Read: Matthew 25:31-46
I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me (Matthew 25:35, NRSV).
There is a story about a young, 4th-century French soldier named Martin. Martin was riding into town one winter day, enjoying the warmth of his woolen cloak. But then, just outside the city gate, his attention was drawn to a poor, lightly-clad man shivering at the side of the road. Moved to pity, Martin drew his sword and cut his own cloak in half. He gave half to the surprised man at the side of the road, and then continued on his way.
That night, the young soldier dreamed that he saw Jesus surrounded by the angels–and wearing the other half of his cloak! “See how Martin has covered me with his cloak?” Jesus said to the angels. In that moment, Martin understood what was meant by Matthew’s words, “I was naked and you gave me clothing.”
That young soldier spent the rest of his life serving Christ by relieving the suffering of others. He is now remembered as St. Martin the Merciful.
I thought of Martin’s story as I read the words to Mary Louise Bringle’s Advent hymn, “Now the Heavens Start to Whisper.” Like the hush that falls over the world after a heavy snowfall, the hymn invites us to be still so that we can listen for heaven’s whisper—and to look for ways to welcome Christ “in the lonely, in the stranger, in the outcast, hid from view.”
Experts are warning us that we are in for “a world of hurt” this winter. But I wonder if winter’s killing cold could be warmed a bit by compassion hearts. Yes, there is much to mourn. There is much to fear. But in listening for heaven’s whisper, we may find ourselves welcoming Christ in a whole new way.
Ponder: What is heaven whispering to you during this time? How can you be a better listener?
Listen: There are two popular tunes for this text. Slightly more familiar is the gorgeous Celtic lullaby, SUO GAN, which you can hear in this SAB arrangement by Thomas Keesecker, or in this instrumental mix with winter scenery by the Adagio Trio. As much as I love SUO GAN, I have to wonder whether a lullaby is quite appropriate for a text that is intended—however gently—to wake us up. The tune, JEFFERSON works better in this regard, but this new setting by Carlton Young (GIA) captures both the promise and the urgency of Bringle’s text.
Christ, eternal Sun of justice, Christ the rose of wisdom’s seed,
Come to bless with fire and fragrance hours of yearning, hurt, and need.
In the lonely, in the stranger, in the outcast, hid from view:
Child who comes to grace the manger, teach our hearts to welcome you.
(“Now the Heavens Start to Whisper” by Mary Louise Bringle, v. 3)
Introduction to the “God With Us” Series
Emmanuel. It means “God with us.” If ever there was a time to pray for God to be with us, it’s now.
In this series, we let Advent and Christmas hymns lead us in that prayer. Since December is short and we need God with us now, we’re starting early. Besides, there are so many hymns and so little time! Some of the featured hymns will be familiar, and some deserve to be more familiar. But all of them offer unique insights into the miracle of the incarnation.
May these reflections help you feel God’s saving presence in your life and in the life of the world right now.
Come, O Come, Emmanuel!