time.
Like the disciples and followers in Mark’s community, we too must stay alert. And we can only stay alert by resting and sleeping well. In doing so we’ll be as prepared as we possibly can be for when Christ comes again.
So go ahead - take a nap. Give yourself a nice early night. Go to sleep.