Advent, Day 28: All Will Be Well

All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

—Julian of Norwich, Revelations of Divine Love (late 14th century)

LOOK: River in Winter by Kamisaka Sekka

Kamisaka Sekka (Japanese, 1866–1942), Fuyu no kawa (River in Winter), from volume 3 of the woodblock-printed book Momoyogusa (A World of Things), 1909–10. Ink, color, and metallic pigments on paper, 11 3/4 × 17 11/16 in. (29.8 × 44.9 cm).

LISTEN: “All Will Be Well” by Jessica Gerhardt, 2020

Advent, Day 27: Awake

LOOK: Anima by Meryl McMaster

McMaster, Meryl_Anima
Meryl McMaster (Canadian, 1988–), Anima, from the In-Between Worlds series, 2012. Digital chromogenic print, 36 × 36 in. (91.4 × 91.4 cm). McMaster uses photographic self-portraiture to explore her dual Indigenous (Plains Cree) and European (British and Dutch) heritage.

LISTEN: “Awake! Awake!” by Lo Sy Lo (Samantha Connour), on St Fleming of Advent, 2019 | Words adapted from a hymn by Marty Haugen, 1983

Awake! Awake, and greet new morn
(Turn from despair and groaning, turn from despair and groaning)
Sing out your joy, for he is born
(The child of your great longing, salvation’s light is dawning)

Come as a babe (so weak and poor)
He opens wide (the heavn’ly door)
To bind all hearts (together)
God with us, now and forever!

In darkest night, the coming light
(To all the world despairing, his saving song now sharing)
Like morning light, so clear, so bright
(So warm and gentle, caring; a hopeful song worth sharing)

Then shall the mute (break forth in song)
And weak be raised (above the strong)
And every sword (and weapon)
Shall be broken into plowshares

Rejoice! Rejoice! Take heart despite
(The winter dark and cheerless, the winter dark and cheerless)
The rising sun beams down its light
(Be strong and loving, fearless; be strong and loving, fearless)

Love, be our hope (Love, be our prayer)
Love, be our song (each day to share)
Love, be our strength
Until at last he brings us into glory

Love, be our hope (Love, be our prayer)
Love, be our song (each day to share)
Love, be our hope (Love, be our prayer)
Love, be our song (each day to share)

Love, be our hope (Love, be our prayer)
Love, be our song (each day to share)
Love, be our strength
Until at last he brings us into glory

Advent, Day 26: Burn This as a Light

LOOK: Costa do Sol on Sunday Evening by Cassi Namoda

Namoda, Cassi_Costa do Sol on Sunday Evening
Cassi Namoda (Mozambican, 1988–), Costa do Sol on Sunday Evening, 2019. Acrylic on canvas, 48 × 54 in. (121.9 × 137.2 cm).

LISTEN: “Burn This as a Light” by Tom and Karen Wuest, on Burn This as a Light (2017)

When journeying through your dark night
Burn this as a light
Until the dawn horizon
Burn, burn this as a light

What God has voiced inside you
Burn, burn this as a light
Creation all about you
Burn, burn this as a light

The song of children laughing
Burn, burn this as a light
The sound of people singing
Burn, burn this as a light

The morning star arises
Burn, burn this as a light
Raising our joys from sorrows
Burn, burn this as a light

The tree of life bearing fruit
Burn, burn this as a light
The healing of the nations
Burn, burn this as a light

When you come to take us home
We’ll lay our oil lamps down
In the abiding light of the Lamb
We’ll lay our oil lamps down

Beside your glorified body
We’ll lay our oil lamps down
Healed by the holy hands of love
We’ll lay our oil lamps down

“Burn This as a Light” is the last of twelve songs on an album of the same name. Tom Wuest (pronounced “weest”) and his wife, Karen, recorded Burn This as a Light with their sons, Isaiah (trumpet) and Arbutus (alto saxophone and clarinet), over the course of 2016 at their home in the Ohio River Valley. Friends Kenny Havens, Peter La Grand (of Ordinary Time), Calum Rees, and Jono Ryan also play on the album, the latter three contributing parts from their remote locations.

