The Dawn from on High
When a South Carolina friend posted this picture on Facebook, it helped prepare my soul for Advent. It’s the beginning of the new liturgical year, the season of anticipation and hope for the coming of Christ. The caption could have been Zechariah’s song of hope at the birth of John who would prepare the way for the coming of Christ. (Read his mind-blowing story in Luke 1:5-79)
“Because of our God’s deep compassion,
the dawn from heaven will break upon us,
to give light to those who are sitting in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide us on the path of peace.
Advent conveys the deep longing and relentless hope of Tony’s opening scene in West Side Story when he sings, “Something’s coming, something good…if I can wait.”
The scripture readings take us back to the longed-for hope of the birth of Jesus even as they look forward to his final coming when the kingdoms of this earth become of the Kingdom of God (Revelation 11:15). At the same time, the spirit of Advent touches the deep places of our souls where we remember what God did in the past, participate in what God is doing in the present, and hold onto the hope of what God will do in the future.
The Annus Horribilis
We have plenty of reasons to long for something good to come! We already look back on 2020 the way Queen Elizabeth declared 1992 to be an Annus Horribilis. After the year her kids got their divorces and Windsor Castle burned, she confessed with unaccustomed candor, “This has not been a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure.”
If you haven’t felt some level of depression, disappointment, or despair this year, you haven’t been paying attention. It leaves us longing for something better, something good in the new year ahead.
Hopeful New Year!
But we don’t need to wait for January to get started. In the church’s calendar, the new year begins today! One of the scripture readings for the First Sunday in Advent declares: “The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing!” (Romans 13:12)
In more than one Advent sermon, William Sloane Coffin often said:
“Hope is a state of mind independent of the state of the world. If your heart’s full of hope, you can be persistent when you can’t be optimistic. You can keep the faith despite the evidence, knowing that only in so doing has the evidence any chance of changing. So while I’m not optimistic, I’m always very hopeful.”
Even when it’s hard to be optimistic — which it is! — we are called to be hopeful; to begin to live now in ways that are consistent with the Way revealed in Jesus; the way this world will be when God’s Kingdom comes and God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. There’s no need to wait! We can live into a new year today!
The Facebook picture also reminded me of a hymn that is familiar to the British Methodists but has never been included in our hymnals. A friend in South Africa told me that during the long, hard years of Apartheid, when there was no reason to be optimistic, they would sing it as a witness of their hope.
There’s a light upon the mountains,
and the day is at the spring,
When our eyes shall see the beauty
and the glory of the King;
Weary was our heart with waiting, and
the night-watch seemed so long,
But His triumph-day is breaking, and
we hail it with a song.
There’s a hush of expectation, and
a quiet in the air;
And the breath of God is moving in
the fervent breath of prayer;
For the suffering, dying Jesus is the
Christ upon the throne,
And the travail of our spirit is the
travail of His own.
He is breaking down the barriers,
He is casting up the way;
He is calling for His angels to build
up the gates of day;
But His angels here are human, not
the shining hosts above,
For the drum-beats of His army are
the heart-beats of our love.
If we live with biblical hope during Advent, we will see the “light upon the mountains,” feel the “hush of expectation,” and awaken to the “drum-beats” of the Spirit that will energize “the heart-beats of our love.”
On the First Sunday in Advent, I wish you a very Hopeful New Year!
Grace and peace,