Advent 1: Where Did “Away In a Manger” Go?

Lo, he comes with clouds descending,
once for favored sinners slain;
thousand, thousand saints attending
swell the triumph of his train.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
God appears on earth to reign. 

Every eye shall now behold him,
robed in dreadful majesty;
those who set at naught and sold him,
pierced and nailed him to the tree,
deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing,
shall the true Messiah see. 

(Hymn written by Charles Wesley, often used during Advent)

Many people wonder why most churches don’t crank up the Christmas music as soon as the stores do.  The simple answer is that Advent is not Christmas.

Yet that answer isn’t really satisfying, because to be honest, we crave the comfort of Christmas carols.  Singing them gives many of us a warm feeling.  The feeling is even more nostalgic and cozy when we think about singing carols with family, in church, or going caroling in nursing homes as a teenager.

So if your church organist hammered out some intimidating Advent hymns on Sunday, you may have felt a little jarred.

Friends, if you’ll bear with me, maybe I can turn that unnerving experience into something meaningful.

  • First, reflect on how you felt on December 26 last year.   Were you a little sad when Christmas was over and all the great songs were packed away?  Did you think, wouldn’t it be wonderful to sing Christmas carols all year long?
  • If you wished for Christmas carols year-round, you actually hit a goldmine of faith.  The Christmas carols tell an essential part of the essential story!  They tell the story that God is with us, that the Messiah is born, that peace on earth is not far away.
  • Now reconsider Advent.   The Incarnation — the Christmas story — was just the beginning of God’s incredible work through Jesus Christ.  Advent reminds us that there is more.

So I hope we will all sing these odd Advent hymns, the hymns with words about John the Baptist and “clouds descending” and prophetic stuff, with zest.  If you believe it’s true, then sing about how God is at work, and how God has plans for a still “more excellent way!”

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