Tom writes,

These songs of hope, which are all rooted in the biblical narrative, grew out of particular stories of sorrow and reflect our prayerful working while watching and waiting for a God-breathed dawn to arise. . . . We sing [these prayers] for the healing of the nations, the land, and the waters of the earth. Burn this as a light. We sing for the renewal of the church. Burn this as a light. We sing for God’s peace upon the poor and oppressed, near and far. Burn this as a light. We sing for our creaturely neighbors and the creation that graces these hills. Burn this as a light.

The title track acknowledges the darkness through which we pilgrims travel but catalogs a number of earthly glimmers of the new day that can embolden our faith, our hope, our love along the way. Communal song, children’s laughter, the natural world, our callings, our moral consciousness—these are but a few of the things that we can “burn as a light,” that is, that can remind us of the goodness and beauty that is our origin and destiny, and thus light the path forward, help us make it Home.

We can also “burn as a light” those passages of scripture that tell us who we are and where we’re headed. The song references several biblical visions—for example, those of the ancient Hebrew prophets, who saw with their inner eye sorrow turned to joy (Isa. 35:10; 61:3; Jer. 31:13), and God’s revelation to John of the new heavens and the new earth (Rev. 22). It’s a passage we’ve visited several times already in this Advent series, but it’s so good, I’ll quote it again:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month, and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. . . .

“See, I am coming soon . . . I, Jesus, . . . the root and descendant of David, the bright morning star.”

—Revelation 22:1–5, 12, 16

In the end we’ll lay our oil lamps down, because we will have made it through the dark. There will be only light, the light of Christ—blazing, transfiguring, fulfilling.

Singer-songwriter and farmer Tom Wuest was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. He married Karen in 1993 and, after she finished her MFA in creative writing in Colorado, the two of them moved to Vancouver, where their sons were born. In Vancouver Tom studied theology at Regent College while writing singable music for churches. He also helped start Red Clover Farm (then part of the ministry Jacob’s Well), growing organic produce on vacant lots for distribution to the community. After seven years of urban farming, in 2008 the Wuests moved to Galiano Island, one of the Gulf Islands off the southern coast of British Columbia, to farm in a rural context.

In 2011 Tom and his family returned to the US and lived among the Vineyard Central community in Norwood, Ohio, before moving, in 2012, about an hour southeast to a one-hundred-acre plot of land in Adams County, where they set about restoring an old farmstead, living in a dairy barn while they built their house. It’s there, at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, that they live now. On their farm they tend animals, vineyards, and large gardens; make their own cheese, butter, bread, and wine; and forage onions, garlic, mushrooms, and other wild foods. They regularly hosted and supported the “parish farmers” of Moriah Pie, a pay-as-you-can, locally sourced pizzeria in Norwood founded by Robert and Erin Lockridge, during its eight years of operation.

“A large part of my vocation is connected to sustainable building and tending the beauty, integrity, and health of the community of creation,” Tom told me. “The songs I write all come out of the confluence of this labor as I seek to love this place, this community, and all who dwell here—offered in love to the broader community of ‘seekers and sufferers’ (as Jürgen Moltmann puts it) in the world.”

Tom’s most recent musical project has been collaborating on the Parish Collective’s Songs of Place, a live album that will be released in the coming months and that features six of Tom’s original songs. When writing music, he says, he likes to look for places where the story of God meets our story.

Explore more of his music at or wherever you listen to music.

Advent, Day 25: Our Candles Burn

LOOK: Old Woman and Boy with Candles by Peter Paul Rubens

Rubens, Peter Paul_Old Woman and a Boy with Candles
Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish, 1577–1640), Old Woman and Boy with Candles, ca. 1616–17. Oil on panel, 77 × 62.5 cm. Mauritshuis, The Hague, Netherlands.

LISTEN: “The Night Is Long (But Not for Long)” by Steve Thorngate, on After the Longest Night (2018) (sung by Libby Thorngate)

Our nights are long, but they’re getting shorter
Ever since you crossed over our border.
Our candles burn while we wait for dawn.
The night is long, but not for long.

Our hope has come. Our despair is buried.
The light of the world is the child of Mary.
God in our bones, God who knows our song.
The night is long, but not for long.

It seems so hard, harder than it should be,
To see the world the way it could be,
To press right on when hope is almost gone.
The night is long, but not for long.

