Advent 2021: Hope

“Born on Earth For Us Below”

“See, amid the winter’s snow / Born on earth for us below / See, the tender Lamb appears / Promised from eternal years.”

Thus opens Edward Caswall’s “See, Amid the Winter’s Snow,” one of the more obscure and, to me, one of the most poetic Christmas carols. One of my responsibilities at my local church includes selecting, arranging, and providing a musical prelude for each Sunday morning worship service. It is a privilege to have the weekly opportunity to review hymns and songs of praise and to let the words sink into my heart as I craft an arrangement.

I rediscovered this hymn at the beginning of this Advent season, and it has remained with me since. As in years past, I reveled in the writer’s use of imagery. But this year, I noticed something new: the contrast between it and other more obviously jubilant Christmas carols.

“Lo, within a manger lies / He who built the starry skies / He, who throned in height sublime / Sits amid the cherubim.”

I thoroughly enjoy “Joy to the World” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and other full-throated expressions of seasonal rejoicing. But I also value this particular carol’s emphasis on the simplicity of the original nativity: the birth of a baby – a common occurrence to us – combined with God’s quiet yet history-transforming entrance into our world.

Although no human hymn-writer will ever be able to express the comparison between heavenly glory and our sin-stained world, this carol captures something of Christ’s descent into our neediness. It also prompts me to wonder anew at the glories of creation and to reflect on how the reality of God’s existence is all around us (Romans 1:20). It inspires me to want to understand His creation more and to become better acquainted with Him.

“Sacred infant, all divine / What a tender love was thine / Thus to come to from highest bliss / Down to such a world as this.”

However, as I look around at the world, I become more and more aware of the mess of brokenness and disappointment that sin has created. For the sake of reflection, suppose for a moment that God’s plan for the world ordained that we would each spend some amount of time in heaven before living on earth. I don’t think I would have the courage to make that transition, and I certainly wouldn’t have the desire! Yet Christ did just that. And during His season on earth, He bore more than we will ever know or be required to endure. That reality in and of itself speaks of His love for us.

When COVID-19 descended upon the world in March 2020, I don’t think any of us imagined that the pandemic and its effects would still hang over us at Christmas 2021. At the beginning of 2021, multiple people told me that they hoped the turn of the year would signify a new start, a farewell to a heavy season, and the dawn of a new beginning. However, as we all know, that did not happen.

In addition, we have felt the weight of a litany of other public concerns, issues which don’t even include the aches in our personal lives, our families and friendships, and perhaps our churches. 2021 has not been the relief we hoped for and thus far, many of 2021’s challenges appear poised to accompany us into 2022.

“Hail, thou ever-blessed morn / Hail, redemption’s happy dawn / Sing through all Jerusalem / ‘Christ is born in Bethlehem!’”

While creation and the many blessings we do enjoy in life speak to the purity and goodness of our God, even they still bear the scars of sin. Scripture offers no promise of a trouble-free existence in this world. But yet, even in spite of all the frustration and disappointment, there is hope. The angels met the shepherds with tidings of peace and hope because the child who entered the world through the very common experience of birth was no common child. He came to know our pain and suffer the consequence of our brokenness so that we might ultimately be reunited with our perfect Creator.

The same God who sent those angelic tidings over 2,000 years ago has also told us that His character, message, and mission remain unchanged through eternity. The same announcement of eternal peace, hope, relief, and ultimate deliverance still hovers over our broken world. As we trust and work for Him now, we wait with longing anticipation for the day when He will come again, when “He will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).

For the complete lyrics of “See, Amid the Winter’s Snow,” visit Hymnary.org.

Rosalie Chesley serves at the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware as the assistant to the interim executive director and the managing editor of BaptistLIFE.