Finding hope during busy holiday season


“Come, thou long expected Jesus,

born to set thy people free;

from our fears and sins release us,

let us find our rest in thee.

Israel’s strength and consolation,

hope of all the earth thou art;

dear desire of every nation,

joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,

born a child and yet a King,

born to reign in us forever,

now thy gracious kingdom bring.

By thine own eternal spirit

rule in all our hearts alone;

by thine all sufficient merit,

raise us to thy glorious throne.”

“Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” – Charles Wesley, 1744

In the Christian tradition, the season of Advent is the four weeks leading up to the birth of Christ. Advent is a season of waiting, watching, pondering and listening. In this, we anticipate God made flesh as we open our minds and our hearts to new possibilities. We begin to see that God doesn’t work, create, and move within the boundaries humans have created. It is an expectant time as hope emerges in new ways.

The ideal of Advent is in stark contrast to the reality of our culture in December. The month of December in the United States is busy. Many are frantically preparing for Christmas by buying gifts, going to parties and decorating homes. The reality is the busyness leaves little room for the spiritual preparation of Christ’s birth. So, what are we to do? Is it possible to find hope amid the hustle, bustle, and distraction of the season?

One of the gifts of attending worship services at a local church is to center our hearts on God. Through the worship services, we are reminded that Christ offers peace, joy, love and hope. The reminder brings these things to the forefront of our brains, and we are more likely to notice them in the busy season. All the elements of worship point to a God who imparts peace, joy, love and hope: in the scripture, the prayers, the preaching and the music.

While in seminary, I remember my United Methodist Doctrine professor saying that the music included in worship is one of the ways to teach the United Methodist beliefs to the congregation. In other words, the music selection for worship is important.

Charles Wesley (who I affectionately call “Chuck”) was brother to John Wesley. Both brothers were Anglican priests in the Church of England in the 18th century. Each had a conversion experience as adults, which radically shifted their ministry. This shift in ministry added an element of urgency and desire to help people move deeper in their spiritual relationship with God. While they did not set out to establish a new denomination, John and Charles were the founders of the Methodist Movement.

Charles was a prolific writer, penning hymns and poems. Many of his hymns are found in The United Methodist Hymnal and are beloved by a plethora of Christians. Some of his more well-known hymns are: “Christ the Lord is Risen Today,” “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling,” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” When I say he was prolific, I’m not being hyperbolic – he penned over 6,000 poems!

Deeply rooted in the scriptural stories, Wesley’s hymns are theologically rich. His lyrics are meaty and have depth of meaning and spirituality. His theology always points us to God as sovereign ruler. There is no superficiality coming from Chuck! Drawing from the experience of Israel, he articulates the hope we all wait for in the coming of the Lord.

As you read the words from his hymn “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus,” ponder how Christ offers hope to you. Is it through advances in medicine and technology? Is it through relationships with loved ones? Is it in the kindness of strangers? Is it through the work of justice and reconciliation? Is it knowing the Divine is ultimately in control?

Where are you hearing about hope? How are you living with hope? How do you experience hope? May each of us come to experience the transformative hope offered through Christ this Advent season. May it offer stability and assurance amid the flurry of activity this month. Merry Christmas!

Rev. Jennifer Applegate is pastor at the William Street United Methodist Church in Delaware.

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