This does not make anyone’s Top Ten Christmas Carols list to be crooned at people’s doors while walking down Dickensian snow-covered streets. And that’s fine, really, because it’s an Advent carol, not a Christmas carol. It doesn’t belong to The Day Itself when we have this baby and a manger and a tree covered in ornaments you wish desperately your mother would throw away so no one else would see your accidental Van Gogh phase of the second grade.
“Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” belongs to this time. Advent. Waiting.
Here’s the thing about waiting: sometimes, you wait so long, you don’t really remember what you were waiting for.
Or you remember that you have something else that has to be done, and if the person can’t be bothered to show up on time, or the thing won’t start when it said it would, well, it’s your prerogative to just leave, right?
This was my morning yesterday. I teach a class at one of the local universities with another person, which in normal speak would be team-teaching but at the graduate level is simply called a teaching partner. “Partner” implies a partnership, but this guy and I are almost never on the same page. About much of anything. And this week is not a week in which I need to deal with him and his…him-ness. It is a rough week, and continues to be a rough week as I take time away from the final paper I have yet to finish to write this instead because, Reader, I can’t process Latin at 12:30 a.m. and 9 o’clock. But it is a busy week, a week of papers and meetings and grading and Church Stuff and all of the insanity that is the end of a semester and the waiting-with-absolutely-no-stillness-at-all that is Advent these days. I will finally get a break on Tuesday, if all things work out. This will be my first thing approaching a day off since Thanksgiving.
My teaching partner sort of knows this. So, when we set up a meeting yesterday morning to iron out some of the grading we have to do, of course he shows up half an hour late. “It was rough getting up this morning,” he says in apology.
I’m sure it was. Because it wasn’t hard at all for me. Yes, of course we can go over all of the work that you were supposed to do last night. I absolutely have two hours to burn with you, and then I would love to set up another meeting around your schedule for Monday.
I realize that it’s perhaps less than professional of me, Reader, to sarcastically bash my teaching partner here on the Internet, but I bring that up to illustrate how incredibly frustrating it is to have someone else disrespect your time. And then I hear this hymn, and I think about how we are told every year, for four weeks, that we have to wait for this God, this Savior of mankind, and I think about how He said He would return.
Been 2,000 years, nearly. “Long Expected” doesn’t quite begin to cover it.
The lyrics of this are kind of intense when they’re sung very slowly. “Come Thou long expected Jesus / Born to set Thy people free / From our fears and sins release us / Let us find our rest in Thee.” Rest? I would love rest. I would love to be set free, although I have the feeling I wouldn’t know what to do with it. “Israel’s strength and consolation / Hope of all the earth Thou art / Dear desire of every nation / Joy of every longing heart.”
That sounds more like it. Sometimes, as I sit through Advent and wonder why it’s my favorite part of the church year, I feel like singing the Cindy Lou Who song as “Where Are You, Jesus?” Why have You come once and then left us to this world where other babies die, where houses burn down, where wars sweep through cultures as if they are fragile paper, where we fight over the care of Those With Less while totally ignoring the people themselves? “Born Thy people to deliver.” I feel rather undelivered, Lord. And tired. So very, very tired. I have no Christmas spirit, no joy in waiting for this child-king, no Magnificat on my lips. I bottomed out this past Sunday, and it was not pretty at all, and then I put on a smile and kept going, because it’s finals week.
That is not delivered.
But then…but then, I watch videos like this, where the Story is something so much bigger than that, and I listen to the rest of the song that asks God to “rule in our hearts alone,” and I wonder, what do I mean by delivered? Am I really expecting Jesus, or have I written Him off like my teaching partner as unreliable, such that I’ll do this myself because I want it done, and done right, and I need no one else? Do I expect Jesus anymore, or do I just expect to make it to Christmas and then past, as if it’s just another finals week to get through?
I don’t know, really. Yes, it’s about waiting. But the thing about waiting is that you have to actually be where you are waiting. There’s a presence to it, a recognition that you are in this place waiting for something, Someone specific, even if that “specific” may not look anything like what you expected. Jesus is already here, in His own way, and any other ways will come in His own time. Is Advent about accepting that, too?
In Jerusalem there was a man named Simeon. He was a good and godly man. He was waiting for God’s promise to Israel to happen. The Holy Spirit was with him. The Spirit had told Simeon that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. (Luke 2:25-26, NIRV)