I love Advent. I love Advent music. I love Advent choral, organ, everything music. There are too many wonderful hymns for me to possibly share all the ones that give me hope, peace, joy, and love, so I am limiting myself severely and I sure do feel it. For our theme today of ‘hope,’ we’re going back in time to 1524, when Protestant Reformer Martin Luther wrote Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, which we translate as Savior of the Nations, Come. Hope is about the past and present and future. This is a song from deep within Christianity’s past, that points to our present and hoped-for future. And although the modern hymn (and its many settings) can be traced to Luther, he in fact was translating and modifying an already existent plainchant hymn by Saint Ambrose, Veni Redemptor Gentium (Come, Redeemer of the Earth), still preserved in some hymnals today as a separate hymn. “Now Come Savior of the Heathen” is the literal translation of this German choral tune, which may make you ask “Heather, why are you peddling 16th century Christian fundamentalism on us” which is a fair question! But translations are made for a reason, not just because we don’t speak German. Translations are also about capturing the essence of what is being said (in language that we wouldn’t actually be a big fan of because it is well, rather unloving by our standards!). And in essence, Ambrose, and again Luther, are simply exclaiming how amazing it is that God became human to be in relationship with us. The words of the first verse speak so much hope to me:
Savior of the nations, come, Virgin's Son, make here thy home! Marvel now, O heav'n and earth, that the Lord chose such a birth.
It is a marvel that God is present with us ([making] here [God’s] home), and to marvel is to react very appropriately, I think. We forget to sit and marvel in all our Christmas preparations. It all goes so fast, and it happens every year for us, and we know the whole story, and there are a million distractions. Three years ago on Advent 1, I was Very Pregnant. My baby was due on Christmas day (irony!), and while I didn’t have to travel to Bethlehem for a census, I did have to make it through Lessons and Carols and the kids’ pageant at the church I was serving as music director. But by that point in my pregnancy, when I wasn’t working, I was definitely resting. I have a lot of pictures from that era with a very happy cat enjoying my very round (though sometimes boisterous!) tummy.
Marveling felt easier with so much down-time, but there was definitely a corollary: pre-baby anxiety. Having a baby takes a lot of hope. You obviously hope for the best for your child(ren): health, safety, love, stimulation, success. You hope for your family: joy, company, love. You hope for your world: healthy ecosystems, environments, and peace. Hope is the cure to anxiety. It’s the longing for something better (and the impetus to help make it better!). Anxiety, in contrast, is paralyzing or numbing. The incarnation of Christ, to me, means that all those hopes and worries, fears and joys, are part of God, too, and part of God’s care for us in this life. If I were in charge of sending the Savior of the Nations to this world, I would not have chosen “such a birth.” Having been through it myself now, nope. No way: too messy. Too scary. And yet, God chose just this sort of birth. There’s a lot of hope in that.
Wondrous birth! Oh, wondrous child Of the Virgin undefiled! Mighty God and Mary's son, eager now his race to run!
God will do a lot in our world, now in this day and age. The pandemic is worsening in my country. It is heartbreaking. Holding onto hope is an act of bravery and strength. As dire as things feel right now, we have a God who knew disease and sickness, personal and communal vulnerability, and who called us to love one another and put the needs of others above our own wants and desires. Hope is why we wear masks, stay home, social distance, and maintain relationships from afar, for now. Hope is why we stopped in-person worship services at my church. So that we can do our part to make our world a little bit better for all those around us, our children included.