What is the Gift of "With-Ness"?
Last Sunday evening, on the first Sunday of Advent, I sat in our church's evening contemplative service and, while waiting for it to begin, listened to a new rendition of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" playing softly overhead.
I smiled when I heard it, remembering the thoughtful observation one of the members of our Advent Meditations group made earlier in the week that this particular Christmas carol is most fitting — the most fitting of all the carols — to be sung in the Advent season, before Christmas arrives.
Then, as I continued to listen, my heart stirred.
Across the screen of my mind flashed the recent Paris attacks. Then came the faces of Syrian refugees, their eyes full of dirt and tears and fear as they landed on safer shores. Then I thought of ISIS and its reign of terror. This past week's shooting in San Bernardino, California, had not happened yet, but all the same fear and anger and confusion and powerlessness and despair it raised was already there before it happened. Our world is full of chaos. Our world is such a mad, dark place.
O come, O come, Emmanuel.
Sometimes I think this madness and darkness is new, but then I remember it's not. The sky has been falling for a long, long time, and the people of this planet have long been watching for the light, have long been pleading for a Savior who could save them from themselves.
This light-watching cry is what caused the people of Israel to long for their promised Messiah. It is what caused them to hold in their hearts the truth of that very song: "O come, O come, Emmanuel. Our world is falling apart. Come save us. Come bring your reign."
O come, O come, Emmanuel.
Come save us.
That was the cry of my heart last Sunday evening, as I listened to that song and watched the events of our world play across the screen of my mind.
Then I thought of the way Israel expected the Messiah to come as a king who would save them in a zealous way, how they believed the Messiah would come with trumpets blazing and fierce justice in hand. But what they received instead was a baby. One in human flesh who grew up among them.
What could that have been like?
Instead of a zealous conqueror, they received someone who was simply like them and with them.
God's answer to the maddening of the world was to come and be with us. God's answer took a quieter, longer view.
What is the gift of with-ness? How does presence save us? When the world is falling apart, how does "being with" become a grace?
This is the grace God chose for us. This is the gift God gave us. With-ness.
My world has not fallen apart in anywhere near the same way as those living in Paris or fleeing Syria or wrecked by a vicious shooting. Not even close. I won't pretend to know what that is like.
But in the ways my life has known its own versions of falling apart, I can look back and see how much with-ness made a difference.
I recall the kind face of my third-grade teacher many years ago, who knelt down next to me at the classroom computer where I was, under cover of creating a printed calendar, crying silent tears that wouldn't stop streaming down my face. I'd just learned my parents were separating from each other, and my 9-year-old heart could not fathom it. My world was falling apart. Still today, I remember the kindness of that simple gesture — the way she noticed and knelt down next to me, the way she let me cry and protected my privacy, the way her blue-green eyes told me she was listening, the way she saw.
Other Christianne-sized events over the years have sent the sky of my life crashing to the ground, too — the loss of my first marriage, the loss of some dearest and closest friends — and each time, it was the presence of others who helped me find my way through. It was their with-ness. It helped save me.
How have you experienced this in your life? How has the gift of presence saved you from your own world's dark descent? How has with-ness been the grace you needed in those places?
Come share your response in the Advent Meditations group.
Thankful for the with-ness-es (witnesses!),
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