Etymologically, the word watch has remained fairly consistent since it was introduced into Old English as wæcce. Over these many centuries, the sense has been that of remaining awake for the purposes of vigilance, devotion, or public security. The meaning of “a small timepiece” arose only in the 1580s, from a mid-century word meaning “a clock to wake up sleepers.”
As I pondered today’s word, I realized that modern technology has provided us with a device that both combines the various senses of watch and offers an apt analogy for our Advent task of constant vigilance. While remaining a small timepiece, the Apple Watch also enables people to answer telephone calls, send text messages, and check their email. The watch includes calendars and an alarm clock and provides reminders to attend appointments and pay bills. It even allows us to be vigilant about health and exercise, monitoring calories burned, steps taken, and completion of exercise goals. More crucial from a health standpoint, the watch can also track heart rate and glucose levels and send and SOS to local emergency services. Yesterday, I even read about a recent study in which cancer patients were able to chart their quality of life by using emojis provided on the Apple Watch.
While I do use Apple products, I am not a shill. I am simply using this complex device as a reminder that being vigilant has become much easier–but perhaps more difficult as well. The season of Advent is meant for quiet contemplation. Perhaps forgoing instant vigilance over all aspects of our complicated lives might enable us to turn our watchfulness inward, past the beating heart all the way to the simple and loving heart created in the image of God.