As I have reflected further upon the topic of Advent as a season of aching, longing emptiness, which I wrote about in the last post, I have been taken back to the realization of the important role of music during this time of the year. During the time around Christmas, our hearts and lips are tuned to sing more than most other times of the year. In Christmastide (Christmas and the days thereafter), our songs are those of hope arrived, joy fulfilled, peace on earth, and love’s dawn. But in Advent, our songs express the various sentiments of preparation: feelings of longing hope, expectant joy, wishing for reigning peace, and yearning for lasting love. Advent is meant to prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming…not just in the past as the Infant of Days in the manger, but also in looking forward to his return as triumphant King. As each year we step backward in time, into the shoes of an exiled people, a group who was feeling out of place, whose home had been taken from them, I realize that Advent adequately portrays our current place in time and space, and I’m drawn toward the songs that describe the longing for the coming of a promised deliverer. Not “deliverer” in the sense of one who will “Take me outta this earth!” but as one who will deliver the things longed for, the fulfillment of hope and joy, the bearer of peace, good will, and agape love. In this way, Advent, its themes, and hymns are meant to tie together the first (already) and second (not yet) comings of Christ on earth. Hence, Advent is about yearning for Christ’s “kingdom [to] come…on earth as it is in heaven.” One of my favorite of these hymns of longing was written by Charles Wesley, called ‘Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus,’ which is often sung during this season of longing and preparation.

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.

Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a child and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.

Advent’s songs are about this yearning. It’s like the prelude to a kiss. When captured in a picture, the moment right before the couple’s lips meet brings out this sense of longing for the kiss to be fulfilled.

almost kiss

In the Incarnation of Christ, divinity and humanity come together & meet in one person. In the coming kingdom, that which is already and that which is yet to be fulfilled are drawing nearer to one another, yearning and waiting for the completion of the union between earth and heaven. May we echo with Charles this season of Advent, “Now Thy gracious kingdom bring.”

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Why Winter and Advent belong together. I took this pic of the bare maple leaf in front of the parsonage this afternoon.

Why Winter and Advent belong together. I took this pic of the bare maple tree in front of the parsonage this afternoon.

Empty trees. Bare branches. Dead stumps. Not exactly the sorts of images you expect during what is supposedly this season of hope, but that’s the mystery of Advent…they really are. One song says that what God wants of us is holiness, righteousness, and brokenness. If I could add a verse, I would add one for the season of Advent…Emptiness. Emptiness is what I long for…what I need…what God wants of me.

What if what we need this season is not more, but less? Not just “less” in the commercial terms of what is said by the Advent Conspirators, though we need that, too. But less of what I have filled my life with, good things though they may be, but the things, sometimes even the gifts and graces in which my trust has begun to become (mis)placed, rather than the One who gifts and graces.

I spoke this morning about a song by David Wilcox that I have ruminated on from time to time. It was a song he wrote in the aftermath of his touring of the Biltmore mansion, where he was bothered to discover that the man whose dwelling was the mansion was lonely, and the ostentatious size of the house must have driven home that point rather well to the man. The story behind the inspiration of the song is on his live album ‘Songs and Stories’ but here’s a video and the lyrics to the song that hits home with me during this season of longing and aching. This season of emptiness and loneliness that just may be what we need to find the fullness that is on its way to adorn and fill us.

The depth of your dreams, the height of your wishes
The length of your visions I see
The hope of your heart is much bigger than this
For it’s made out of what might be

So now picture your hope, your heart’s desire
As a castle that you must keep
And all of its splendor, it’s drafty with lonely
This heart is too hard to heat

When I get lonely, now that’s only my sign
That some room is empty in me, and that room is there by design
If I feel hollow, well that’s just my proof that there’s more
I need to follow
And that’s what the lonely is for
That’s what the lonely is for

But you could seal up the pain
Build walls in the hallways, close off a small room to live in
But then those walls would remain
And keep you there always
You would never know why you were given,
Why you were given that lonely
Why you were given that empty in your heart
Why you were given that hollow
That’s just your proof that there’s more you need to follow
That’s what the lonely is for

Feels like a curse, not a blessing
This palace of promise
When the empty chill makes you weep
With only the thin fire of romance to warm you
These halls are too tall and deep

When I get lonely, well that’s only my sign
Some room is empty in me and that room is there by design
If I feel hollow, well that’s just my proof that there’s more
For me to follow
And that’s what the lonely is for
For me to follow, that’s what the lonely is for.

In Romans 8 St. Paul intimates that creation is achinggroaning as a woman in labor (appropriate for Advent, is it not?) and he says this not only of creation but also of God’s children groaning for the redemption of our bodies, which points us toward Christ’s return and the resurrection of the body.

Aching, groaning, longing. That’s how I have pictured Advent thus far this year. And maybe the first part of that aching is to long for emptiness. So perhaps emptiness seems like an odd word to convey the meaning of hope, but perhaps it is the most appropriate for now. After all, emptiness is one of the benchmark terms we associate with the Incarnation, right? (See Philippians 2:7: “but he emptied himself…”).