Grace Cathedral

Grace Cathedral

Article | December 15, 2023

Congregation Update: Keep Watch, Dear Lord

Blog|The Rev. Joe C. Williams

Dear Friends,

“Happy Advent!” is not something we hear with any regularity, usually. This time of year usually brings the familiar “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays,” coupled with impressive storefront displays, Santa visits, and Mariah Carey’s “All I Want For Christmas” playing on repeat. However, for those of us familiar with a liturgical tradition in our communities, the season of Advent isn’t just chocolate calendars; it’s a time of preparation and expectation. It’s a time of hope.

Most of our prayers for Advent recall darkness in some form, empowering us to cast away the mystery of the dark and embrace the power of light. This is especially relevant for us, as the nights become longer, and we experience the longest night of the year, just before the bright majesty of the Incarnation. In order to revel in the light of the birth of Christ, we must be acquainted with darkness; we must, for a time, live in that tension between light and dark. Advent prepares us to look ahead, toward the horizon.

Advent invites us to imagine a world as it could be, which, in turn, allows us to recognize the injustice that surrounds us. Imagining the world as it could be causes us to see the imbalances and exploitations of the world as it is. Advent is an invitation to hope, and hope can sometimes be tough; it can sometimes take grit. Hope means living with complexity and not settling for easy answers. When the world seems dark, when injustice, war, and persecution dominate the news, we can use the skills we’ve cultivated during Advent. The outside world with festive lights and chocolate may not prepare us to live through difficult times, to cope with the tensions of a world that is not as it should be. We need the capacity to look beyond the dark, our eyes firmly fixed to the horizon, to trust in the promise of God.  

Some of my favorite times growing up in Oklahoma is when my dad would let us get on the roof of our house with a blanket and watch the stars. Sometimes we would see a meteor, though, often we would simply look at the moon peeking over the hills or name constellations. No matter what was going on in the world, at school, or even a silly argument with my sister, sitting in darkness and seeing glimmers of light in the sky, gazing toward the horizon, gave me hope that change was possible. It was a “mini-advent” of sorts.  

Today, instead of sitting on the roof and looking at the sky, I like to remind myself of God’s promise by praying. One of my favorite prayers in the Book of Common Prayer is said during Evening Prayer, reminding us that God comforts and provides hope for all, regardless:

“Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angles charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love’s sake.”

May the God of light and peace keep watch over you during this holy season of Advent, and may your eyes be fixed on the horizon awash in hope.


The Rev. Joe C.Williams

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