Every year, we have a debate within the staff as we plan worship for these four weeks. It goes something like this…
Reverend 1- I think we should sing only Advent hymns for these four weeks for Christmas has yet to happen!
Reverend 2- I think we can do that for one Sunday due to the fact that we only really know maybe three advent hymns!
Reverend 1- What if we teach them something new?
Reverend 2- What if we just let them sing carols that they love? Most people don’t even know the difference between Advent and Christmas!
And the end result is always the same…we spend the first Sunday of Advent singing Advent songs and then turn to the wonderful carols of hope and love born on Christmas morning. Is it bad? I think not, for the reality is that we are inviting the joy of Christmas to find root within us even as we continue to prepare for the coming once more!
But for today, spend some time listening, reading and absorbing the quintessential first verse (prayer!) of our Advent hymn, O Come, O Come Emmanuel.
O come, O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
One of the other popular Advent carols is Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus. First published in 1744 by Charles Wesley, the brother of John Wesley who began the Methodist tradition. This hymn sounds much like a petition through prayer, that God would be with us and free us. Take note of the word ‘born’ and how it is used with Jesus. Each of these four uses, helps to highlight a part of Jesus work among us.
Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.
Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.
We turn to writings and poems that help stir in us the depth and width of the coming of Christ. Each year we hear the story anew and often find ourselves going through the motions without the full impact of the wonder of the story. May these next days fill you with thought and wonder as we await the dawn of Christ!
The God Who Descends by Charles E. Moore
The greatness of God’s majesty is not in the realm of the eternal. God is Immanuel, “God with us,” and even more: he is one of us! The Word became flesh, and in the flesh God’s glory is revealed (John 1:14). Such glory, in its incomprehensible smallness, is too much for us to handle. As the Apostle John writes: his own, neither recognized nor received him.
No wonder we so readily exchange the mystery of incarnation for Christmas. We pine for the familiar rituals of Yuletide merriment and for its visions of confected magic, despite knowing deep down that these are based on a fiction. We want to be comforted and cheered, not scandalized like Joseph or shocked like Mary, the shepherds, and Herod. We don’t want to feel, as Bonhoeffer put it, “the shiver of fear that God’s coming should arouse in us.”
When we sidestep the incarnation, we risk smothering our sense of who God is. We miss, in the words of J. B. Phillips, “the awe-inspiring humility of God” – “the awe, almost a sense of fright, at what God has done.”
And what has God done? “He made himself nothing,” Paul says (Phil. 2:7 NIV). God has dived all the way down into his fallen creation to redeem it, exploding our preconceived notions of the divine. He descended into our darkness, not to shine a glint of light here and there, but to wholly illumine and transform our fleshly existence. He takes on our sinful flesh to overcome it (Heb. 2:14–18).
This is frightening. The One in whom “all things hold together” (Col. 1:17) made himself vulnerable and threw himself into the arms of his wayward creation in order to save it. He came to show us that what we desire and need most is not carefree, self-sufficient lives, but rather a way of humble love.
Harmonies in Heaven by Miriam Mathis
Are there sounds we cannot hear
That resound in the heavenly sphere?
Take a look at that sunrise spire
That shoots to the zenith, an orange fire.
Does it sound like a trumpet blast
To the watching angels at their task?
How often we miss a wonder of light
Because we weren’t expecting the sight!
“How silently, how silently,
the wondrous gift is given.
So God imparts to human hearts
the blessings of his heaven.”
Did the hosts of God who dwell
In endless space beyond our time
Hear hallelujahs flung abroad
When Christ was born, the Son of God?
Many a miracle is silent to us –
The grateful smile of a homeless child;
The flutter of heart when we apologize;
The love and joy in my brother’s eyes.
Maybe in heaven we will hear
The harmonies that rise from earth:
The mighty organ, the tinkling bells,
That speak again of the Savior’s birth.
Advent Reflection by Christine Sine
On this long dark night we await the coming of Christ.
We long for the light of his presence,
With us and in us.
When our souls are deeply troubled,
and our hearts break with the weight of sorrow,
may our grief be seasoned with love,
and our sorrow be buoyed by hope.
In our times of God-forsakenness and estrangement,
May we gaze on the innocent One,
made perfect through suffering.
and see in him our vulnerable God,
who saves in weakness and pain.
May our suffering empty us of pride,
and lead us to true joy
our only security,
in Christ the infinite depths of God’s grace.
Now the Work of Christmas Begins by Dr. Howard Thurman
When the song of the angels is stilled,
when the star in the sky is gone,
when the kings and princes are home,
when the shepherds are back with their flocks, the work of Christmas begins:
to find the lost,
to heal the broken,
to feed the hungry,
to release the prisoner,
to rebuild the nations,
to bring peace among the people,
to make music in the heart.