Joy to the World :: Advent’s Joy

The promise of Advent is that of longings met. In this way, Advent—longing for God’s presence—stands in contrast to hell, which C.S. Lewis describes as a place of “infinite boredom.” In A Preface to Paradise Lost Lewis contrasts the brilliant longings of humankind (Adam) with what he calls the profound “un-interestingness” of evil personified:

Adam, though locally confined to a small park on a small planet, has interests that embrace ‘all the choir of heaven and all the furniture of earth.’ Satan has been in the Heaven of Heavens and in the abyss of Hell, and surveyed all that lies between them, and in that whole immensity has found only one thing that interests him.

Satan’s monomaniac concern with himself and his supposed rights and wrongs is a necessity of the Satanic predicament. Certainly, he has no choice. He has chosen to have no choice. He has wished to ‘be himself,’ and to be in himself and for himself, and his wish has been granted.

To admire Satan, then, is to give one’s vote not only for a world of misery, but also for a world of lies and propaganda, of wishful thinking, of incessant autobiography.

Compare Lewis’ (and Milton’s) vision of hell as self-consumption with Isaac Watts’ celebrated 18th century hymn, “Joy to the World.” It is profoundly communal—“Let earth receive her King; let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing.”—wonderfully enveloped in ‘all the choir of heaven and all the furniture of earth.’

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
nor thorns infest the ground;
he comes to make his blessings flow
far as the curse is found.

Watts was burdened by lifeless worship; ”To see the dull indifference, the negligent and thoughtless air that sits upon the faces of a whole assembly, while the psalm is upon their lips, might even tempt a charitable observer to suspect the fervency of their inward religion.”

His answer wasn’t simply better, or “more relevant,” music, but the restoration of the soul that comes filling the longings of our hearts in “the glories of his righteousness and wonders of his love.”

ListenJoy to the World by Red Mountain Church (3:56 – lyrics below)

The Call to Prayer
Open my lips, O Lord, and my mouth shall proclaim your praise. — Psalm 51.16

– From 
Christmastide: Prayers for Advent Through Epiphany from The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
2 Chronicles 16 (Listen – 2:51)
Revelation 5 (Listen – 2:39)

O Come, All Ye Faithful :: Advent’s Joy

John Francis Wade was a published hymnist and a rebel who died in exile—though little else is known about his life. The song he is now best known for, “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” was originally believed to be an anonymous Latin hymn. Recently discovered fragments of Wade’s journal revealed the four original stanzas, penned in 1744, and the centrality that faith played in his life.

Not long after he completed the hymn, Wade filled the margins of the page with calls for the Jacobites to rally against England’s King. It’s unclear how entwined the lyrics of “O Come, All Ye Faithful” were with the Jacobites larger mission—the then century-old commitment to restore the lineage of James II—although it is clear that the hymn is a rallying cry at its heart.

History did not favor the rebels. The Jacobite Rising of 1745 was decisively defeated by the British in less than a year. The uprising’s leader had a price placed on his head and fled to France with what was left of his men.

“Oh Come, All Ye Faithful” was originally written in French and published in England in 1751, between the Jacobite exile and Wade’s death in Douai, France. The hymn fell into relative obscurity until it was translated into English by Frederick Oakeley in 1841.

Nearly a century after Wade first marveled at the Christ, the song would be adopted by the Church, with new verses added and translations made into over 100 languages.

John Francis Wade also left a reminder that Christ’s birth is a rally cry. All earthly kings must be displaced. Wade wanted to replace them with kings of his own choosing; Christ’s call is for purity in lordship—he is a good King and he will not share the throne.

Through Wade’s words, we are also reminded of the power of awe. It is rare, even more in our world than his, to stop and marvel. But what we find in meditations strengthens our souls, readies our hearts for action, and roots our lives in the true faithful one.

ListenO Come, All Ye Faithful by The Baylor University A Cappella Choir (2:59 – lyrics below)

The Refrain
I will exalt you, O God my King, and bless your name forever and ever. — Psalm 145.1

– From 
Christmastide: Prayers for Advent Through Epiphany from The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
2 Chronicles 14-15 (Listen – 5:42)
Revelation 4 (Listen – 2:09)

Hark the Herald Angels Sing :: Advent’s Joy

Christmas is a musical outlier—no other modern holiday is set to its own soundtrack. The downside to seasonal music is that nearly everyone has a Christmas song that they can’t stand. Little Drummer Boy, Feliz Navidad, and Santa Baby occur frequently on modern lists of annoying Christmas songs.

For Charles Wesley, the 18th century theologian, the song that bothered him so much that he refused to sing it was Hark the Herald Angels Sing. Now a popular carol, it was originally published by Wesley’s student George Whitefield. Most of the lyrics, however did not belong to Whitefield, they came from the pen of Charles Wesley himself.

When Wesley originally wrote it as a Christmas Day hymn for his church. “Hark! How all the welkin rings, glory to the King of Kings,” he wrote, echoing the angel’s praise in Luke,  “Glory to God in the highest heaven.” Welkin means sky, and while the skies were filled with praise, there is no Biblical record of the angels singing.

