a thrill of hope…

I grew up Baptist, Southern Baptist to be precise. We had a liturgy but we didn’t call it liturgy, we called it a bulletin. And we didn’t follow the church calendar, we followed the Southern Baptist calendar. I don’t have any problem with that; it was as it was. The first time I remember hearing or seeing the word Advent was on a pair of stereo speakers a buddy of mine had, speakers I must confess I lusted after. They were beautiful cabinets with a linen-like grill and the sound they produced was simply divine, something those white earbuds will never approach. So Advent for me was synonymous with sound – you didn’t have to do much other than sit back, close your eyes, and let Pat Benatar invade your dreams.

It was probably during seminary that I learned of Advent as a season, something that, alas, the Church had been celebrating for centuries without me. I read everything I could get my hands on about these days of waiting, even went so far as to purchase a small brass Advent wreath from a Cokesbury store. I wove this tradition into my first pastorate in The First Baptist Church of a small one-red-light Arkansas town. The saints there were gracious beyond measure, allowing candles in a sanctuary previously untouched by such brazen displays of color and light. Ever since those days I’ve continued to celebrate the Advent season.

But Advent’s become sorta hip, at least it feels so. I mean, all the cool kids are doing it. This concerns me a little because I believe we fickle people of faith do have a tendency to grab an udder and milk the hell out of it. If we’re not careful, the result, in my opinion, will become nothing less than what you’d expect: a dry cow, a cloud without rain…and if we’re really unlucky, it’ll become yet another litmus test to see if you’re really spiritual as opposed to being lukewarm: What? You don’t do Advent? Yeah, bah humbuggers to that reindeer game.

I’d like to suggest a way to keep Advent from drying out, an option with roots in my halcyon days of teenage audiophilia – Advent as sound. Sometimes our Advent celebrations get so quiet and reflective that, well, I just about fall asleep. How about pealing them with carols sung by a legion of voices? And by carols I don’t mean more Feliz Navidad or Mariah Carey, but the heavy-laden theological lushness of songs like Lo, How A Rose E’re Blooming or God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen or What Child is This? Yes, I realize you’re not supposed to sing carols until Christmas Eve or Day, but I believe God became small so we could break the rules, so there. Sure, we can still light candles with shushed, contemplative fingers, but what if the glow to rival that of the wreath was voices raised, singing the darkness away, sorta like those kindly folk from Whoville? It’d almost be like an extended Thanksgiving, not an entirely bad idea wouldn’t you say? Would we, could we, be a gathering of saints singing whether the house was foreclosed or whether the company downsized or whether the doctor’s report was two months at best or whether we had a new kid by Friday or not? What might it mean if we sang regardless of the ‘whether’? If enough of our voices were raised the earth herself might listen and possibly join in, the very rocks crying out…what if we exercised just a tad of moderation to the reflection and focused just a tad more on projection, joining hands in the crest of newfallen snow while lifting our God-given voices? Man oh man, what a gift to give this weary world, the gift of sound – Advent, a thrill of hope…nations might even cease from their warring and sit back, close their eyes, and dream of a new and glorious morn.

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38 Comments

  1. Laurie Wade on November 29, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    I love this! I was not raised on Advent. I have just begun to take a look at it for myself this year as a way to focus my own thoughts a bit more toward Christ this holiday season. The hope for me is that it will add some of the joy of the season back in where stress has infiltrated it. I see no better way to do that than a daily focus and I think the sound aspect sounds awesome!!

    • thebeautifuldue on November 29, 2011 at 9:01 pm

      Laurie, I pray the richest of Advent seasons for you…amen.

  2. Cory Smith on November 29, 2011 at 6:19 pm

    I love that you actually found a picture of those speakers. Any recommended readings on advent. I confess I now little but want to know more. Thanks for the post John.

    • thebeautifuldue on November 29, 2011 at 9:02 pm

      Cory, those speakers are old school, man…I’ll let you buy me breakfast sometime soon, alright?

  3. Nick on November 29, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    My favorite has always been the Hallelujah Chorus. It’s been robbed of a lot of its majesty over the years, but in the hands of the right stereo, when the choir belts out “and He shall reign forever and ever…”

    Chills. Every time. Regardless of whether my kid comes by Friday or not.

