“Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” This verse from Matthew 24, the first Gospel reading of Advent, focuses the reader on the future return of Jesus. It’s a reminder, amid all the activities of everyday life, to be prepared for Christ’s return. It’s a call for watchfulness. Keep awake.

“Stay woke.” This phrase, made popular following the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., is also a call for watchfulness. It’s a call to be aware of what is happening in matters of racial injustice, to understand the underlying issues and contributing forces that create unjust situations in our country. It’s a reminder to be prepared, to not be lulled into a false sense of security rooted in a false narrative. Stay woke.

Amid the struggle to achieve racial justice in this country, the challenge for Lutherans and the whole Christian community this Advent is to find the balance in the commands from Matthew and from the community—to be rooted in the hope for Jesus’ return in the future while also rooted in the reality of injustices hurting our brothers and sisters in Christ in our country today. Pursuing this balance will call different people to different spiritual practices this Advent season.

For those on the front lines working to achieve racial justice, this Advent may be a time to rest in the Lord, to spend time re-centering and refocusing, to be reminded to keep awake. Perhaps you may need a reminder to not be so “woke” that you’re not awake in Christ. Racial justice work is draining and can be all-consuming. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by it, be intentional this season about planning devotional time. Take extra time to just be present with the Lord—pray, sing, read, dwell. Focus each week on themes of hope, peace, joy and love in your daily devotion.

For others, perhaps this Advent is a time to wake up to a better understanding of the underlying issues in the debate about racial justice in our country and church. If you’ve already engaged in conversation, move to action toward achieving racial justice. Each week in Advent reach out to one or two of the ELCA ethnic associations to find out how you can support their mission (search for “Ethnic Specific and Multicultural Ministries” at elca.org).

We are reminded this Advent of the coming of Christ and that Christ is already here, present with those bearing the cross of injustice in our communities.

Keep awake. Stay woke.

Tiffany Chaney
Tiffany C. Chaney serves as pastor/mission developer of Gathered by Grace, a newly forming Synodically Authorized Worshipping Community of the ELCA, located in Montgomery, Ala., and is communications chairperson for the African Descent Lutheran Association.

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