Whitefield went further than narrative adaptation, however. And the verses he chose to drop from the hymn demonstrate Wesley’s ability to capture robust theology in verse:

Come, desire of nations, come,
Fix in us thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conquering seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.

Now display thy saving power,
Ruin’d nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to thine.

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp thy image in its place.
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in thy love.

Let us thee, though lost, regain,
Thee, the life, the inner man:
O, to all thyself impart,
Form’d in each believing heart.

Ultimately the song has stood the test of time, in part because of both men’s work. Whitefield shaped what we now celebrate as heaven and earth rejoicing at the coming of Christ, but Wesley’s theology still resonates with our longings in Advent as we sing:

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings.

ListenHark the Herald Angels Sing by Paisley Abby Choir (2:59)

The Request for Presence
Bow your heavens, O Lord, and come down; touch the mountains, and they shall smoke. — Psalm 144.5

– From 
Christmastide: Prayers for Advent Through Epiphany from The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Reading
2 Chronicles 13 (Listen – 3:56)
Revelation 3 (Listen – 3:53)

Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus :: Advent’s Joy

“It thrilled him with a vague uncertain horror,” Charles Dickens wrote of Scrooge’s meeting with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

The Phantom slowly, gravely, silently approached. When it came near him, Scrooge bent down upon his knee; for in the very air through which this Spirit moved it seemed to scatter gloom and mystery. It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand.

The future of Christmas came as a warning to Scrooge—change your ways, or this is what will become of you. The miser pleads, “Assure me that I yet may change these shadows you have shown me, by an altered life!” As a tool in Dickens’ narrative, this transition serves Scrooge well. As a motto to live by, it would lead readers to misery.

Our hearts and flesh fail us too regularly for this to work—go try harder is a recipe for disaster. Perhaps it’s best to contrast Dickens vision with the words of another literary giant, John Wesley. The pastor and theologian composed dozens of books, wrote thousands sermons, and published over 6,500 hymns during his lifetime. In one of his most famous hymns he wrote:

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.

In this, Wesley captures the fulfillment of the first Advent while directing our attention on the brilliance of the second advent. What a miracle that the long expected Messiah was born into our world! How we long to be released from this brokenness. How we long for rest.

The message to Scrooge never led him beyond himself (which was his problem in the first place). The message of Wesley is for those who have met the end of self. For those who haven’t found true joy in success, those who can’t live past their failures, those who cannot find satisfaction in the messiness of this world; Christ is the “Joy of every longing heart.”

ListenCome, Thou Long Expected Jesus by Christy Nockels (2:59)

The Call to Prayer
Bless the Lord, you angels of his, you mighty ones who do his bidding, and hearken to the voice of his word. — Psalm 103.20

– From 
Christmastide: Prayers for Advent Through Epiphany from The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 11-12 (Listen – 6:00)
Revelation 2 (Listen – 4:59)

Love’s Journey :: Advent’s Love

Reflection: Love’s Journey :: Advent’s Love
By Steven Dilla

The town of St. Joseph, 60 miles north of Kansas City, MO, originally served as a starting point for the Oregon Trail. In its heyday, the streets would have been filled with thousands of pioneers provisioning for the final time before “jumping off”—a term used for leaving civilization behind for the nearly half-year journey west.

Almost thirty years after the Civil War, in 1892, Katherine Kennicott Davis was born into a second-generation pioneer family who had settled in the old trailhead town. By the time Davis was born the railroad had expanded and St. Joseph was no longer as influential. Much like the town they lived in, Davis’ family was neither culturally elite or affluent, but even as a child she showed unique talent which would shape her life.

While pioneers risked everything to travel from St. Joseph into the promise and peril of the Wild West, Davis would take her own risks, cutting her own path east. After graduating from Wellesley College in Massachusetts, she braved trans-Atlantic travel to study at the Royal Academy of Music.

Davis returned to the US and, with a world-class education, dedicated herself to teaching children music at various schools across New England. The majority of the more than 600 pieces Davis composed during her lifetime were for the children she taught.

In 1941 Davis penned, “The Carol of the Drum,” which would be popularized as, “Little Drummer Boy” when the Trapp Family Singers picked it up in 1955. Despite her volume of work and level of talent, Davis isn’t widely known for any other song.

The story of the “Little Drummer Boy” embodies part of the beauty of Davis’ story. The song begins with a boy taking a risk to travel and sit with someone great. The boy is aware of—but undeterred by—his simple heritage, offering his musical talent with great diligence. Though many might overlook such a musician, he receives the prize upon which his hope was set: the love of the One whom he has been playing for all along.

ListenLittle Drummer Boy by Dolly Parton (4:36)

The Morning Psalm
Therefore my heart dances for joy, and in my song will I praise him. — Psalm 28.7

– From 
Christmastide: Prayers for Advent Through Epiphany from The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 8 (Listen – 3:02)
3 John (Listen – 1:51)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Chronicles 9 (Listen – 5:07) Jude (Listen – 4:12)
2 Chronicles 10 (Listen – 3:01) Revelation 1 (Listen – 3:43)

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