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.
Today has been a day of meetings and conversations. It has been a full day, and a good day. As we approach the Third Sunday of Advent, I do so hopefully and rejoicing. Thus, the great Swedish Advent hymn, “Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers,” comes to mind today.
Rejoice, rejoice, believers, and let your lights appear;
the evening is advancing, and darker night is near.
The bridegroom is arising and soon is drawing nigh.
Up, pray and watch and wrestle; at midnight comes the cry.
“Up, pray and watch and wrestle…” I don’t know about you, but this pretty well describes my relationship with God sometimes, especially when in the midst of discernment and trying to figure out what God might be calling to be a part of. I think back to the imagery in Genesis of Jacob wrestling with God. I think of long nights of sleeplessness of prayer and watching, especially in waiting for news or the arrival of a loved one. What images from these words come to mind for you?
As I think about the following verses which I will let speak for themselves today, I am pondering the conversations that I was in earlier today. They included a long and rich discussion about Word and Service ministry, or deacons in the Evangelical Lutheran Church. A group of about 10 deacons, myself included, gathered to listen, share stories, to wonder, and set out in an endeavor to think about the needs and opportunities for Word and Service ministry, especially in the Nebraska Synod.
It was a rich conversation about how deacons connect the church to the world, and bring the world to the church. It was a conversation about the possibilities for lifting up vocations and leadership. It was a conversation about partnership for the sake of God’s work in the world. There will be more conversations to be sure. But if this one was any indication, God is up to something. So, I will “watch, pray, and wrestle.”
The watchers on the mountain proclaim the bridegroom near;
go forth as he approaches with alleluias clear.
The marriage feast is waiting; the gates wide open stand.
Arise, O heirs of glory; the bridegroom is at hand.
The saints, who here in patience their cross and sufferings bore,
shall live and reign forever when sorrow is no more.
Around the throne of glory the Lamb they shall behold;
in triumph cast before him their diadems of gold.
Our hope and expectation, O Jesus, now appear;
arise, O Sun so longed for, o’er this benighted sphere.
With hearts and hands uplifted, we plead, O Lord, to see
the day of earth’s redemption that sets your people free!
This is the why of our faith. This is the what of our faith. This is the hope that calls and gathers us together, strengthens us in sacraments, and sends us out in service in the world. “Our hope and expectation, O Jesus, now appear…” As we continue in our Advent journey, we are closer now to Christmas then we are to the start of Advent. As we journey to the manger, may our presence, prayer, and wrestling continue, but also, may our hopes grow. May all of this lead us to share. May it fill us. And may God continue to open our eyes, hearts, and minds to that which God is up to, and about to bring about anew.
Credit/Reference: Laurentius Laurenti, “Rejoice, Rejoice, Believers,” tr. Sarah B. Findlater, Swedish folk tune, found in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), 244.