Advent began Sunday and already the songs and services of the season are a blessing. The Youth Choirs – almost 200 teenagers – annual Advent Concert at Brentwood UMC was beautiful and what they do and sing is quite remarkable. And then the Service of Remembrance and Hope downtown at Nashville’s First Baptist Church has always been meaningful to me but, of course, more so since Honey died in 2015.
One delightful Advent hymn I learned while helping build the Celebrating Grace Hymnal is “People, Look East.” It is a fresh, joy-filled text alerting people of earth, furrows in the field, and angels in the air to do their respective things to make ready because “Love – meaning Jesus – the Guest, the Rose, and the Lord is on the way.” The hymn is set to a bright French folk melody that sort of dances off the page.
For ages, east has been symbolic of hope, of new life, of resurrection. In the creation story, God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden. The prophet Ezekiel talks about the east gate of the Temple where the glory of God hovered over them. The magi saw His star in the east, and east is the root word for our word “Easter.”
The sanctuary at FBC, Nashville is a majestic, resonant room, not well-suited for every kind of music, but the absolute best for congregations and choirs to sing. The room itself is part of what kept Honey and me there thirty Christmases in a row. “People, Look East” was not written for our church, but the hymn’s title, if not also its imagery, has something to say to that congregation. You see, to the west of the sanctuary and to the backs of most of the congregation is not only the setting sun, but also the historic Customs House where bankruptcy court is conducted – both suggesting the down side of life. To the south of our campus is the huge and encroaching Music City Center (and soon-to- be three high-rise hotels) housing nearly every form of commerce imaginable, none of which ultimately satisfies anyone’s soul. To our north and across bustling Broadway are the central business district, the state capitol, and entertainment hub which also come up short in life’s matters that really matter.
But in the midst of it all the congregation sits in worship facing east, right into the magnificent resurrection window at the base of which is the baptismal pool – itself a symbol of new life, rebirth, and eternal hope. The massive window is the most abstract of the set of nine. It not only invites the worshiper to face east but also to look up, following the facets of blue, red, and green glass to the Easter lily-like white at the very top, opening upward toward the heavens.
It is not coincidental that many churches face east and rightly so. But it seems to be more intentional and dramatic in this place.
People, look east, the time is near
of the crowning of the year.
Make your house fair as you are able,
trim the hearth and set the table.
People look east and sing today:
Love, the Guest is on the way.
Furrows, be glad. Though earth is bare,
one more seed is planted there.
Give up your strength the seed to nourish,
that in course the flower may flourish.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the Rose, is on the way.
Angels, announce with shouts of mirth
Christ 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.
People, Look East - words by Eleanor Farjeon (1928)
© 1960 David Higham Associates., LTD.
If you are not familiar with this hymn, follow this link and listen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CbfKd5u8gmI
May this Advent season be a time to begin to “look east and sing today: Love, the Lord, is on the way.”