As we sing the songs of Advent, we are reminded of deep longings for wholeness and restoration. These present times can feel dark and heavy. We see brokenness because of sin, and we cry out for hope and healing. We hold a tension between the merriment of the Christmas season and the darkness in this world and in our hearts. There is joy and sorrow, peace and pain. In Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus we sing:
Come, Thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s Strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.
In the tension of this season, we remember that He came to set His people free “from our fears and sins.” We are reminded that God is our rest, strength, consolation, hope, desire and joy.
In O Come, O Come Emmanuel we sing these words:
O come, Thou Day-Spring
Come and cheer
Our spirits by Thine advent here
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death’s dark shadows put to flight
Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel
In the darkness of night, we await the coming day-spring, the sunrise. He is the dawning of light that “disperses the gloomy clouds of night.”
How do we balance the heaviness of this time with the glorious truths of what He has done? We look to the fulfilled promise of Jesus’ first coming and the yet-to-be-fulfilled promise of His second. Karl Barth writes, “Unfulfilled and fulfilled promise are related to each other, as are dawn and sunrise. Both are promise and in fact the same promise. If anywhere at all, then it is precisely in the light of the coming of Christ that faith has become Advent faith, the expectation of future revelation. But faith knows for whom and for what it is waiting. It is fulfilled faith because it lays hold on the fulfilled promise. The promise for Israel and the promise for the church is Jesus Christ; he has come, and he will come again. This is the essence of Advent.”
We remember and we anticipate. We cry out to God to make things right, “to put death’s dark shadows to flight.” I find it fitting that Christmas falls shortly after the Winter Solstice. Here in North America, the winter days get shorter and the nights darker. We hunker down, knowing that after the Solstice, the days with sunlight will slowly get longer again. The Arctic Circle has months of darkness, which they call the Polar Night. You can imagine how they look forward to the arrival of the sun after weeks upon weeks of darkness. Some have been able to document a phenomenon called the Novaya Zemlyla Effect. It’s a mirage that makes it appear as though the sun is actually rising, although it is still below the horizon. It can appear weeks before the expected end of the Polar Night.
Although we do not yet have the full rays of His glorious return over the horizon, we can see it is near. The darkness will not be able to withstand His light, and we can rejoice this Christmas season in that hope. We, His people, can also reflect the sun on a world in desperate need of that hope.
Which Christmas Carols do you sing over and over during this time of year?