Saturday, December 22, 2007

Watching and Waiting

I have been at home painting ceilings this week. How I could do this the week before Christmas Eve services is a long story, and not very interesting.

The ceiling paint we use just begs for analogies, metaphors, and object lessons. So here’s my first crack at that … and my last crack at Advent hymns:

The paint we use for ceilings goes on pink and dries white. You open the can and it is a real deep, creamy pink. You brush and roll it on, and there is this bold, warm swath across the ceiling. And the painter – not to mention those standing below – can see where s/he missed spots. It dries white, of course, and fairly quickly. It’s slick, and I am only slightly reluctant to post here the brand name.

The Advent season, and especially the hymns of Advent, do this for a crèche-centric Christmas culture. If we cover the month with watching and waiting, and are attentive, we will be able to see what we are missing about the big event. Our nativity celebration will be covered in the richness of the Bible’s focus on the nativity of our Lord. We will truly spot – and then fix – the cultural, sentimental, emotional extras of Christmas Day. (Dr. Duane Litfin, president of Wheaton College, in an Advent sermon at College Church, warned about “celebrating celebrations.”) And perhaps then, too, we will see why it takes “Twelve Days” to celebrate the astonishing Incarnation.

Well, that’s a stretch of an analogy. So let’s just look at one more Advent hymn that did not get sung at College Church this year:

Watchman, Tell Us of the Night

Watchman, tell us of the night,

What its signs of glory are.

Traveler, o’er yon mountain’s height

See that glory-beaming star!

Watchman, doth its beauteous ray

Aught of joy or hope foretell?

Traveler, yes; it brings the day,

Promised day of Israel.

Watchman, tell us of the night;

Higher yet that star ascends.

Traveler, blessedness and light,

Peace and truth, its course portends.

Watchman, will its beams alone

Gild the spot that gave them birth?

Traveler, ages are its own;

See, it bursts o’er all the earth!

Watchman, tell us of the night,

For the morning seems to dawn.

Traveler, darkness takes its flight;

Doubt and terror are withdrawn.

Watchman, let thy wandering cease;

Hide thee to thy quiet home!

Traveler, lo, the Prince of Peace,

Lo, the Son of God is come!

John Bowring (1792-1872)

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