But this world is good, good enough for Jesus
To come and live a life that frees us,
To bend toward right everything that’s wrong.
The night is long, but not for long.

Our nights are long, but they’re getting shorter.
These growing days show a new order.
Winter will pass. Spring will come along.
The night is long, but not for long.

Advent, Day 24: Hold On

LOOK: Ploughing by Georges Seurat

Seurat, Georges_Ploughing
Georges Seurat (French, 1859–1891), Ploughing, ca. 1882. Conté crayon on paper, 27.5 × 32 cm. Musée du Louvre, Paris (DH 525). Source: Seurat by Richard Thomson (Salem House / Phaidon, 1985), p. 30.

LISTEN: “Hold On Just a Little While Longer,” African American spiritual | Performed by the Rev. Cleophus Robinson Jr., on Consolation (1980)

Hold on just a little while longer
Hold on just a little while longer
Hold on just a little while longer
Everything will be alright

Sing on just a little while longer
Sing on just a little while longer
Sing on just a little while longer
Everything will be alright

Is comin’ after a while
And it won’t be very long
You gonna look for me
And I’ll be gone
I’m gon’ walk around God’s throne

Hold on just a little while longer
Hold on just a little while longer
Hold on just a little while longer
Everything will be alright

Walk on just a little while longer
Walk on just a little while longer
Walk on just a little while longer
Everything will be alright

Advent, Day 23: Holy One, Jesus Come

LOOK: Nativity, Netherlands, 16th century

Bosch, Hieronymus (after)_Nativity
Unidentified artist (in the style of Hieronymus Bosch), Nativity, southern Netherlands, ca. 1550–1600. Oil on panel, 58 × 76 cm. Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

This painting in the style of Bosch shows Mary and Joseph adoring their newborn son, Jesus, who’s naked and bedded down in straw. A small angelic ensemble stands at the head of the manger with lute, harp, and songbook, softly serenading the family, while a shepherd sneaks a peek from behind a green curtain. It is as if we, the viewer, are standing opposite the shepherd on the other side of the manger, also looking down at the Christ child. Are we similarly rapt with wonder?

I love how the ox and the ass meet our gaze, acknowledge our presence!

I’m not sure of the significance of Joseph’s hand-in-jacket gesture (its association with stateliness wasn’t established until some two centuries later, from what I can tell), but it’s likely supposed to connote reverence or humility, as do Mary’s prayerful hands.

In the left background, two men warm their hands and feet outside by a fire, while at the right, an angel appears to another shepherd on a hillside, announcing the Messiah’s birth.

LISTEN: “Holy One, Jesus Come” by Andy Bast, on The Hymns of St. Ephrem for Advent by Pillar Church (2014)

The lyrics of this song are loosely based on Ephrem the Syrian’s Nativity Hymn #2 from the fourth century. (All nineteen Nativity hymns by this early Christian poet-theologian are a treasure!)

Blessed is he
Both hidden and seen
Blessed is he
Who left the height of majesty

You magnify all, come magnify me
That I may tell about
The glory of your birth
Proclaim your grace to all the earth
Holy One, Jesus, come!

Blessed is he
Who gave us all
Blessed is he
Who gave us all that he has gained

O Father of all, your glorious day
You gave not seraphim
Nor sent the cherubim
You gave your only Son instead
Holy One, Jesus, come!

All glory to thee, entirely
Glory to thee, from every tongue, entirely
Your birth is enough
For all of us

Great one became a child
Pure one became defiled
O Living One, laid in the tomb
In you we are renewed
Your washing washed us through
Let us obtain life by your death
Holy One, Jesus, come!

The Incarnation, the enfleshment of God in the person of Jesus, encompasses the God-man’s birth and death, as does this song. Salvation was wrought not through Jesus’s birth alone, or life alone, or death alone, or resurrection alone, but through all of it together.

At first I got tripped up on the line “Pure one became defiled,” because Jesus did not become defiled in the sense of succumbing to sin or moral corruption. However, in his ministry, he did touch lepers, bleeding women, and corpses, which, according to the Jewish purity laws at the time, would have made him ritually unclean. Looking back on these healings and raisings, Christians would say that rather than these people’s uncleanness transferring to him, his cleanness transferred to them. But the public perception was that he was defiling himself.

