I find myself at a strange, in-between place this Advent. We’ve moved to a new town, and a new job, and we haven’t yet settled into a church home. We’re still exploring. Still visitors. Not yet family.
Of course, there are wonderful services to attend with terrific music and stirring messages, but I have to admit it feels a little less-than-satisfying without familiar faces in nearby pews. I think about those folks who only come to church at Christmastime. Do they feel unknown and unnoticed as they sing the hymns, and take communion, and seek some kind of joy or healing? Do they walk out of church and say to themselves, “Now, it feels like Christmas!” or does it fall a little short of memory and expectation? I wonder.
It’s an odd thing to celebrate a season when you don’t feel grounded. It reminds me how much strength I draw from my worship community even at times when I’m not an especially active participant in the life of the church. And it also reminds me of that verse in Deuteronomy: “love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Ah, well. Whatever our circumstances, the King is coming and we have to get ready. I’ll leave you with one of my favorite Advent hymns. The tune is the very popular Psalm 42 from the Geneva Psalter (1551), setting by Claude Goudimel. These lyrics were written about a century later by Johann Olearius.
People seem to have a little trouble deciding on a tempo for this one, but if you hit the sweet spot and keep it light–and especially if you add some Renaissance percussion–you can dance your way to the joy of Christ’s coming. Even the feel of the words in my mouth brings delight (“speak ye to Jerusalem/ of the peace that waits for them”), and oh, how I wish we could speak peace to Jerusalem.
You can listen to a choral arrangement with slightly different words from the hymnal, or go for period instruments in the arrangement for lute and viols. Either way, let’s get going and make the rougher places plain.
Comfort, comfort ye my people,
speak ye peace, thus saith our God;
comfort those who sit in darkness,
mourning ‘neath their sorrow’s 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.
For the herald’s voice is crying
in the desert far and near,
bidding all men to repentance,
since the kingdom now is here.
O that warning cry obey!
Now prepare for God a way!
Let the valleys rise to meet him,
and the hills bow down to greet him.
Make ye straight what long was crooked,
make the rougher places plain:
let your hearts be true and humble,
as befits his holy reign,
For the glory of the Lord
now o’er earth is shed abroad,
and all flesh shall see the token
that his word is never broken.
Words: Johann G. Olearius, 1671;
trans. Catherine Winkworth, 1863