In our family, we saturate the airwaves with Christmas music during the Advent season. We play it in the car, and as soon as we get home, and all through dinner, and as the kids are nodding off to bed. Every year, I tend to develop a new favorite song of the season. This year, it’s “Once in Royal David’s City.” I’ve always liked the song, which I place in the category of “fun British Christmas songs” along with “Good King Wencelas” and “I Saw Three Ships,” all of which are loads of fun and take creative freedom with their relation to the actual Christmas story. (Ships? In the desert? We’ll go with it…) “Once in Royal David’s City” was written first as a poem by a woman named Cecil Alexander, who also wrote that wonderful little Episcopal children’s hymn “All Things Bright and Beautiful.” Someone later set the poem to music, and the rest is history. Anyway, the verse that has really resonated with me this year is this one (and if you know the Sufjan Stevens version, it’s best to hum along with it in your head while reading, to get the full effect):
And our eyes at last shall see Him,
Through His own redeeming love,
For that Child so dear and gentle
Is our Lord in Heav’n above,
And He leads His children on
To the place where He is gone.
Maybe I get a little sappy during Advent, but I keep feeling rather embarrassingly overjoyed by these lines. The idea that we will see him through his own love is breathtaking, isn’t it? This love that breaks open the whole world, this love that brings the kind of light that darkness cannot overcome, through this love we will see him, and I think we could extend that to say we’ll see everything else through it, too. Love does that. Unfailing, unending love helps us see, and it helps us see through.
The last two lines, I know, can be read in a way that sounds a bit dualistic, very earth-versus-heaven, very float-us-up-with-you-Jesus. But to me, it sounds like Moltmann. It sounds not like a separatist idea, but the idea that this love not only gives us eyes to see all good things, but also is going ahead of us and preparing a way in which we can follow. This child leads us on toward the future of God, where he has gone before us and is even now going ahead of us, opening up space after space that we might come along.
For me, one of the hallmark characteristics of emerging theology and ecclesiology is our belief in the idea that the future is something we ought to anticipate, and something we are invited and called to shape. This Advent, as we celebrate the Light coming into the world, we hold onto that present-and-future-hope from the child king that our hope is filled with redeeming love.