O come, O come Emmanuel, …
By now most of us have decorated our homes for the holiday season. Some of us have even turned the holiday lights on. It seems to be a race each year to see who will be the first to light up the night sky. Our household usually gets a little headstart on the season. The lights on our house are left up year round (not turned on). We also put the net lights on our shrubs at the end of each summer (avoiding the cold). Then, on the Friday after Thanksgiving everything is turned on. What a glorious sight.
I do confess to a little rationalization to justify my behavior. From the Friday after Thanksgiving until December 24th the lights on our house and the tree in the living room are Advent decorations. Then, as if by magic, at sundown the 24th, the decorations and lights become Christmas lights. Sundown is when the feast of Christmas begins. Can you guess that we are eager for Christmas?
I engage in this little dance with myself because I also cherish the season of Advent. Music is a central part of this season for me. The music I try to listen to seems to have been forgotten by our busy world, Advent hymns. One of my favorites is “O come, O come Emmanuel…” Have you sat down and read the words lately. Like many of the traditional hymns of Advent, “O come, O come Emmanuel” is a hymn of longing. When we sing this hymn we are vocalizing our shared longing for the future that is promised by God, a future that will be the fulfillment of all humanity’s dreams. That fulfillment of the promises of every Advent hymn and the prophets of holy scripture is to arrive with the long awaited Emmanuel.
Promises are important. They are central. Many of us have found that the promises, hopes and aspirations we connect our hearts to form the lives we live and the people we become. The simple act of “hitching our wagon to a star” gives us purpose and direction. Once our hearts are hitched, that sense of mission begins to marshal our strengths, develop our talents and skills, and empower us to pursue what could be. Few of us ever fully achieve all that we commit ourselves to. Maybe, committing and reaching toward our hopes is enough.
Like many of you, I know the desire to jump over the season of Advent and to go directly to the celebration of Christmas. I believe we tend to forget what Advent has to offer. This season is the time of the year we are asked to dwell between what is and what is to come. These are the days in which we are reminded of what we as Christians are looking forward to. Two ways to do this are to touch base with the promises of God found in holy scripture and sacred music. This is the season to recommit – re-hitch our lives to God’s promises of Emmanuel, God with us. It is also time to pitch our tents in the presence of what will be – but is not yet. This is particularly difficult for citizens of the 21st century. Our ancestors in the faith were better at savoring the tension of this in between place. If we slow down and give Advent a chance, the season will be able to do its work of further shaping our hearts and minds.
It is my hope and prayer that this Advent will be a blessing to you, your family, and to our nation. I pray that through this season our personal and national hopes and fears will have been reexamined through the lens of God’s promises of a renewed world and society. And I truly hope that our shared Christian Advent will guide us as we move into the next chapter of our personal lives and that of our nation.
The choice of the promises and hopes we allow to shape our hearts is one of the central choices of our lives.