Can we start by listening to a song? Here is the link to Luther College choirs from 2013 singing the piece I have in mind. It is called “Climb to the Top of the Highest Mountain” written by Carolyn Jennings, based on scripture from Isaiah 40:9.
This is my Advent song. I grew up attending St. John’s Lutheran Church downtown in Des Moines, IA, and I always sang in our church choirs from the time I was in early elementary school until I left for college. As I remember it, in the young children’s choir we usually stood at the front of the chancel on the red carpet steps facing the congregation. The high school and adult choirs sang from much higher up in the front balcony. But I remember being guided up the staircase and into the balcony to line up in front of the older singers for this song, squeezing between them and the musicians playing stringed instruments seated in front. We children just listened to much of the song standing in the bright lights and rich sounds, until a special section toward the end where the other voices paused and we sang, “He will love the little children, He will hold them in his arms, Love Him and trust Him as a little child, Behold your Lord comes to you” and then all the voices joined in and we finished together. It felt glorious and sacred to be part of this music, singing our hope and trust for the love that comes to us in Jesus – to even the smallest of us!
Only a few years later when I was still quite young, I remember our church choir director asking us for suggestions of music we wanted to sing. I was brave enough to ask for this song, “Climb to the Top of the Highest Mountain.” Imagine my surprise and disappointment when he told me, “We can’t do that now, that is an ADVENT song.” Advent?! I had to wait until Advent?! I did not want to wait, I wanted to sing it sooner! I wanted to sing it whenever I wanted! I wanted to sing with everyone and create the music voicing the beautiful promise that comes to us with Jesus! Who wanted to wait until Advent?! But I also think I began to think of Advent as its own season with special music just for this time, preparing for our celebration of Christmas. As I think of it today, Advent is a season of hopeful anticipation, of eager and intentional waiting, with vision for what we await and confidence that we wait to embrace joy and love coming to us. Perhaps it was God’s irony that I should learn to wait with eager anticipation for the very church season focused on practicing hopeful expectation!
Maybe you have a song that is dear to your heart, like this one is for me. Does God remind you to pay attention when you hear it? Bringing it to you to hear when you do not expect, and keeping the song alive inside you? Maybe a seasonal song that you sing at other times, like my daughter wanting to sing Christmas songs in the summer? I experienced a kind of nudge from God with the same song again when I attended Luther College (a few years before the choir singing in 2013!) and our choir director brought out “Climb to the Top of the Highest Mountain” for our choir to learn for the “Christmas at Luther” program that year. I still have the old Luther Christmas CD today with the music including that song, and now I can play it at home and sing along. It has become part of my Advent tradition, to keep this song in front of me as I honor the weeks of Advent and remember the familiar promises of this season. Are you singing something also, wherever you find yourself this year?
“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31
It seems that in this past year we all have learned much about waiting when we would rather not, haven’t we? Waiting for news about the pandemic, waiting to go shopping to minimize trips, waiting to gather with our usual crowds at social events and games, and even waiting to open our homes to the familiar groups of friends and family who come for holiday meals. Yes, we have learned. We continue to learn and wait for things like a vaccine that will truly slow the COVID rates and restore health around the world. But perhaps the most important waiting of all is the deeper heartfelt waiting that Christians hold as we anticipate Jesus’s coming again. We may be the ones feeling exhausted and faint, perhaps confused and not understanding with so much changing and challenging in the world lately. But from the beginning of knowing God’s story we are given encouragement from prophets speaking of God and for God as Isaiah did, saying, “those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength”. And from the beginning of Jesus’s story as Matthew tells it when the angel came to Joseph telling him about Jesus in a dream, we are told,
“All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel,’ which means, ‘God is with us’”. (Matthew 1:23)
God is with us, what wonderful news! Matthew knew that Jesus was fulfilling the promises of old, the longed-for Messiah coming at last. Here we are so very many years after Jesus was here, waiting again for Him to come to us, practicing our waiting during Advent. We wait for the one who loves us to come again and we are strengthened as we wait, so we can wait with joyful expectation and even singing! Has God given you a song to warm your heart as you wait?
Let us pray...
You speak to us in so many ways including music and song. Continue to remind us that you are with us, and renew our hearts and minds as we wait for Jesus to come again. Amen.