So faith comes from hearing …
The sounds of the season. If I’ve heard that phrase once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. I bet you have too. Music and song are so wrapped up in this time of year that it’s almost impossible to separate them. Yet many churches that celebrate Advent choose not to sing the traditional carols until Christmas Day rolls around. That’s part of the whole “waiting” aspect of Advent. What they choose to sing instead are hymns or songs that emphasize the tension of “not-yet.” Examples of this in the hymn department are “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” where you find longing-filled lyrics like:
O come, o come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel.
And “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus,” which begins with these lines:
Come, Thou long expected Jesus,
Born to set Thy people free.
I have been involved in churches that took this approach, and there is a deep richness to the anticipation that’s difficult to express in words. At the same time, I realize there is a window of opportunity in these weeks to fill not only our ears with theologically rich hymns and songs, but the culture’s too. Right or wrong, as soon as Christmas Day hits, many (maybe you too) are ready to take down the lights and trees and move on to the next thing. Unfortunately, that’s the reality in which we live. But the weeks leading up to Christmas? We may be frazzled, but we’re still focused on the season. Maybe the key is attempting to strike a note of moderation.
I incorporated hymns into Advent last year with my family. We tried to have one or two nights each week where we gathered around the dinner table, and—as hard as that can be during December—we pulled it off. On those nights, I cued up my iPhone, and while we ate dinner, we listened (via a Bluetooth speaker) to an entire Christmas album, first song to last. We didn’t pause and theologically dissect the lyrics. No, the music was rather the backdrop for our dinnertime conversation, the stew in which we simmered as we talked about the highs and lows of the day.
As we talked about family members who are no longer with us, we heard lines like:
Born that man no more may die.
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
And as we named those things we were thankful for, we were quietly reminded that:
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh.
And as we discussed our fears and anxieties around this time of year, we were encouraged with:
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead; nor doth He sleep!
The Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”
Prayer: O come, Immanuel, into our wakeful hearts by way of our listening ears. May our lives in these weeks be filled with music—with just enough psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs that bear witness to the comfort we feel as You indeed are with us, as well as the ache for You indeed to come again. Amen.