Authors Note: I had an idea to write about some of my favorite Christmas Hymns starting with “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,” by Charles Wesley, for the advent season. What came out on to paper when I sat down to flesh out this idea was something very different. I am not 100% convinced that I have adequately expressed my thoughts or that my dime store theology is sound. So as you read this, keep in mind that if it weren’t for my challenge I would probably not post this until I had satisfactorily found my conclusion, it is currently evading me so it is possible I will re-visit this work soon. In the meantime I am putting this out to the world and ask for your grace, these are my thoughts on what is a tough and challenging season and I know that I need Hope now more than ever.
Today, Sunday November 29, 2020 is the First Day of Advent. Advent is my favorite liturgical season; the waiting, the longing for something good to arrive, the promise of Hope! In the Methodist church we mark advent by lighting one candle for each of the 4 Sundays leading up to Christmas day. Each candle represents a theme of Hope, Love, Joy and Peace. Today we lit the candle for Hope. Hope, what a loaded word. I know for some Hope is a concept that is hard to grasp right now, where is the hope? How do you hold on to hope when you’ve lost friends and family to a global pandemic that many have chosen to disregard? How do you find hope when you’ve lost your job, are worried about being exposed to Covid-19 at your job, or you’re choosing to follow recommended precautions and aren’t celebrating in the typical manner with friends and family from far and wide? This time of year, as darkness overtakes light, can already be hard to manage for many; but let’s just pile on in the grand manner that has been 2020.
It can seem overwhelming; maybe we should just all crawl into our beds, pull up the covers and wait it out. Surely when the clock strikes Midnight on December 31st, 2020 and we welcome in 2021 all of our troubles will be gone? But as much as I wish that welcoming a new year will solve our problems and lead us out of the wilderness, I have trouble thinking it will be that easy. So where is the hope? How do we find, think or even dare to dream about hope in such dark times? One of the Advent writings I read this morning (https://dianabutlerbass.substack.com) referenced back to Medieval times when the advent themes harkened of darker things – death, judgement, heaven and hell. Those themes certainly seem more appropriate for this Advent season with the darkness that seems to surround us.
But, here’s the thing, we can’t have one without the other. There can be no light without the dark, life and death go hand in hand; at the risk of being trite, “It’s the circle of life.” Yes, many of us are traveling a path that is hard, our burdens are many and we are weary. Weary of the losses that seem to keep racking up, weary of people that seem to have no regard for the life or well being of others. Weary of the discord, the disagreements, the separation, and the ever rising death toll. I would offer that it’s okay, it’s okay to be weary and to not know when you will find rest. We are most certainly in the wilderness, these are dark times. But I do know that even in these dark times it is possible to find hope. Remember light cannot exist without the darkness.
So where and how do we find hope? Being the good Methodist that I am, I am an avid fan of Charles Wesley, brother of John Wesley who founded the Methodist Church. Charles was a prolific author of poems and hymns, his reach goes beyond the Methodist church having penned many of the hymns and carols that are familiar to all. One of my favorite works is
“Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.” Wesley penned this hymn in 1744, it is speculated that he took the following poem and turned it into song in response to the dark times facing many in England; the constant threat of war, division of classes and the poor treatment of orphans (Wikipedia, 11.29.2020):
“Born your people to deliver, born a child and yet a King, born to reign in us forever, now your gracious Kingdom bring. By your own eternal spirit, rule in all our hearts along; by your all sufficient merit, raise us to your glorious throne.”
Wesley was waiting, looking for the child that would be Born a King. Looking for hope in a time of darkness like the prophets of the Old Testament (Haggai 2:7). One of my favorite versions of this song has a plaintive and dark tone that gives way to celebration and light (https://youtu.be/R1Nrg6pVlG0). Yes, this is a time of darkness, but there is a voice calling out in the wilderness. I don’t know why, but I think we are meant to be in this wilderness time, we are meant to journey in the darkness; but I think that makes this season of advent even more special this year. It is important that we embrace the light when we find it and celebrate the hope; even if it is fleeting. It is there for all of us, waiting for the day when light overcomes dark, it happens every year when we pass the Winter Equinox and the days slowly start to become longer than the nights. And maybe this is the year when we take the time to find hope for ourselves by creating it for others. By feeding the hungry, giving to the poor, healing the sick and clothing the naked. Maybe this is the year that in the darkness we find and remember the true spirit of Christmas.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in faith so that you overflow with hope, by the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 15:13 CEB