Happy Friday the 13th, Reader!
I think it’s telling that I’ve unintentionally set up a travelling/journey theme for this year’s Advent series. Last week I told you about the Little Drummer Boy who has nothing to bring to the stable in which this new Child waits, but brings himself, which is enough. He was called to go to that Child, regardless of the stuff he could offer; this week, I continue being called to come to that plain little barn. O Come, All Ye Faithful (or, in its original Latin title, Adeste Fidelis) is all about this summons. The thing of this one is that it continues that summons for somebody who just isn’t me this season—the song calls for the faithful, the joyful, the triumphant.
I’ve told you before, Reader, about where I stand in terms of being faithful. And we both know I’m more curmudgeonly than joyful on any given day. Triumphant? Hah! In what?
In this Child, that’s what. And it is a rather triumphant song, often with powerhouse choirs belting out harmonically packed jubilation in this adoration we’re supposed to be doing. In fact, all of the lyrics are reiterations of this triumphant attitude. Sing in exultation, angels; hail, Lord, Whose name will forever be adored. Come, let us adore Him, this Christ, this Lord. That’s it. That’s the song. Come, be crazy about this incredibly awesome God Who came down as a floppy and breakable baby to hang out with us humans.
In the wake of ever more insulting and dehumanizing legislature in the U.S., of further shenanigans at work that showcase the macrocosm of the cracks in the American academic system, of continued mourning for the passing of a game-changer on the historical stage, that’s a much harder command than it might seem. This song tells me that Christ was born already the king of angels. All angels! You know, the tall scary dudes with wings! He was king of them as a mewling infant! That’s something to be impressed by, to be sure! But it doesn’t seem like it. It doesn’t seem like this 2,000-year-old story has much bearing at all on today, when kings are fable characters and adoration is something you do in a Versace store.
So how to sing the carol? How to hear the hush of the command to come under this incredible outpouring of excitement that a king, a King, has been born? How to give glory to this God?
I’m not totally sure, because this Advent is almost more of a Lenten wilderness for me this year; I feel greatly the bewilderment of Joseph, the discomfort of Mary, the lostness of the magi. I do not feel the triumphant choruses of the citizens of Heaven above. But then, maybe that’s the thing; Mary sang that her soul magnified the Lord when her body was about to betray her very culture. Joseph had one of history’s trippiest dreams and decided to choose faith over common sense. The magi left their familiar lands to search for something the very universe proclaimed as A Really Big Deal. A heavenly chorus is a phenomenal sound, but it is made up of persons who decided to sing. It is made of the joyful moments of forgetting the notes and actually singing the song, of the happy mornings when you feel the snow on your face to balance the warmth of the home behind you. The citizens who call us to adoration may be the friends who argue with you over things that matter and yet insist that they still love you, or the ones who let you hug them for a full thirty seconds and don’t make you explain why, or the ones who assure you that this, too, shall pass while letting you get the steam out by bitching about it anyway. The song does not say, “Come, be totally happy in His Presence,” or “Come, let us forget that things are not perfect,” or even “Come, let us thank Him.” It calls us to adoration, to love, to delight in this strange baby King Whose wildly unpredictable compassion has made us triumphant over the places we are a little less than sure of ourselves. We sing and are sung to as the faithful, not the blind. The carol asks of us that we greet the miracle of a fleshed-out Christ, a God with skin on Who has not left us alone with the labor pains and the jeering townsfolk.
May God grant us both, Reader, the eyes to see the morning that is happy not because we are, but because this Word of the Father sustains us through the sorrow to the joy, through the journey to the birth. May He teach our hearts the intensity of adoration, that we may sing with the angels of our triumph in His odd and beautiful name.
[Jesus] Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness. (Phil. 2:6-7, NIV)