Did you know that, for the first time in 14 years, there are four Sundays in Advent this year? I learned this yesterday when I attended St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Lynchburg, VA, as a change of pace from my home church. I have no intention of switching churches anytime soon, but as I explained to several people, I enjoy attending liturgical services around holidays, especially Christmas. My boyfriend was a good enough sport (maybe because he got to have breakfast at Market at Main first) to go along with me to this service involving a lot of standing, kneeling, and even walking up to the altar rail for Holy Communion. (He said he was watching me and doing whatever I did. I didn’t know what I was doing either; I was watching the person in front of me.)
We were also reminded in the sermon that right now, we are not technically in the Christmas season. We are in Advent, and we will be until December 24, that rare fourth Sunday. Christmas begins that night and goes until January 6, variously called Epiphany, Twelfth Night, and Three Kings Day. Of course, as my evangelical friends will rightly remind me, we can celebrate Christmas all year, and the dates matter less than the substance of what actually happened and what it means for us. But the significance of Advent is that it’s all about hope, expectation, and waiting. These are not only essential disciplines for the Christian life but also just good general life habits. Advent and Christmas, if we see them in their true Christian light, teach us that what we await far exceeds even the weeks of excitement and preparation. The days after December 25 are not a letdown, as we often think of them, but a continued celebration of the long-expected Christ who has finally come.
Yesterday’s service closed out with a beautiful hymn by Eleanor Farjeon that I had never heard before. I loved it so much (especially the bird verse, of course) that I wanted to share it with you. Please enjoy it, and think about it this week when you start to wonder if Christmas is really worth all the fuss. It is, and far more! Think about it later this winter when you feel exhausted from walking around in the dark and shivering all the time. Spring is coming! And think about it throughout your life when you are tired of waiting for a break, waiting to see the fruits of your labor, waiting for your prayers to be answered in a way that you can see and understand. Love is on the way.
(Note: I added the exclamation points because I felt they fit the tone of the song better than the periods that were printed in the bulletin.)
1. People, look East! The time is near of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able, trim the hearth and set the table.
People, look East and sing today: Love the guest is on the way.
2. Furrows, be glad! Though earth is bare, one more seed is planted there:
Give up your strength the seed to nourish, that in course the flow’r may flourish.
People, look East and sing today: Love the rose is on the way.
3. 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.
4. Stars, keep the watch! When night is dim, one more light the bowl shall brim,
Shining beyond the frosty weather, bright as sun and moon together.
People, look East and sing today: Love the star is on the way.
5. Angels, announce with shouts of mirth Christ who brings new life to earth!
Set every peak and valley humming with the word the Lord is coming.
People look East and sing today: Love the Lord is on the way.