Friends, it’s Advent. And it’s month…I don’t know—eight, nine—of a pandemic? This has been one extraordinary year, and now we’re heading into what is normally the busiest and most hectic time of year with a lot of uncertainty and grief, as well as hope and possibility, keeping us company through it all. Advent and Christmas are normally filled with all the extra events and gatherings that make this time of year special—Christmas pageants, cantatas, concerts, parties, family gatherings, and that intimate and moving candlelight service on Christmas Eve. This year, it’s all suspended, or reimagined, or put off until next year. And it’s hard.
Advent has always been my favorite season of the Christian year, but I’m having a challenging time finding that feeling this year. It is difficult to miss out on singing “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” with my church family, hearing the beautiful blending of voices and harmonies, the rich sound that emerges from a gathered community of people. It’s difficult to know that the carols won’t sound quite the same this year.
So as for me, I’m going to set myself a challenge this year: find a way to lean in to the waiting. Advent is about anticipation, about waiting, about hoping in spite of what seems to be, for what can be. Maybe this is the year that I will finally, fully begin to comprehend what it means to hold on to hope in the midst of waiting. To really get what this season is all about on a visceral level. Because I’m forced to wait. Wait for a vaccine, wait for the day when we can gather again safely, wait to hear those blended voices once again. My favorite Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” evokes that haunting sense of longing, and this year—at least for me—it hits differently. So as I struggle to immerse myself in this season, I’m listening for that song of longing and hope, wherever it may come from. Sometimes, the song comes from the place you least expect to hear it.
December 1914 was a hard month for the world. War had broken out across Europe, and was engulfing the world in a conflict that would ultimately claim millions of lives. In muddy, cold trenches cut like scars into the rolling hills of France and Belgium, men launched bullets and projectiles and gas at each other and the dreams of thousands were shattered forever. Yet on Christmas Eve, something extraordinary happened. Men who were killing each other only days before began to spontaneously and widely stop. All across the front, the booming sounds of the guns fell silent as German and English, French and Austrian, enemies and friends, looked around them and realized that on this day at least, the imaginary lines drawn on a map didn’t really matter. From the trenches across No Man’s Land, the soldiers heard something—the sound of singing. The German soldiers sang out the rich melody of “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht” (Silent Night), and the British responded with carols of their own. The songs traded places across the landscape, and soon soldiers were climbing out of their trenches and shaking hands, exchanging gifts, and wishing one another a merry Christmas. The Christmas Truce was just a moment, but in that moment, there was a glimmer of hope that maybe, one day things would be different.
Today, the song is still there, still yours to sing and hear. So listen for it. Sing it. Share it. Know that in the waiting and uncertainty, is possibility and promise. Emmanuel, the presence of Love, is on the way.