And then, of course, there’s 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake God made the one who knew no sin to be sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” And Galatians 3:13: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.’” What it means that Jesus “became sin” or “became a curse” has been the subject of much theological discussion! But suffice it to say that Jesus’s death on the cross involved not only physical debasement but also his bearing, in a metaphysical sense, the full weight of humanity’s transgressions.

Andy Bast is a singer-songwriter from Holland, Michigan. He is a musician and writer for the Christian collective Bellwether Arts and a regular contributor to Cardiphonia projects.

Advent, Day 22: Bus Stop Nativity

LOOK: Bus Stop Nativity by Andrew Gadd

Gadd, Andrew_Bus Stop Nativity
Andrew Gadd (British, 1968–), Bus Stop Nativity, 2008. Oil on canvas, 188 × 122 cm.

Painted by Royal Academy gold medal winner Andrew Gadd, Bus Stop Nativity depicts the Holy Family huddled together at night under a bus shelter, trying to stay warm. Some passersby look on with curiosity—two even kneel down on the snowy sidewalk—while others go about their business with total indifference.

This painting was commissioned by the Church Advertising Network in the UK, now, and displayed on posters at over one thousand bus stops in December 2008, printed with the text “Be Part of the Action. Church, 25-12.” (A gentle provocation to attend a Christmas service on December 25.)

Francis Goodwin, the chair of the Church Advertising Network, said, “We are very used to the Renaissance image of the Nativity. But what would it look like if it happened today? Where would it take place? We want to challenge people to make them reassess what the birth of Jesus means to them.”

Bus Stop Nativity identifies Jesus with today’s urban poor. He was born not in a comfortable palace with fine clothes and other material wealth and security, but in vulnerability and need, to working-class parents who were inconveniently out of town at the time of delivery, forced to make do with less-than-ideal accommodations. When it came time for Mary to present a purification offering in the temple forty days after giving birth, she couldn’t afford the requisite lamb, so she brought two turtledoves instead (a provision made in Lev. 12:8). Not only was Jesus not monied; he also spent his early years as a refugee in Egypt, a flight prompted by Herod’s direct threat on his life. With limited resources, his parents had to make a home for him away from home, not knowing for some time when it would be safe to return to Galilee.

That this was Jesus’s family background and experience—that he lived on the margins of society, not at its center—has always been a significant facet of the Incarnation, because it means that God knows bodily what it is to feel want and uncertainty and to be overlooked. When in his adulthood Jesus preached “Blessed are the poor,” he was affirming that God is with those of lower socioeconomic means. He is one of them.

LISTEN: “Hush Child (Get You Through This Silent Night)” from the movie Black Nativity (2013) | Written by Taura Latrice Stinson, Kasi Lemmons, and Taylor Gordon | Performed by Jennifer Hudson, Jacob Latimore, Luke James, and Grace Gibson

Silent night
Holy night
Poverty on the rise
Wealthy reverend in designer clothes
Homeless children with frostbitten toes
Sleeping in the street
Sleeping in the street

I ain’t tryna be philosophical
But it’s not logical
Some folks out here freezing, others chilling like it’s tropical

The indifference is mad crazy
Like poverty’s contagious
My hands are dirty, but I’m still worthy
Step in my shoes and walk in some mercy

They say this is your punishment for such poor judgment
But you must’ve lost your mind
How you gon’ feed it when you barely eating?
Get ready for the welfare line
I ain’t tryna hear it
You make the bed, lay in it
But I’m way too strong for you to break my spirit

Is it me?
Am I the cause of all my mother’s misery?
This cloud of secrecy on my paternity
Did my very birth destroy my whole family?

