More than any year I can recall, this year I have resonated deeply with the words of Advent. The lectionary texts have inspired me, particularly those that speak of one who will come and make things right, who will overcome evil and bring rest to the weary, who will upend the world’s values of power and influence and bring a kingdom where gentleness and goodness prevail. The recurring encouragement to not be afraid has been what I needed to hear.
Each week as I’ve reflected on the words accompanying the Advent candle for that week—hope, peace, joy and love—the themes have worked their way into my spirit. Daily I’ve considered what they mean for me, particularly with regard to the unsettledness in my life and in the world this year.
And the words of two Advent hymns have been on almost continuous loop in my head: Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus and People, Look East. The first speaks to my own desire to be freed from the fears that arise in difficult times as well as my longing for Christ. The second hymn, People, Look East has been a recent find for me, and, probably because I like birds so much, the third verse has been a favorite:
Birds, though you long have ceased to build, guard the nest that must be filled.
Even the hour when wings are frozen, God for fledging time has chosen.
People, look east and sing today. Love, the bird, is on the way.
The reminder that God comes in unlikely times and seasons encourages me to remain hopeful and watchful, because God doesn’t work in predictable or even reasonable (as we think of reasonable) ways. After all, it was an unwed young woman that God chose to be the mother of Jesus, and an elderly woman was chosen to be the mother of John the Baptist.
When life is difficult, when we earnestly try to live a faithful life only to be misunderstood, criticized or bullied, we truly cry, “Come, Lord Jesus!” When illness, vocational uncertainty, death or broken relationships weigh heavily on us, we long for the coming of a savior to guide us, heal us and comfort us in our sorrow. And even if things are good for us now, we hear the message of Advent for those who are not in an easy stage of life. Savoring the words of Advent prepares us to celebrate Christmas with deep joy and faith, to know that God’s inbreaking in the world changes everything.