The Isaiah reading for today provides the text for one of the most frequently used hymns at funerals – On Eagle’s Wings by Michael Joncas. Like so many other songs this one bears memories, but they are memories of grief. In fact, many people burst into tears within two measures, a testimony to the powerful emotions forever tied to this melodic strain.
Perhaps that is not a bad thing during Advent. Remember, Christmas is not just a birthday party, the celebration of Jesus’ coming 2000 years ago. It is also about Jesus coming again. That’s why the readings on the first Sunday of Advent caution us to remain awake and alert, because we do not know the day or hour of the Lord’s coming. So today, even as we hear the reassurance of Jesus, the words that promise us soaring freedom and light burdens, these very words remind us that we are all terminal. As was true for Jesus in the moment he proclaimed gospel comfort, we all are approaching our deaths, slowly spending the sands in our personal hourglass.
You may think this a morbid thought to bring into a discussion of Christmas. I beg to differ. Advent and Christmas remind me to remain awake and alert, knowing that time, and especially time with loved ones, is precious and not guaranteed for another year. They urge me to appreciate who and what I have while I have it. They help me approach all of life as a fragile and temporary gift from a loving God.
And because time is short, Advent and Christmas remind me that I am to work tirelessly to help birth the reign of God into the world, using my gifts and talents to their full. Yet I need to stay grounded in God and wisely discern the tasks I am called to do. If I don’t take time to pray, to listen carefully to God and rely on God’s word, then I become less effective or even burnt out. If I try to do too much, taking on the work of others and bearing more of a burden than my shoulders were intended to bear, I disconnect myself from God’s yoke and I break under the weight. Instead, the One who has no equal, who never tires nor faints, is born in me and holds me close. I never walk alone; I am supported, strengthened, and guided by the Creator of all things.
If I can take these lessons with me into my celebrations, then surely the songs and memories of Advent and Christmas will indeed soar like eagle’s wings, lighten my load, and bring the comfort and peace for which my soul longs.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. See Amy’s website: http://www.amyflorian.com/.