your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
I am the Lord your God,
who teaches you for your own good,
who leads you in the way you should go.
18 O that you had paid attention to my commandments!
Then your prosperity would have been like a river,
and your success like the waves of the sea;
19 your offspring would have been like the sand,
and your descendants like its grains;
their name would never be cut off
or destroyed from before me. - Isaiah 48:17-19
Growing up is very hard to do. Being a teenager is a hard thing to do; you're too young for a lot of things you'd like to do, and you're too old to do a lot of others. Not to mention the rules change as you get older so it's a constant state of change that can drive anybody — teenager or parent — nuts. One of the most often heard parental statements that teenagers and even smaller children hear is, "Why don't you just pay attention?" The inference is that if you just paid attention to everything you were told, everything would be just fine. The problem is, though, kids and teens want to do things their own way. Sometimes that's the only way they can learn. They may pay attention, but they pay attention to the things they want to pay attention to, and sometimes adults are no different.
The Hebrew people certainly were not shy about wanting to do things their way. Time and again, God had to pull in the reins and send them off for remedial training before things could get back to normal. They spent 40 years wandering around in the desert because they couldn't seem to remember that their freedom was in part related to their obedience to and their attention paid to God and God's directions. They didn't have the Commandments until part of the way into the journey, but they were bound by the covenants and rules transmitted to them by Moses and the prophets. Somehow they just couldn't pay attention, or remember the lessons for very long.
In school, we were constantly told to pay attention because what we learned there was going to be needed later on in life. It was hard to believe, especially sitting in algebra class and trying to pay attention, but feeling like everyone was talking a foreign language. I have used algebra several times since then, although never very complicated but something like Urdu or Navajo. A lot of things I learned then I have seldom used, like reading a musical score with hemidemisemiquavers*, but occasionally I can reach back into the recesses of the mental filing and pull out a fact or a reference I haven't thought about in years.
Just because someone becomes an adult does not release them from the need to pay attention. Those red lights at intersections mean something specific, and ignoring them can cause accidents and fatalities.In church, we are supposed to pay attention to the sermons and the scriptures because they are guides to the future by opening a door to the past. Besides, if we don't pay attention to God and God's laws, we will be no better than the Hebrews and may end up wandering in the desert for forty years or more.
Advent gives us a time to remember those things which we most likely have forgotten. Sometimes we forget to pray on a regular basis, but Advent encourages us to do this on a daily basis. It reminds us that it's not the number of presents under the lavishly decorated tree or the number of cookies baked that is important, but rather the quality of the heart and the remembrance of those things which are important, truly important.
God tells the Hebrews, "O that you had paid attention..." What would it be like God said that to us? What answer would we give? What can we do to ensure we have been paying attention? It's all part of the advent experience.
*A hemidemisemiquaver equals a sixty-fourth note in musical notation. They require a musician to pay very close attention.