Cheer Us By Thy Drawing Nigh
By Heather Melton, UTO Staff Officer
Advent is unfolding around us with the beginning of a new church year, and I am ready for it. Advent hymns have this lovely gloominess mixed with hope that is unlike any other section of the hymnal. They talk about captives, captive hearts, and release from sin. Sermons during Advent often focus on Mary and her journey, an important part of the story to be sure, but often that narrative leaves out the journey we are all supposed to be on during Advent, so it’s no wonder many of us are already fast-forwarding to Christmas as December begins. So what are we supposed to notice in the gloomy hymns of Advent, tales of John the Baptist, and awaiting the coming of Christ? I think we’re supposed to notice some of the strong truths of our faith and find comfort and hope in them.
Comfort, comfort ye my people, speak ye peace thus saith our God; comfort those who sit in darkness mourning ‘neath their sorrows’ load. Speak ye to Jerusalem of the peace that waits for them; tell her that her sins I cover, and her warfare now is over.
How many of you could sing that text as you read it? I love this first verse because it is a reminder that much of what we see in the world today is an ongoing struggle of humanity and the brokenness that we experience in this world. AND, that while this struggle is very real, God is in the midst of it, offering the hope of a better day.
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.
Charles Wesley wrote these words in the 1700s, but if you didn’t know that (and if “thy” didn’t give it away) it is an accurate cry for help today. Fear is a very real and expressed emotion in our world today. I know that I see it in my community, from the number of home-security companies selling their goods in our neighborhood to scarcity-thinking to fear of the stranger. Fear is a powerful motivator and holds many people captive. One last one…
O come, thou Dayspring from on high, and cheer us by thy drawing nigh; disperse the gloomy clouds of night and death’s dark shadow put to flight. Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.
For me, these three verses of three different Advent hymns are a reminder of this great quote from the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu: “Somewhere deep inside us we seem to know that we are destined for something better than strife.” Advent is the confirmation of that small voice inside us that wants to remind us that we are destined for something better than fear and strife. Advent is the hope, it is the awaiting, it is the naming of the darkness and the turn toward God. Often I hear people say that they don’t want to practice gratitude because it is a form of toxic positivity. Toxic positivity is a denial of the feelings and experiences that people have that are very real and far from positive. However, gratitude is not trying to put a silver lining on the strife, fear, and actual anguish that exist in this world, but it is the impulse to look for the hope and good in spite of it. In many ways, Advent is our annual reminder of how hope can show up in the midst of great fear and strife.
Helpers come out of the woodwork for the folks in our lessons each Sunday of Advent. All these moments are reasons to give thanks. Gratitude and hope are always possible in the face of strife and fear. Our task is to search for the hope we see and participate in it, follow it or support it, just like the wise men did with the star. We keep our eyes on Jesus, we give thanks for his presence among us, and we seek to follow—all while acknowledging the strife of human existence. Nowhere in the Bible are we told that following God and Jesus will result in a lack of suffering, but we are told that the following will help us through it. We are told that only God is good and perfect, and our job is to be faithful and to do the best we can we with what we have.
Some days, the reality that God is perfect and I am not is reason enough to give thanks. This Advent, instead of getting swept away by the joy and awe of Christmas, I hope you’ll take time to think about the times in your life where all seemed quite hopeless or fearful, and look back to see where there was hope and love in the midst of the strife. Perhaps consider expressing gratitude to those who showed up like a light in the darkness whom you didn’t notice before, or simply treasure these things in your heart so that the next time it feels like you are surrounded by darkness or fear, you can name it and still find hope in the midst of it.