For 2021’s Advent season, we’re sharing curated collections of art, short essays, music, and more each Monday. Today’s collection includes a performance of “Hold Still” by Taylor Leonhardt; an Advent reflection by Jen Rose Yokel called “Far As the Curse is Found,” originally published to the blog in 2018; and a painting by Tim Joyner inspired by John 12:24 and Hosea 2:15 called “A Door of Hope.” Enjoy.
“Far As the Curse is Found” by Jen Rose Yokel
When I was a child, it was so much easier to answer if a grown-up asked, “What do you want for Christmas?” I’m old enough to remember when there was no event like getting the Sears Wish Book in the mail and spending hours poring through the pages, my sister and I circling our desires in the thin, glossy pages, staged photo shoots of broadly smiling children and the coveted toys of the moment.
Growing up complicates things. If you believe the ad industry, a grown-up Christmas list is more likely to show off diamond rings, the latest smartphone, a Lexus with a giant red bow. But what if the things we want are mostly signposts aimed at our desires?
Do we want the ring, or the rock-solid assurance that someone loves us?
Do we want the phone, or something to signal how productive, competent, and needed we are?
Do we want the car, or the status symbol, the independence to go anywhere?
Do we want the things, or do we want to fill up some lack, to find something wrong in our lives and make it right?
It feels a little cliche to say that the things we want most can’t be wrapped up and left under the tree, and yet the older I get, the more true it feels. Imagine me, asking you, “Seriously…what do you want for Christmas?”
For a loved one with depression to feel joy again? For the cancer diagnosis to be reversed? A guarantee that you’ll make the rent this month, or scrape together enough money and time off to go home, or just to look at the news one day without feeling hopeless, to end one old year with the satisfaction that it was, indeed, for the whole world, a good year?
No more let sins and sorrows grow Nor thorns infest the ground
Take heart, because the memory of Paradise sustains us, and the hope for renewal leads the way from winter's bitter sting to spring's gentle rain. The reversal has begun, and with heaven and nature we can sing. Jen Rose Yokel
Here we are, in the thick of Advent. We’ll spend the next three weeks gathering our hope, lighting a new candle each Sunday, singing in the face of the longest nights of the year. We celebrate this season of remembering every year, because even though the Christ child came—yes, he came, in a fragile body like ours to show us what God is like, and that is no small miracle—even for all the things Jesus has made right, we are still well aware that we’re living in the wait.
Every year, I find myself resonating more and more with the sometimes forgotten third verse of “Joy to the World.” I suppose thoughts of sorrow, thorns, and curses don’t exactly drum up holiday cheer, but something in me resonates when I hear those words. They capture the soul of Advent, the waiting, the intense anticipation for reversal. They hint at a story too good to be true.
Jesus has come to make many things right. I believe he did. I believe he still is and that we’re invited to be part of it.
But in another Advent season, the wait can be so hard sometimes.
He comes to make his blessings flow Far as the curse is found
Far as the curse is found. Maybe farther. Hope, renewal, joy, flooding across the nearly-dead earth to drown the weeds. Sometimes, I can almost feel it.
The first great curse is that we toil, surviving by sweat and tears and waging battle against thorns and drought and disease. Of course the beauty is there, but our joys and sustenance are tempered by futility, the sense that we can never do enough, or be enough, or win.
But take heart, because the memory of Paradise sustains us, and the hope for renewal leads the way from winter’s bitter sting to spring’s gentle rain. The reversal has begun, and with heaven and nature we can sing.
Joy to the weary, broken, beautiful world.
“Hold Still” by Taylor Leonhardt
You’re on the move again Saying you’re through again Don’t know what to do again You’re on your own
Walking the streets tonight Under a neon light Just want some peace and quiet I know
Hold still, don’t run You’ll never find the love you want If you take off when it gets real You wanna be held; you gotta hold still
You’ve heard it all before The tired metaphors Don’t move you anymore You’re out of tears
If you get cold enough Maybe come close enough To let somebody love you Maybe me
Everybody has to land sometime You’re born to fly, I know I’ve been watching from the ground Sending smoke signals In case you need a little sign it’s safe To come down
No shame in coming back From all that greener grass Turns out you never lacked a thing
And click here to listen to an interview with Taylor Leonhardt and producer Lucas Morton about this song on The Second Muse.
“A Door of Hope” by Tim Joyner
6’ x 3’ Foraged pigment and brass leaf on maple-mounted washi
“This painting was created as an iteration of a progressive altarpiece designed for Trinity Church in Bolton, MA. Based on John 12:24 (“unless a grain of wheat is planted in the ground and dies, it remains a solitary seed. But when it is planted, it produces in death a great harvest”), the altarpiece examined different aspects of the paradoxical nature of the Gospel through the framework of the Church year.
Advent is the season of two-edged hope, when we experience both the excitement of anticipation and the pang of longing. For those of us not raised in a liturgical tradition, the pairing of this season of hope with practices centered around fasting and repentance can feel uncomfortable at times. This paradox is, of course, intentional and representative of the deep truths of the Gospel. In remembering our spiritual darkness, we are made all the more aware of our need of Christ’s Light. We see Jesus’s counter-cultural, counter-intuitive truth asserting itself again: life comes only through death.
The title for the Advent iteration of the piece is taken from Hosea 2:15, wherein God promises to Israel through the prophet that he will “make the Valley of Trouble a Door of Hope.” This prophecy refers directly to Joshua 7. At the gates of the Promised Land, after the defeat of Jericho, the Israelites are commanded to not take any plunder. Because of one man’s disobedience of this command, God’s blessing leaves the nation and they are defeated in their very next battle. There, in the Valley of Achor (trouble), in the place of defeat, this sin and disobedience is rooted out and God’s favor returns to the Israelites. Joshua renews the Covenant and a door into the Promised Land is opened.
Jesus himself, of course, is the ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy. In John 10 he says “I am the Door. If anyone enters by me he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” In this declaration, Christ identifies himself with Hosea’s door—the door through which we can enter the promised land of salvation. But more broadly, we see here the fundamental transformation of the Valley of Trouble into the Door of Hope.
All the way back in Genesis, when Adam and Eve first ate the fruit at the urging of the Serpent, God pronounces their doom. To Eve he tells of pain in childbirth and restlessness unfulfilled. To Adam he tells of endless toil and a cursed earth, bearing thorns instead of fruit. The path of the story of mankind swiftly descends into the Valley of Trouble and seems to stay within in its dark walls far longer we’d like.
But in Christ we see the Curse taken up and transmuted into Hope. It was through the painful, bloody process of childbirth that the hope of all mankind was delivered to this world. And eventually this child would be buried into the barren earth, only to produce in death a great harvest. The curse itself becomes the cure, and we see the Valley of Trouble transformed at last into the Door of Hope.”