God keeps watch with us.

I was almost asleep.

“Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who wait or watch or weep.” I pray it every night, and am reminded how hard it is for me to focus. I pray it every night and am aware that I often don’t finish it.

But last night, I thought, “in Advent, God keeps watch with us.”

And I remembered that all the way until morning.

In Advent, we talk about remembering the first coming of Christ as we anticipate the second coming. And though it may only be in my head, we may forget that the last recorded public words of Christ to his disciples, recounted as the great commission, are these: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

That promise is the core of the Compline prayer I mentioned earlier: “Keep watch with, dear Lord.” Not over, not from afar. With.

And in waiting and watching and weeping. In the ordinary, unending, processes of our lives. (Tish Harrison Warren has written about her interaction with this prayer and with life very well).

Some of us grew up to anticipate the second coming. It was a threat: “Don’t let the Lord find you doing what you shouldn’t be doing.” Taken, of course from Scripture. It was a divider: “We’ll get out of here.” It was a comfort. “All tears will be wiped away.”

But that plays loose with time, and with the words of Jesus. Witnessing about the second coming can blind us to bearing witness to the current withness.

I’m hesitant to say, “In our Advent journey this year, we’ll focus on the withness of God.” Because I’m writing in real time.

That said, Immanuel, God with us, has resonated with me for decades. The haunting minor key of the song. The miracle of the unrelenting though sometimes unfelt presence.

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