Emmanuel a-singing

To us, to all in sorrow and fear
Emmanuel comes a-singing.
His humble song is quiet and near,
yet fills the earth with its ringing….

These words are from the middle stanzas of a newer hymn by Marty Haugan, Awake! Awake, and Greet the New Morn. I have enjoyed the hymn’s dancing tune for several advents now, but I must not have been paying attention to the words, the heart of the song. As too often happens, I can only sing the first few lines. (OK, can you, for example, sing the second stanza of Hark, the herald angels sing? Well, some of you can, but not most, I’m guessing.)

Last week I was flipping through the Advent section of the hymnal, searching for something that I could not put into words. Maybe I was searching for some way to connect to this Advent-Christmas season when this preceding year has been so strange and taxing. Maybe I was searching for spiritual nourishment when so many words around us are trite. Maybe I was simply searching for God. Sometimes songs give us words to pray, or courage to hope, or wisdom to guide, or a way to re-look at what seems jaded.

Awake! Awake! is where I stopped and began to read more slowly. What caught my eye and imagination was the picture of Emmanuel comes a-singing. Now I have thought of Jesus walking, teaching, healing, dying, praying. Thanks to active speculations about end times, I’ve considered clouds, thunder and “the trumpet sounding” as a possible part of the return package.

But the song invites me to imagine Jesus himself coming down the road singing. I like that. Laughing and walking into my anxiety with a kid’s camp song. Singing away my doubt with my mother’s favorite old hymn. Teasing me into courage with a rousing ballad. Teaching me a tune that begs latent joy to burst into the open and feet to dance.

This picture of Emmanuel singing is sort of a pied piper image, isn’t it? I love how music outside is spacious and subtle. Others step out from behind doors that lock in the fear, sadness and loneliness. We peer in all directions for the source of this “quiet and near” singing. We spot the singing Emmanuel and his “humble song” grows, maybe as we start singing along with him—if we can remember the words, that is. In the meantime, I’m going to have to work on learning this second stanza by heart, and the third…

In darkest night his coming shall be,
when all the world is despairing;….

A few cold nights ago, I was awakened by a horned owl’s soft call in the nearby woods. It repeated every half minute or so. I distinctly remember the peacefulness I felt at the sound. I remember being grateful for warm covers. I remember feeling glad about living in this human community on the edge of an owl’s world. Peace. Gladness. Gratefulness. Now I wonder: whose song was I hearing anyway?


  1. Reading this post reminds me of when I was growing up in that same area. Reading late at night, especially in the summer, with the window open, hearing all the soft sounds of the night. Then in the distant I would here the noise of a train chugging down the tracks, then the blast of it’s airhorn. Simplier times for us all as well as our country.

  2. The train still roars and blasts…double because of the two road crossings. Hey, Joe, times were complicated back then too: Vietnam, student riots, presidential assassination, Jim Jones and the suicide pact, LSD and the “sexual revolution”…Maybe you are thinking of the following quieter decade of the 70′:)

  3. I was a kid then! That is why it seemed like simpler times to me. When I was reading, it was normally summer, so i’d get involved in a book, read late, didn’t have to get up early for school! The worries of the summer were my paper route, cutting neighbor’s lawns, assigned tasks by Mom & Dad, and playing baseball! Ahhh those were the days!

  4. In that case, yes, they were simpler times.

  5. Hoo hoo hoo, hooo hooo, says the great horned owl…We heard (then saw) one up high in the big fir tree in front of the house several years ago, in this same time of bleak midwinter.
    Thanks for reminding me of that Haugen hymn.

  6. That’s close to town for an owl 🙂 Maybe it will come again. There were a couple having a conversation around here this morning before the sun was up.