I’m just a sinner, I know who I am
Just a beginner, I’m not yet a man
Send me a signal, I’ll follow your light
Just help me through this silent night

Hush child, it’ll be alright
I’ll get you through this silent night
Hush child, it’ll be alright
I’ll get you through this silent night

This ain’t living
I got a mouth to feed
But I can’t make these ends meet
Got an eviction notice
But my Lord don’t hear my prayers
I never been this scared
The silence is too loud for me
Life just ain’t fair

Is anyone out there?
Does anyone care?
Is anyone listening?
Is anyone there?
Just let me know that I’m a part of your plan
That you’re watching over and know who I am

From where we are now
How do we find our way?
Alone in the darkness, scared
With no place to stay

Hush child, it’ll be alright
I’ll get you through this silent night
Hush child, it’ll be alright
I’ll get you through this silent night

Hush child, it’ll be alright
We’ll do this together

Sleep in heavenly peace
Sleep in heavenly peace

This song is a dream sequence from the 2013 film Black Nativity, directed by Kasi Lemmons (good soundtrack, cheesy movie). The two characters who initiate the song are Maria (Grace Gibson) and Jo-Jo (Luke James), a homeless couple in New York City expecting their first child, who are caroling door-to-door. Fifteen-year-old Langston (Jacob Latimore), who has been sent to live temporarily with his estranged grandfather while his mom, Naima (Jennifer Hudson), figures out how to make ends meet for the two of them back in Baltimore, interjects with a rap expressing his frustration with economic inequality and the struggle he has seen and lived.  

The pregnant couple sings the refrain, “Hush child . . . ,” to each other and to their unborn child, and Naima sings it to Langston. But in between, all four address God in lament: God, are you there? God, why don’t you fix these inequities? I’m exhausted. Tired of being a have-not and always having to hustle, to no avail. When are you going to provide like you said you would? The night is “silent” because God is not answering, it seems. Still, the characters continue to pray their pain and grasp after hope.

Though Lemmons’s Black Nativity was marketed as being based on Langston Hughes’s 1961 musical of the same name, its only resemblance is that it is a Christmas-themed drama with Black sacred music (only two songs are held in common; most in the movie are contemporary gospel or original hip-hop/R&B). To listen to the original Broadway cast recording of *Hughes’s* Black Nativity on Spotify, click here.

Advent, Day 21: Make a Womb

LOOK: Advent by Gerda Smelik

Smelik, Gerda_Advent
Gerda Smelik (Dutch, 1964–), Advent, 2006. Acrylic, oil paint, gold leaf, paper, wood chips, sand, glue, and photographs on canvas, 160 × 160 cm.

Dutch artist Gerda Smelik says about this mixed media piece:

Advent, a period of reflection and expectation, is portrayed by a globe with a fetus inside. The dark colours stand for the brokenness of life; the light around the fetus and the rays of gold around the globe already announce a better world. When you look at the painting up close, you discover that the suffering of the world is depicted by means of portraits of people in danger and distress.

LISTEN: “O Come, O Come, O Hidden Spring of Light” | Words by Malcolm Guite, 2011 | Music by Joshua Stamper, on PRIMEMOVER, 2021

Make a womb of all this wounded world
Make a womb of all this wounded world
And make a womb of all this wounded world

Come to be born, to bear us to our birth
Make these rags of time our swaddling bands
O hidden spring of light
Come to us Wisdom, come unspoken Name
Come Root, and Key, and King, and holy Flame
O quickened little wick so tightly curled
Be folded with us into time and place
Unfold for us the mystery of grace

Make a womb of all this wounded world
Make a womb of all this wounded world
And make a womb of all this wounded world

This jazz composition by Joshua Stamper, featuring vocalist Kristin Slipp, rearranges lines from Malcolm Guite’s sonnet “O Emmanuel,” which appears in Waiting on the Word: A Poem a Day for Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. (I shared the poem here, and another compelling Advent musical composition by Stamper here.)

“O Come, O Come, O Hidden Spring of Light” is from Stamper’s PRIMEMOVER, a double album of experimental jazz and classical chamber works commissioned by Resurrection Philadelphia from 2015 to 2021 for services marking holy days and seasons in the church calendar: Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, Easter, Pentecost, and Advent.

PRIMEMOVER is “a meditation on the Divine benediction over our corporeal world,” Stamper writes. “The hovering One . . . has bounded into our wounded world and unbound us from our own trajectory. . . . The abstract is made concrete.”

And, he continues, “It might just be the only record out there featuring everyone from members of the Dirty Projectors to Marilynne Robinson to Beyoncé-collaborators to the former Archbishop of Canterbury to avant-classical violin players from the Czech Republic.”

