Advent Four – Week of December 20

The Word

Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” 

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.


The Annunciation. Fra Filippo Lippi, c. 1435/1440. Samuel H. Kress Collection, National Gallery of Art.

I have always loved the beautiful reply from Mary to what must have been astonishing and terrifying news: “Let it be with me according to your word.”

Such simple acceptance, such an ability to trust that it was going to work out. I have a tendency to over-think, over-analyze, and over-plan. I rarely let it be. But that’s my aspiration. And it gives me hope—that if Mary could manage it in the face of hearing that she was going to give birth to the Son of God, then surely I can manage it on an average Tuesday.

As we prepare for the birth of Christ, let it be with all of us according to the Word—the Word that is about to become flesh and change the world with a message of love and light…and simple acceptance. Amen.


One of the chief reasons I followed the call to become a church musician is that I am able to unite people through music. At Westminster, we are blessed with a vibrant music ministry and one that frequently collaborates with other musicians. Over the years, my music director colleagues Louise Wilson at Farlington Methodist and Linda Cancellieri at Trinity Methodist have been frequent collaborators with us. In spite of our distance during the Corna-tide, these terrific women have continued to work with me to create meaningful music – virtually. As all of our churches are preparing for Christmas this Advent, Louise and Linda have been kind enough to offer their singers the opportunity to join in a virtual choir which we call the Alexandria Sacred Chorale. In our most recent project, “People Look East,” the chorale included 51 voices with Louise at the organ. Louise and I made recordings of the organ and conductor in early November and the singers used those to record their voices from home.

The poem “People, Look East” was first published in 1928 in the Oxford Book of Carols and was originally titled “Carol of the Advent.” Churches throughout the English speaking world have used this carol for nearly 100 years during the season of Advent. The author, Eleanor Farjeon, was in the prime of her career when this was published. She was well-known for imaginative books for children and had already produced the popular hymn, “Morning Has Broken.” Her commissioners asked her to compose a poem set to an ancient French tune. In my estimation, she not only succeeded in her charge, but excelled in it! The words pair perfectly with the tune despite the later being composed 200 years earlier.

Just like the season of Advent moves us ever closer to the great festival of Christmas, each stanza of the poem moves us heavenward through imagery: People/guest, Furrows/rose, Stars, and finally, Angels. The stanzas conclude with the phrase “Love the __ is on the way.” May the poetry and beautiful singing of the Alexandria Sacred Chorale lift your spirits as we celebrate this the last Sunday of Advent. –Dr. Ben

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.

Stars, keep the watch. When night is dim
one more light the bowl shall brim,
shining beyond the frosty weather,
bright as sun and moon together.
People, look east and sing today:
Love, the Star, 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.


2020 — it’s not been an easy year for anyone. How better for us to close it out than by celebrating the birth of our Savior. Yes, the celebrations may look very different this year, and yes, there are many reasons for which NOT to celebrate. And yet, we join those heavenly hosts singing “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth, peace!” (Luke 2).

The end of one calendar year and the beginning of a new one often leads us to resolve new ways of being, new ways of sharing our blessings with others. The challenge often is knowing how and where to give that support, especially in this time when our patterns of being and doing are being transformed. Each week, the church updates a list of how we may help our local brothers and sisters. As Advent comes to a close, we encourage you to take a look and see where you might yourself serve, or where you may direct your prayers on behalf of those who are able to do so. Allow time for this to be a matter of prayer, so that any resolutions that come emerge from a deeper place of listening and desire.