We continue our Advent preparations. This time of waiting is not the impatient foot tapping of the grocery store line but the pleasant work of preparing our homes for guests, just as we prepare our church and our hearts, minds, and souls for Christmas. The call to remind us of this preparation comes from John the Baptist. The hymns this week reinforce the lessons perfectly: On Jordan's Bank the Baptist's Cry; Comfort, Comfort Now My People; and Hark, the Glad Sound.
These are the great hymns of Advent that we sing only once a year and hear only in church. Shoppers at the mall miss out on such joyous texts as "Hark! A Thrilling Voice is Sounding!...Cast away the works of darkness all you children of the day!" That hymn's concluding verse reminds us of God's everlasting power, embodied at Christmas: "Honor, glory, might, and blessing to the Father and the Son, with the everlasting Spirit while unending ages run!" Take note of the prayers during Advent, which reinforce these same themes. They always include the line "Stir up your power, O Lord."
This second Sunday of Advent has come to be known as Bethlehem Sunday. To match that theme, the choir will be singing an arrangement of "O Little Town of Bethlehem" by Ken Jennings. The new tune highlights the text as a gentle lullaby. I hope it conjures the beauty of cold, dark, starry nights. But the song also reflects the joy of the coming holiday, as each verse reaches a dramatic climax describing God's power, before ending again in the quiet lullaby of expectation and waiting.