DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.
Today is the first day of Advent, the beginning of the four weeks before Christmas and the season that begins the Christian church year. This year there may be a shadow over Advent for many people, including essayist Alice Furland.
Advent has always been my favorite season. I love all those lyrical promises by the prophet Isaiah: `Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill made low, the crooked straight and the rough places plain'--and singing Isaiah in an everybody-sing "Messiah," as I did one year in the alto section. I love that bass solo in "The Messiah" about the people that walked in darkness.
(Soundbite of song)
Unidentified Man: (Singing) The people that walked in darkness.
FURLAND: All the darkness in the Advent lessons is an exciting kind of darkness because of the light coming at the end in Bethlehem. There's the rustle of Christmas presents in the air, a time of waiting and of hope.
But I'm afraid that for me, there'll be a cloud over this advent now that natures seems to be rebelling against all life, with the tsunami, the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, tornadoes and the death of 80,000 people in the Pakistan earthquake, not to speak of all those "ignorant armies clashing by night," to quote Matthew Arnold. I'm full of fear and foreboding, and some of my friends share my fears of death and destruction, of bird flu and terrorist attacks. We tell each other, laughing nervously, that maybe all this does mean the end of the world is at hand.
But Advent is about hope, the hope of the wise men trotting along on their camels from the Old Testament to the New; the hope that the light of good will triumph over the darkness of evil, as it does in that lovely bass solo in "The Messiah." And I can't help wondering if that hope is enough this year, in a world full of people desperately hoping for shelter from the elements or the enemy. I remind myself that there's suffering and sorrow in every human life, sheltered and privileged or not, and that the spiritual hope of Advent has lifted many hearts.
And on the first day of Advent, I'll do my best to absorb the comfortable words of the preacher and writer Frederick Buechner, who has written: `To wait in hope is to have what we hope for already begin to come true in us through our hoping.' Now that's a thought for anyone to take along on the way to an open-sing "Messiah."
(Soundbite of song)
Chorus: (Singing) ...(Unintelligible).
ELLIOTT: Alice Furland is a writer living on Cape Cod.
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