Greetings from the Moderator DECEMBER 2020
Advent Songs of Longing and Hope
In January, as we faced the expected and unknown changes coming in 2020, I encouraged you to join the psalmists and prophets and “Sing unto the Lord a new song!” I don’t think any of us anticipated the magnitude of the changes we’ve seen this year - not only unanticipated, but often unwelcome. Yet God has indeed done new things in Central Florida Presbytery in 2020, and by the Holy Spirit we have learned and are learning to worship our Lord with a new song.
As a Presbytery, we found new ways to worship together while physically apart; we provided micro grants to help churches strengthen virtual worship services and to help congregations reach out to their communities; we held virtual presbytery meetings, leadership workshops and training events; we committed to act for racial justice, equality, and respect for all people, and to demonstrate this within our communities, through our prayers, policies, and practices.
Advent is the season of preparation for Christmas - of looking forward to the coming of Christ. We remember long centuries of expectation and longing as God's people watched and waited for the birth of the promised Messiah, and we look forward in hope to His promised second coming. That longing has a new intensity this year. We long to be able to visit and hug loved ones currently isolated in senior and medical care facilities; for a path forward in the presence of coronavirus until its effects are reduced by proven treatments; for rapid deployment of effective vaccines to provide immunity and allow businesses and schools to resume operations; for an end to incivility, hateful speech, and refusals to listen to different opinions or experiences.
Advent hymns are filled with expectation and longing. They remind us of God’s faithfulness throughout history and God’s promises that call us to hope today, even in the midst of pandemic. I’d like to share three of my favorites with you. The lyrics are attached *here*.
“O Come, O Come Emmanuel” was originally written in Latin and dates back to the 9th century. It was a very important song in the Dark Ages, when few people could read or have access to the Bible. Each of the seven verses represented a different biblical view of the Messiah; together they showed how the New and Old Testament views of the Messiah came together in the birth and life of Jesus.
O Key of David (Clavis David)
O DaySpring (Oriens)
O King of Nations (Rex Gentium)
O Immanuel (Emmanuel)
O Wisdom (Sapentia)
O Lord (Adonai)
O Root of Jesse (Radix Jesse)
The three verses in our hymnal start with the image of exiles longing for release from captivity, continue with longing for our heavenly home and freedom from sin and death, and culminate in longing for the day when the “hearts of all mankind” will be no longer divided, but united under the King of Peace.
“Watchman, Tell Us of the Night” is an antiphonal (call and response) hymn sung to the haunting Welsh melody Aberystwyth. It tells of an approaching traveler calling out to a watchman on the ramparts of a walled city at night. (The watchman’s response to the traveler is indented in the accompanying lyrics.) When the traveler asks if there are any signs of promise, the watchman points to a beautiful star. The traveler then asks if the star foretells joy or hope, and the watchman affirms that it “brings the day” - both day as in light, and day as in awaited time of Messiah (the day of Israel). The star promises blessedness, light, peace, and truth, and it doesn’t just point to the birthplace of the Christ - it bursts “o’er all the earth” and is eternal. In the final verse, the traveler notes that dawn is near and the watchman responds that doubt and terror lose their power when darkness flees. Night is over and the watchman can go home in peace, confirming that “Lo! the Son of God is come!”
“Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus” is sung to another Welsh tune, Hyfrydol. The first verse expresses a longing for release from our fears and sins, encourages us to find our rest in Jesus, the hope and desire of every nation. The second verse acknowledges Jesus’ role as deliverer and king and looks forward to when Christ’s kingdom will be realized on earth. It ends with a prayer that Jesus be the sole ruler in our hearts and grant us access to His heavenly throne. The joyful tune confirms the hope and promise in the midst of our longing.
What are you longing for as you journey through Advent 2020? We live both in Kairos (moments of decision or action) and Chronos (chronological time). We struggle with the chronological limitations of this earth, the course of diseases, the time and effort to treat or eradicate them, people’s inhumanity to each other. Yet we also acknowledge the unseen reality of God’s Kairos - Jesus has already come as Savior, Christians have been reconciled to God, Jesus has already won the battle against death and evil all injustice. God’s faithfulness in the past compels us to look forward with hope, knowing that our future is in God’s eternal present.
We can still sing a new song!
With expectation, longing, and hope,