Advent: Joy to the Waiting World
By Jan Kraybill of Stilwell, KS, USA
This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace…!” —Luke 2:12–14 NRSV
I served as organist for a Lutheran church early in my career as a church musician. Having grown up in a different tradition, I was unfamiliar with the ways of this denomination and congregation. Much was new and strange to me, but I did my best to embrace the rhythm of the church year and worship practices of this new place. But when it came to Advent, I balked.
“What do you mean, we won’t sing any Christmas hymns until Christmas Day?!?” I responded when told the musical plans for Advent. My favorite music is Christmas music. I couldn’t imagine the period I had always called Christmastime, between Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day, without the regular singing of those favorites. The joy of the season would be totally lost! How depressing.
But, “when in Rome, do as the Romans do….” Sigh.
To me, that December lasted forever. Although I could, of course, hear Christmas music elsewhere, there was none of it in my worshiping community. The congregation, the choir, the bell choir, the soloists, other musicians, and I, as organist, practiced and performed only Advent music—with no exceptions. We sang and played about watching and waiting—endlessly watching and waiting—in our services on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings. I said many times I couldn’t wait until Christmas Day when this horrible Advent journey would be over.
But in that journey lay transformation. The first sign, to my surprise, was when I woke up on Christmas morning: I couldn’t wait to get to church. And what a glorious morning it was! Suddenly the whole musical world was open to us again! We sang and celebrated, with gusto, the great news that Christ arrived, and it was NEWS because we hadn’t already sung it over and over. The joy I thought was missing multiplied a hundredfold because we had watched and waited for weeks in expectation.
It has been a few decades since that Advent and Christmas. I still remember it as one of the most transforming and memorable experiences of my spiritual life.
JOY TO THE WORLD! (but, not just yet…)
(Editor’s note: Jan Kraybill is the principal organist for the Dome and Spire Organ Foundation, an affiliate of Community of Christ International Headquarters.)
Prayer for Peace
God of promises and patience, help us through the preparation time—it is central to our formation as disciples. We sing, “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” as we wait for your Peace Child. We know the “world is about to turn,” and we look with hope to what you, O God, are about to bring.
Spiritual Practice: Advent—Peace
Pause amid this busy season and open yourself to be mindful of the source of your life-giving breath. Reflect on where that breath blows you. Pray it leads you to Pursue Peace on Earth. In this short time of reflection, close your eyes, close out the noise of the holiday crowds, and prepare yourself for the coming of the Messiah. If your mind wanders to the commercial clamor, allow God to pull you back to focus on Christ, the center of Christmas. Expose your soul to God’s signature and the writing of the covenant of Christ’s peace on your heart.
Today, God, I will sing as I wait.
Suggested Advent Hymns: “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” CCS 400 and “Canticle of the Turning” CCS 404