We are following the Celtic tradition of Advent which begins this week and, much like Lent, tends to involve 40 days of fasting, prayer and reflection in preparation for the feast of Christmas.

This year our Advent blog series follows the theme of ‘Songs in the Wasteland.’

Those of you who took part in the 24-7 Prayer Gathering Online will remember that the theme was “Strange Lands”, taken from the lament of Psalm 137, “How can we sing the song of the Lord in a strange land?”

What is the ‘song of the Lord?’ Perhaps a look at Scripture can help us to identify what the ‘song of the Lord’ might be. What is the continuous thread throughout the story of Scripture? The loving pursuit of humanity by the God who never gives up. It is a continuous thread of God’s forgiveness, mercy, redemption, healing, restoration… in other words, hope.

I think the song of the Lord is a song of hope.

Hope acknowledges the reality of the present yet does not stop there – it believes for better. Hope is what occupies that uncomfortable space between the “now and not yet.”

And what else is Advent but this?

The Message version of Psalm 137 says, ‘Alongside Babylon’s rivers, we sat on the banks; we cried and cried, remembering the good old days in Zion. Alongside the quaking aspens we stacked our unplayed harps; That’s where our captors demanded songs, sarcastic and mocking: “Sing us a happy Zion song!” Oh, how could we ever sing God’s song in this wasteland?

Maybe you can relate? We could possibly interchange “Babylon’s rivers” for the Clyde, the Forth, the River Dee, the Tay…

The months of waiting, hoping have stretched out much longer than expected and now we are also feeling stretched, thin, weary. The waiting has grown long. And our once hopeful outlook has potentially faded to match the bleakness of the coming winter season – a sort of wasteland.

It was into this wasteland that the Christ-child came – quietly, subversively yet those whose hearts were in a place of preparation heard, their eyes saw.

We often view the coming of Jesus through a soft warm glow. However, the promised Saviour came at a time not unlike where we currently find ourselves – a time of political unrest, deep divisions and racism, death and poverty, captivity and suppression, fear and anxiety. Even Jesus and His family had to live as refugees for a while. The lament of Psalm 137 would have been much repeated by the people of God.

There was an article on the BBC recently about birdsong during lockdown: “…scientists confirmed a change in the birds’ vocal repertoire when the city fell quiet. The birds upped the quality of their songs, as they called to defend their territory and entice a mate. And while it might have seemed to human ears that bird song got louder, the sparrows actually sang more quietly. These sweeter, softer songs carried further given the lack of background noise.”

Birds always sing before dawn comes…” is the hauntingly beautiful line sung by Cardboard Carousel in their latest single.

What might it look like for us as the people of God to sing before the dawn comes? To enter more fully into Advent this year, opening our hearts to His coming right into our pain and mess, and then allowing the song of the Lord to arise from deep within us and fill this land with hope?