I love to see churches commissioning smart, exploratory, unconventional music like this!

Advent, Day 20: Of Little Lambs and Atomic Bombs

LOOK: Escape by Nicolas V. Sanchez

Sanchez, Nicolas_Escape
Nicolas V. Sanchez (Mexican American, 1983–), Escape, 2017. Oil on canvas, 61 × 76 cm.

LISTEN: “Do You Hear What I Hear” | Words by Noël Regney, 1962 | Music by Gloria Shayne, 1962 | Performed by Foreign Fields, 2016

Said the night wind to the little lamb
Do you see what I see?
Way up in the sky, little lamb
Do you see what I see?
A star, a star, dancing in the night
With a tail as big as a kite
With a tail as big as a kite

Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy
Do you hear what I hear?
Ringing through the sky, shepherd boy
Do you hear what I hear?
A song, a song high above the trees
With a voice as big as the sea
With a voice as big as the sea

Said the shepherd boy to the mighty king
Do you know what I know?
In your palace warm, mighty king
Do you know what I know?
A Child, a Child shivers in the cold
Let us bring him silver and gold
Let us bring him silver and gold

Said the king to the people everywhere
Listen to what I say!
Pray for peace, people, everywhere
Listen to what I say!
The Child, the Child sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light
He will bring us goodness and light

Bing Crosby’s recording of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” from 1963 was one of the tracks on the Christmas compilation album that would be played on Christmas mornings in my house growing up. As a kid, I knew nothing of the gravitas of the carol, thinking it was only about a cute little lamb, a shepherd boy, and a humble king who go to see the newborn baby Jesus. While this is the ostensible narrative of the song, embedded in the lyrics is a fear of apocalyptic disaster, as it was written during the Cuban Missile Crisis, which lasted from October 16 to November 20, 1962. Involving the Soviet deployment of ballistic missiles to newly communist Cuba, which could hit much of the eastern United States in minutes (this in response to the US stationing missiles in Turkey, in range of Soviet territory), this thirty-five-day confrontation is the closest the Cold War came to escalating into a full-scale nuclear war. Though this particular crisis was averted, nuclear-related tensions and anxiety would continue to flare up for years to come.

“Do You Hear What I Hear?” is by the songwriting duo Noël Regney and Gloria Shayne, who were married at the time. Regney studied at music conservatories in Strasbourg, Salzburg, and Paris, but World War II interrupted his education. Despite being a Frenchman from Alsace, he was drafted by force into the Nazi army—but he soon deserted and joined a group of French resistance fighters. He survived the war and began his music career. Touring internationally with singer Lucienne Boyer, he eventually settled in Manhattan in 1952, working for television shows as an arranger, composer, and conductor. It was in New York that he met musician Gloria Shayne, who would become his wife.

The two collaborated together on a number of original songs, but “Do You Hear” is by far their most popular. In a reversal of their usual roles, Regney wrote the lyrics and Shayne wrote the music. The song, as the writers have said in interviews, is a plea for peace amid the imminent threat of nuclear annihilation.

Released December 7, 1962, the debut recording with the Harry Simeone Chorale sold over a quarter million copies, and Crosby’s cover the following year made the song an international hit.

The song traces the passing along of the good news of the birth of a savior: the wind tells the lamb, the lamb tells the shepherd, the shepherd tells the king, and the king tells the world. These character types are common in stories about Christ’s nativity, but not all the ones in the song map directly onto the ones mentioned in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The king is neither Herod nor one of the magi, but rather an aspirational figure—a world leader who wields his power responsibly, calling all nations to the way of goodness, peace, and light represented by the infant sleeping in the cold, God incarnate. Jesus is never named as the child, but his identity can be inferred from the context.

The song is structured as a series of interrogatives: do you see a star, do you hear a song, do you know the child who shivers? The last stanza, though, is an imperative: pray for peace.

