I was watching the presentation of Lessons and Carols from Sewanee earlier this month – which is usually a very large public event for them, the final hurrah of the semester for the talented University Choir members. They had reframed it as a recorded, distanced, masked online event, which worked pretty well. As the choir processed in, the university chaplain gave a spoken introduction that recalled that King’s College Cambridge first presented its Lessons and Carols service (the most influential version of the service) in 1918. On the heels of World War I and in the midst of a global pandemic, King’s College gathered to sing, read, and pray about hope. It seemed very fitting to hear about that in the midst of this particular Advent. Our struggles this past year, with our own global pandemic, with deep concerns for racial justice, with political division, with economic distress, all make me yearn for a reminder of hope.
Advent does that for us; it’s a season rooted in hope. It’s the hope of Israel for God’s restorative last Day, when all would be made right, a hope that we share and still long for. It’s the hope of a wild baptizer presuming to call people to account for their sins and offenses in the heart of desolation, trusting that God would forgive. It’s the hope of a mother expecting her first child, a child of wonder, a child of hope, for all nations and people. Advent makes us more and more into a people of hope – even when the brokenness of our world is more visible than ever.
And our witness is needed. This isn’t about just making us feel good when times are tough. It’s a mission, a calling, to be a reminder for all people of the story we know so well, heralded by angels, attended by shepherds and, later on, magi alike. We can turn that hope into the work of God.
In our Book of Occasional Services, we find the Bidding Prayer (invitation to prayer) for Lessons and Carols. It calls us to pray, as we so often do, for the needs of the whole world, for peace and goodwill among nations, for the mission and unity of the Church, and for our country and our cities. It goes on to say, “And because this of all things would rejoice his [Jesus’] heart, let us at this time remember in his name the poor and the helpless; the hungry and the oppressed; the sick and those who mourn; the lonely and the unloved; the aged and the little children; and all those who know not the Lord Jesus, or who love him not, or who by sin have grieved his heart of love.” It concludes, invoking Mary “his pure and lowly Mother” and those who have died, “all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore and in a greater light . . .” and ultimately leads into the Lord’s Prayer.
I love that line, “because it would rejoice his heart.” There is something delightful in being called to pray for those in need not only because, well, they need it and we need to be mindful of them, but also because it brings Jesus great joy. Isn’t that remarkable, to think about how we could bring joy to Jesus? When we act in hope, praying for those who are poor or helpless or unloved, we are bringing joy to the heart of Jesus and joy into the whole world anew.
God’s promise in scripture to renew and restore all creation is not an idle promise. It is happening all around us, even in 2020, even in pandemic. While it is not yet accomplished, it is already underway. When we look to God in hope, our eyes are opened to that work. When we put our hope into action, whether it’s praying for those in need, organizing for justice for those who are oppressed, or simply speaking a word of kindness into a sometimes unspeakably cruel world, we are bringing God’s world a little closer to our own. We are the wild baptizers, the expectant mothers, the ones who hope against hope – the ones who sing carols even in pandemic. Rejoice, for Jesus has found his delight in you this day!