    • thebeautifuldue on November 29, 2011 at 9:03 pm

      Me too, Nick. Chills. Every time. Yesterday afternoon it was tears, just spliced me open right there on the interstate.

  4. Joann on November 29, 2011 at 6:36 pm

    Our family is going through a phase. We are trying to leave behind the trappings of our religion. I grew up Southern Baptist, my husband Nazarene, and our girls and multitude of both denoms and non-denoms. Last year we tried Advent out, but it was something thrown together quite quickly and most weeks we messed it all up by forgetting that we were supposed to do it. This year as we approached the season, we entered into it more prepared and much more thoughtful. We are focusing more on allowing the season of Advent to rip apart our seams, coming completely undone for the sake of being stitched back together by Christ and filled up more with Him than ourselves. We don’t do anything according to so and so or such and such. Just allowing the spirit to move and if that means singing or hour long conversations sparked by our nightly reading, so be it. It’s a time of returning to our first love and that sure as heck isn’t about following any rules set forth by any counsel or board.

    • thebeautifuldue on November 30, 2011 at 4:07 pm

      Ripped and stitched…I like that, I like that alot…may your Advent days be full of merry and bright.

  5. Radical Believer on November 29, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    There are specific Advent carols and hymns, for example O Come, O Come Immanuel; Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence and Tell Out My Soul (the Magnificat). For some reason these have largely fallen out of favour, but I love them.

    • thebeautifuldue on November 29, 2011 at 9:05 pm

      I love those carols as well…there is a rich heritage there we’ve grown to neglect…sorta sad, but there is hope.

  6. Beth on November 29, 2011 at 7:40 pm

    Boy, this post comes at such a time as this for me caught in my own year of voracious Advent reading. All I am left with is “Yeah!” What would happen in this weary world amid our projection?

    • thebeautifuldue on November 29, 2011 at 9:06 pm

      Beth, what would happen indeed? I hope the voracious reading you’re doing is filling, in the truest sense of the word!

  7. Carolyn Counterman on November 29, 2011 at 9:04 pm

    Pat Benatar, breaking rules, and Whoville? Now THAT is an Advent post! Love it!

    • thebeautifuldue on November 29, 2011 at 9:07 pm

      Thanks, Carolyn…sometimes it just all comes spillin’ out.

  8. Ann Kroeker on November 29, 2011 at 11:15 pm

    Okay, if you can bring up Pat Benatar, I’ll go ahead and mention Sting, who came out with a Christmas album with lesser known music that included “Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8T1pYpEedI&feature=player_embedded

    I’ll bet Sting would sound pretty good coming through those Advent speakers.

  9. Charity Singleton on November 30, 2011 at 12:46 am

    John – this was just the balance I need to my tone during Advent. I go after it all a little too seriously, sometimes, trying to make up for my long history of evangelical rejection of liturgy. We, too, called ours “the bulletin” growing up. Now, we call it “the element of surprise.” Isn’t it funny what people can do to the sacred?

    This Sunday for the first lighting of the candle, I invited friends over and played my guitar – rather poorly do I play it – while we sang Christmas carols and ate soup. It was thoroughly silly and fully sacramental, and my friends are just the best for giving me their time each year to do this.

    I think I’m just going to keep singing this whole Advent season, sometimes embarrassingly loud, even.

    Oh, and if you are interested, we are hosting an Advent writing project for the High Calling over at my blog. We’re trying to gather together all the sounds and voices of Advent – not just the hushed, serious ones. If you’d like, I’d love if you’d slip the URL to this post in the link up so others of our readers can find their way back over here.

    • thebeautifuldue on November 30, 2011 at 2:49 am

      Charity, I’ve a hunch that heaven will be ‘thoroughly silly and fully sacramental’…at least I hope so.

      Thanks for the invite to your blog…I just might show up.

      Keep singing…

  10. Ryan on November 30, 2011 at 3:29 am

    Funny, I was just reflecting upon how Psalm 137 might provide a liturgical standard for our Advent worship. I actually think we have reason to do less singing during this season. Don’t we identify with the children of Israel in bondage during Advent, awaiting the coming of our Messiah? Frankly, I find it refreshing to “hang up my harp” and “silence my tongue” for a season, especially when the world is so noisy around us. Isn’t this part of the tension we should feel during this season? But I’m only about five years into observing the Christian Year, and not because it’s trendy, but because it’s deeply transformational and provides a framework for living into the story of Jesus. It’s all still very fresh for my family and church. BTW, I believe the Sunday of Joy is traditionally the time to begin releasing the tension valve with Christmas carols.