Once we recognize the world events that informed the writing of “Do You Hear,” some of the lines take on a double meaning. For example, the star with “a tail as big a kite” is not just a celestial body leading the way to the Christ child, but also a nuclear missile. The “song” that rings through the sky “with a voice as big as the sea” is, on one level, a hearty angelic choir, but on another, it’s the thunderous clap of a bomb dropping, the blast echoing out in waves. The menace, the terror, is veiled beneath sentimental language and imagery. But it’s there for those with ears to hear, beckoning us to repentance—to turn from our violence, our lust for power and supremacy, our arsenal building, and to instead embrace the peaceable kingdom of Christ.

“Do You Hear What I Hear?” has been covered many, many times over its sixty years of existence. I’m partial to the cover by the electronic folk duo Foreign Fields of Nashville, consisting of Eric Hillman and Brian Holl. It eliminates the marchlike rhythm of the original as well as the choir and orchestra and, with just a guitar and solo vocals, captures well the sense of longing and lament. “He will bring us goodness” is sung six consecutive times, as if the singer is trying to convince himself of the truth of that promise, to bolster his hope through repetition.

Advent, Day 19: Healing Wings

LOOK: Ronde au Soleil (Sun Circle) by Pablo Picasso

Picasso, Pablo_Sun Circle
Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973), Ronde au Soleil (Sun Circle), 1959. Color lithograph on Arches wove paper, 19 1/2 × 17 1/2 in. (49.5 × 44.5 cm).

In this color lithograph, writes the Masterworks Fine Art gallery in San Francisco,

figures frolic happily in a circle, reminiscent of the sardana, a traditional Catalonian dance that appears in Picasso’s body of work. Some figures clutch flowers in their hands, others hold hands, signifying the strong bonds that can exist between people, and many also throw their hands over their heads with joy. Flowers fill the center of the circle as well, as if those dancing have been tossing them into the middle. None of the people are detailed with any facial features, but Picasso has done an inspiring job of bringing intense feeling through simple lines. The dancers abound with feeling, from their joyfully moving feet, to their hands opened wide towards the sky. Above the circle of youths is a glowing yellow sun, emblazoned with the outline of a white dove . . . [that] encapsulates the feeling of the dancers – both the hope that bursts forth from them, and also the freedom that the hope implies.

LISTEN: “But for You Who Fear My Name” by Lenny Smith, 1975 | Arranged and performed by The Welcome Wagon on Welcome to The Welcome Wagon, 2008

But for you who fear my name
The sun of righteousness will rise
With healing in his wings
And you shall go forth again
And skip about like calves
Coming from their stalls at last

You shall be my very own
On the day that I
Caused you to be my special home
I shall spare you as a man
Has compassion on his son
Who does the best he can

Written in God’s voice by way of the prophet Malachi, this song is by Leonard Earl Smith Jr. of Philadelphia; it appears on his 2000 album Deep Calls to Deep with the title “But For You.” Vito and Monique Aiuto, who comprise the Brooklyn-based duo The Welcome Wagon, recorded their own homespun arrangement, replete with stomps and claps, for their 2008 debut album Welcome to The Welcome Wagon.

The song is based on Malachi 4:2 and 3:17:

But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. . . .

They shall be mine, says the LORD of hosts, my special possession on the day when I act, and I will spare them as parents spare their children who serve them.

“Fear” in the song’s first verse is used in the archaic sense of to give reverence to or to be in awe of. God records the names of those who fear him in a “book of remembrance,” states Malachi 3:16.

I love the image in Malachi of baby cows being released from their pens to frolic freely in the fields, to skip and to play, which are likened in their joy to God’s redeemed on the last day when the “sun of righteousness” arises on them at last—when they are liberated.

The English language makes possible a wordplay on “sun” that is not in the original Hebrew, such that we can identify the bright solar orb with God’s Son, Jesus, who sheds his light upon us. (Get it? Sun/Son.) The “wings” of the sun are its rays.

You may recognize this poetic image from “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”:

Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings, risen with healing in His wings.

The second verse of “But for You Who Fear My Name” opens by celebrating how God has made his home among us—in the flesh in the person of Jesus, and then by sending his Spirit to reside in those who believe. Malachi is referring specifically to Israel as God’s people, his treasured possession, but the New Testament writers apply those epithets more broadly to the new people God was forming through the work of Christ—that is, the church (e.g., 1 Pet. 2:4–10).

The song then references God’s parental mercy and grace in fully embracing us children who want to please him but who fail so many times.