The Night Watch

For the first five years of his life, our youngest child, John, had severe asthma — a side effect of his premature birth. Almost anything could make his breathing labored, but the worst were the colds. Nearly every virus caused a crisis. Most of them landed us in the emergency room.

Through countless nights, my husband Mark and I would take turns watching over John, administering his medication and monitoring his breathing. Hour after hour we listened to his wheezing and gasping, praying that morning would come soon. Even though John is now 9 years old and doing quite well overall, we still half-jokingly refer to those long nights as “the night watch.”

The worst part of those nights for me was being surrounded by total darkness with the clock moving so slowly that, at times, it seemed not to be moving at all. I was suspended in helplessness, waiting for my prayers to be answered and the night watch to end.

This Advent, consider this: In one form or another, we're all on night watch.

Waiting certainly isn't the strong point of our culture. As a whole, we're not a very patient people. It's difficult to wait for things to make sense. It's difficult to wait for a stressful situation to be resolved. It's difficult to wait for a closed door to open. It's difficult to wait for the suffering to be over. We don't like to wait, especially when our very fate seems to hang in the balance.

And yet, paradoxical as it sounds, waiting itself is an essential part of the process of moving forward because in waiting, there is hope. Think about these words of the psalmist: “I wait with longing for the Lord, my soul waits for his word. My soul looks for the Lord more than sentinels for daybreak. More than sentinels for daybreak…” (Psalm 130:5-6).

I've found that so much can be learned in the waiting itself. It's an opportunity to dig far down into our inner depths. It makes us pause and re-evaluate the present so that we can prepare for the future. It makes us appreciate and utilize what lies in the palm of our hands right now rather than plotting for what might be there someday. It makes us realize that we're not in control; our heavenly Father is. And he never lets us down.

“Let Israel look for the Lord, for with the Lord is kindness, with him is full redemption, and God will redeem Israel from all their sins” (Psalm 130:7-8).

During Advent, our collective “night watch,” we wait for Jesus, the fulfillment of God's promise of redemption. We anticipate the peace and love that he brings into the world. It's the waiting through four weeks of darkness that makes Christmas so great.

Thinking back on my night watches over my son, I realize that we experience our own private Advent whenever we have to endure a time of waiting — yet every Advent is followed by a Christmas morning.

The Word Incarnate is as present to us today as he was to the shepherds in Bethlehem. Our Lord will show his steadfast love to us when our souls wait in hope for him during the darkness of the night watch.

And when we rise to find him on that morning — in the manger and in our hearts — our hope has been fulfilled.

Marge Fenelon writes from Cudahy, Wisconsin.