    • thebeautifuldue on November 30, 2011 at 3:35 am

      Ryan, I agree with you that the Advent season is incredibly rich…and I’m glad you’ve found the narrative of the Christian year.

      But I’m gonna sing…

      • Ryan on December 3, 2011 at 7:26 pm

        Me too 🙂 Here’s a song I wrote in the midst of Advent tension. It’s a joyful song: http://db.tt/shIXHPqP

        • thebeautifuldue on December 4, 2011 at 12:01 am

          Beautiful song, Ryan…quite a gift…thanks for sending it along!

    • Anne Boatwright on December 6, 2011 at 2:59 am

      I hear ya Ryan. Lent is another wonderful season for “silencing the tongue” and allowing the din of the world to recede while we get quiet before God.

  11. Hidden In Plain Sight | Conversations Journal on December 1, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    […] longer view. Although Advent is something that has become popular these days (as one blogger says, it’s what the cool kids are doing), the focus on Christ’s first and last advents help us to see beyond the season’s […]

  12. Matthew Kreider on December 2, 2011 at 2:47 am

    I like the noise here. You’re right: Advent could probably stand some boot-stomping. Let me in the sound. Yes, I’m hearing a little from Bono here, too.

    Thanks to Charity Singleton, who invited me over here. I’ll be back. The air is fresh. And I can breathe.

    • thebeautifuldue on December 2, 2011 at 1:34 pm

      Thanks for stopping by, Matthew…it can get noisy here, but I pray there’s always room to breathe.

  13. […] John Blase wrote good words this week, asked the Adventists to move through contemplation and into sing-song carols of praise. And if you read between the lines, he encouraged loud ballyhooing, boisterous proclamations that Christ is coming and the darkness will not prevail. Yes, there are modern-day prophets who speak timeless words. […]

  14. Danelle on December 2, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    I am all for loudly praising. . And I totally understand the need to not take ourselves to somberly to Him or we may drown His gift of Joy. However, I had moment, two nights ago, where I felt Him so richly in the quiet of violins. The opposite of loud,yes, but Joy and very real. A heart can prepare, expect and rejoice either way.
    You are a talented writer. I came over from the Haines blog spot and I truly loved reading your words.
    My latest post is about this “violin” moment if you’d like to check it out.
    http://www.heseesme.wordpress.com

    • thebeautifuldue on December 2, 2011 at 1:40 pm

      Danelle, I agree with you, the heart beats in a variety of ways…my words about ‘projection’ aren’t necessarily meaning ‘loud’ but hopefully ‘joyful’, and as you experienced, violins can pull that off quite nicely…thanks for stopping by.

  15. Chip Richter on December 2, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    Thanks so much for a great post and new perspective approaching Advent. During this first week I’ve read several things that have really inspired and challenged me as I anticipate and long for His coming. But as a songwriter and singer, as you might imagine, your post has really thrilled me! I’ve been thinking about what I would like to do this year personally in observance of the Advent season. I believe this morning I got my answer. I’m going to spend some time revisiting some of the ancient carols… playing, singing, just letting them wash over me and see what comes from of this. I may share the songs with some of my friends and family as a way to celebrate this Advent, this Anticipation of God coming to dwell with us. So, let every heart prepare Him room.

    • thebeautifuldue on December 2, 2011 at 3:24 pm

      Chip, I’m honored to have a singer/songwriter stop by…I’d love to hear how your Advent celebration goes…I pray its thrilling.

      • Chip Richter on December 2, 2011 at 3:44 pm

        Thanks… I’m thankful to have discovered you here too. I’ll keep you posted during the Advent season. Merry Christmas!

  16. Erika Morrison on December 2, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    I’ve been a quiet reader here for some time . . . Thank-you for your words.

    Love,
    Erika

    • thebeautifuldue on December 2, 2011 at 8:40 pm

      Erika, thank you for reading…and saying hello today.

  17. […] John Blase’s A Thrill of Hope […]

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