People Look East: Set Every Peak and Valley Humming

A sun rising over a river valley between two mountains

Angels announce with shouts of mirth
Him who brings new life to earth.
Set every peak and valley
Humming with the word
The Lord is coming
People look East and sing today
Love the Lord is on the way

If I’m honest, there isn’t much I miss about being a kid. Despite its responsibilities and daily frustrations, being an adult is generally much more enjoyable for me. One exception, however, is that I do miss the childhood capacity for excitement. This is especially true at Christmas. When I think back to the sense of wonder and possibility the toy catalog would bring, the seemingly unending countdown of Advent calendars, and carol singing at church and letters to Santa at school, all coming together to make me feel like a pot about to boil over come December 23, I admit I get a bit wistful.

A similar sense of excitement fills this last verse of “People Look East,” the carol that has been guiding my Advent reflections this year. “Set every peak and valley humming with the word the Lord is coming!” The words, of course, hearken back to Isaiah 40 (verses 3-5 to be precise), with its words of comfort for Judah’s exiles:

A voice cries out:
‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’

This is exciting! And this year, with all its challenges and terrors, it feels all the more exciting. And why not? As my mom always says, “Good news deserves to be shared.”

And yet, this seems a tall order this year. The things that go into excitement — hope and faith — take a lot of vulnerability in dark times. After wandering in the dark, it’s often less a matter of simply ‘being’ excited than it is having to fight against our cynicism, disappointment, heartbreak, and exhaustion in order to practice excitement.

And so, as we enter into these last days of Advent, let’s dare to be excited. Let’s dare to join the mountains and valleys and proclaim the words we’ve all been waiting for: Help is on the way. Here is your God. The Lord is coming!

We’ve been on quite the journey this Advent, and really since All Saints Day. In the midst of political turmoil and a global pandemic that has destroyed lives and strained economies, healthcare systems, nerves, and good will, our lectionary readings have not let up since the beginning of November. We’ve been challenged to make our decision to follow God’s ways once and for all. We’ve been called on to be prepared and to stand watch lest we be taken unawares. We’ve been called on to get over our fears and take chances with whatever it is God has given us, no matter how small, and bear good fruit with it. We’ve been reminded that a God who loves justice doesn’t take kindly to those who stand in its way or stand by idly as God’s people suffer. We’ve been reminded that God is not revealed not in the absence of conflict, but in the midst of it. We’ve been called to repent — to open our hearts and eyes to the reality of what’s happening in and around us — and so become true citizens of God’s Kingdom. We’ve been exposed to God’s heart of love, of freedom, of vision, and healing. And, just the other day, we were asked to follow the example of Mary the Mother of our Lord and all the men and women of good faith before and after her who heard God’s call and said, “Here I am,” and chose to show up before God, for God and for their neighbours.

Yes, we’ve been on quite the journey. But, friends, the end is in sight. The Lord is coming! Good News is at hand. For at Christmas, we see the greatest revelation of God’s faithfulness and grace. Here, God meets all of humanity’s “Here I ams” — no matter how timid and imperfect — with God’s very own, bold and perfect, once-and-for-all “Here I am.” Here I am with you. My Kingdom is among you. Glory in the highest: Here is your God. Rejoice!

And so, as we prepare to celebrate this great and holy feast of God’s presence, let’s dare to be excited.

Forever and without exception, God is with us.

Let’s dare to celebrate.

Let’s dare to dream.

Angels announce with shouts of mirth
Him who brings new life to earth.
Set every peak and valley
Humming with the word
The Lord is coming
People look East and sing today
Love the Lord is on the way

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