by Joshua Kestner

When was the last time you stayed up too late listening for Santa to come down the chimney? Or you were working on a project or studying for a test. Maybe you were waiting for the release of a new album or a new episode of your favorite show. You were sitting in bed with your mind racing back and forth without any real purpose or direction. You were awakened by a pet who needed some attention.

Do you ever feel like you just can’t get enough sleep? Do you wake up just as tired as you were when you got into bed?

One of the first Bible passages in this winter’s Advent worship services is Jesus’ admonition to his friends and followers, “Stay awake!” (Mark 13:24-37). And my response is, “I’m sorry, Jesus. But right now, I’m not sure that I can.”

It probably isn’t too difficult to think about the last time you felt exhausted but needed to stay awake. Perhaps you brewed a pot of coffee or made some tea. Maybe you took a thirty-minute nap and got right back to work. Or you might not have had a choice but to push through in a zombie-like state until you could take a break.

As we begin a new Advent season, you may feel exhausted. While the world is full of energy and excitement about Christmas, many of us are tired. We have been worn down by many things: burnout in our daily routines, known and unknown medical diagnoses, broken relationships, news of war and violence all over the world, and uncertainty about what’s next.

How can we be expected to stay awake? When will we get a chance to rest?

Throughout Advent, we are surrounded by images of comfort, peace, and joy. We sing and pray for God to make changes that give justice to all people, love to the lonely, and power to those who have been oppressed. We wait for God to show up in the places where God is needed the most.

But in the meantime, we are stuck. We are stuck in a world that does not match the world we hope for. So, we are tired and find it difficult to stay awake. What can we do to keep our eyes open and our hearts hopeful?

Here are some ideas from our campus ministry group that might provide some inspiration.

We eat together regularly. One of the most meaningful ways that people met the real presence of Jesus two thousand years ago was by gathering over a meal (Mark 2:15-17, Mark 6:30-44, Mark 14:12-26). So, we do the same. We fill ourselves with food and with the joy of friendship. We remind ourselves that we’re not in this alone.

We live life together daily. Our student lounge is open 24/7 and is a place for studying, napping, playing games, and diving into conversations. You can almost always find someone to share this space with throughout the week. On your best and worst days, you can show up and find someone to celebrate with you or grieve with you.

It is often in community with people we love and people who love us that we find the strength to stay awake in a weary world. The presence of a friend or a friendly stranger can make all the difference you need. Quite literally, they can sit with you while you fight off sleep and finish a project. Or they can functionally help by listening and validating your feelings of despair, offering to meet for food or coffee if you need some sustenance, or taking a walk with you for a change of scenery.

One of the first things Jesus did in his ministry was reach out to a group of friends to join him throughout his travels. Actually, one reason we are so drawn to communities of faith is that we are constantly reminded that we don’t have to survive on our own. We have folks on our side who are ready to journey alongside us. We can show up confident that others will hold on to us, even when we feel like we might let go.

Can we stay awake this Advent? Maybe. But can we gather together for food, worship, and other meaningful time together? Absolutely.

Discussion Questions
1. What kinds of things take up most of your time and energy these days? What is causing you to lose sleep when you think about the things you need to get done this week?
2. How do you usually handle stress in your day-to-day life?
3. Who are some people you’re comfortable asking for help? What do they do to make you feel more at ease?

Closing Prayer
God of hope, we are tired. We are exhausted by our many responsibilities, by the things that make us sad, angry, and afraid, and by the lack of answers we have for the question, “What’s next?” Fill us with the courage and the confidence to live with hope. And when we cannot rely on our own strength, surround us with others who can hold us up. Amen.

Josh Kestner is the Campus Pastor at University Lutheran Church in Clemson, SC. The congregation hosts Lutheran Campus Ministry (LCM) for Clemson University. Josh and his wife, Kristen, met as students in LCM a decade ago, and they feel blessed to be back in a place that feels like home. What a gift to be called to accompany young adults at such a meaningful time in their lives!

Read the Faith Reflections, “New” by Josh Kestner