Waiting with Advent

AdventA lot of people have said a lot of great things about Advent, and I’m hesitant to add my voice. It seems this season on the liturgical calendar has been getting more of its due lately than it did when I was growing up. That’s undoubtedly a good thing; if there’s any one thing we need as 21st-century Americans, it’s a season to focus more on waiting and less on consumption, materialism and consumerism. The broader culture could use for Advent and less Christmas – or at least what Christmas has become.

The church could use it, too, because Advent focuses on the fact that we are in exile, awaiting the Savior of this world to set things right, just as God’s people were 2,000 years ago (plus a few). The American church doesn’t do lament very well, and Advent is a way to bring up, point out, even live within the fact that for many people, this holiday season will be filled with pain, grief, loneliness and heartache. As our preacher said yesterday morning, “Advent says there’s something missing in the world, and you can’t put a bow on it.”

So after saying I was hesitant to add my voice, I’ve written two paragraphs. Nevertheless, I prefer in this case to let those who have written far more poignant things take the lead. Specifically, a few hymn writers who get just right the notion of Advent and what incarnation means when light breaks through the darkness.

O come, Thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” was written in Latin in the 12th century and translated to English in 1851.

Likewise, “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” was written in 1849:

Yet with the woes of sin and strife,
The world hath suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled,
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not,
The love song which they bring:
O hush the noise, ye men of strife,
And hear the angels sing.

And “O, Holy Night” was written in 1849:

Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
With all our hearts we praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! Then ever, ever praise we,
His power and glory ever more proclaim!
His power and glory ever more proclaim!

These songs, which capture so eloquently the tragedy of violence, war and oppression in our exile as we await the coming of the Messiah, all have something in common: They were written (or translated) in the decades immediately preceding the Civil War. Perhaps at no other time in American history was the injustice and inhumanity of our lives so clear and the need for salvation so obvious.

Today, the injustice and inhumanity are still acute; the need for salvation no less great. Advent helps give us the eyes and, perhaps more important, the vocabulary to see and speak our need for that day when the Messiah returns to complete the job of setting right within a new heaven and a new earth all that has gone wrong in this one.

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One comment on “Waiting with Advent

  1. […] Paul _____: What Does It Mean to Celebrate Immanuel? ; Waiting with Advent […]

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