This Advent season I am going to reflect on a hymn or carol daily as part of my spiritual practices. I am not sure where all these reflections will take me, but in conversation with my spiritual director, I am going to leave room for both “the head stuff” and “the heart stuff.” Some days might be more of one or another. I invite you to join me, as together we make space to listen, and be present, to sense what God might be up to.
This weekend you may likely hear a reading from Isaiah 40. “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken” (Isaiah 40:3-5, NRSV). This text helped inspire the writing of the hymn, “There’s a Voice in the Wilderness.” James Lewis Milligan wrote the text and the melody comes from Henry Hugh Bancroft.
There’s a voice in the wilderness crying, a call from the ways untrod:
Prepare in the desert a highway, a highway for our God!
The valleys shall be exalted, the lofty hills brought low;
make straight all the crooked places where God, our God, may go!
This is about as Advent of a message, as it comes. It’s the message and prophecy of Isaiah, and then John the Baptist who reiterates it, and perhaps who even embodies or fulfills it.
O Jerusalem, herald good tidings, ascend to the heights and sing!
Proclaim to a desolate people the coming of their king.
Like flowers of the field we perish, like grass our words decay;
the power and the pomp of nations shall pass like a dream away.
Jerusalem has been in the news a lot this week. I have been reading stories from colleagues in ministry on social media who are on the ground there. I have heard of the uptick in violence, distrust, anger, and protest. I feel guilty because our nation’s president has seemingly only made this worse. I feel guilty because we fail to understand the complexity of peoples of different places, faiths, and experiences. We fail to hear their stories, or if we do, we fail to let them speak for themselves.
But the word of our Savior is faithful, the arm of our God is strong,
who stands in the midst of the nations and soon will right the wrong.
Lord, feed your flock like a shepherd, the lambs so gently hold;
in pastures of peace now lead them, and bring them to your fold.
As we hear the words from Isaiah, we also hear that, “He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep” (Isaiah 40:11, NRSV). This is Good News. In spite of tumult, change, war and rumor of war, violence, fear, anxiety, power… we believe in a God who offers peace, who is present, who is a Savior. This is news we need to hear. It’s news we need to share.
My wife Allison asked me today as I’m writing, “are you Ad-venting again?” She turned it into an action, but you know what, I think it fits. Because in this time of Advent, we may vent at times and name the sin and pain of the world. We may name the problems and challenges that confound us. But we also know that God is coming and God is present. God is up to something. And this season of Advent heralds that change, it is the “Advent of a new day.” This gives me hope. I hope it does for you too.
Credit/Reference: James lewis Milligan, Henry Hugh Bancroft, “There’s a Voice in the Wilderness,” found in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2006).