“The King” and the Coming King of Kings

Thomas Dorsey wrote some of the greatest gospel songs of the 20th Century. One that gets special attention this time of year is There Will Be Peace in the Valley.  Here are the lyrics:

Oh well, I’m tired and so weary
But I must go alone
Till the lord comes and calls, calls me away, oh yes
Well the morning’s so bright
And the lamp is alight
And the night, night is as black as the sea, oh yes

There will be peace in the valley for me, someday
There will be peace in the valley for me, oh Lord I pray
There’ll be no sadness, no sorrow
No trouble, trouble I see
There will be peace in the valley for me, for me

Well the bear will be gentle
And the wolves will be tame
And the lion shall lay down by the lamb, oh yes
And the beasts from the wild
Shall be lit by a child
And I’ll be changed, changed from this creature that I am, oh yes
There will be peace in the valley for me, someday
There will be peace in the valley for me, oh Lord I pray
There’ll be no sadness, no sorrow
No trouble, trouble I see
There will be peace in the valley for me, for me

The version I remember best is Elvis Presley’s. As one of Elvis’s best-loved gospel hits, it is included on the B side of his Christmas album. So if you are like me, and you have a cache of Christmas CDs you haul out every year, you’ve heard it recently. Maybe as you read the words above, you heard them in Elvis’s voice and your upper lip curled up just a little.

I love this song. It inhabits this hopeful, future-oriented Advent space, a time when there will be no sadness and sorrow, and God himself will wipe every tear from our eyes (Rev. 21:4). Predators like bears, wolves, and lions will be tamed, a little child will light the world, we will all be changed (Isaiah 11:6-9, 1 Cor. 15:51). But if I could excise one word from Dorsey’s lyrics (and Elvis’s performance), I would get rid of the word “someday.” To me, that word is too passive, too pie-in-the-sky. We can’t just sit back and wait for a world we want. What difference does it make if we wax poetically about lions and lambs if we willfully participate in systems and structures that devour our neighbors?

The Advent season marks time before Christmas, it acknowledges that we have not yet arrived, that we should not be satisfied with what is, and it stokes hope for the coming of Christ when all the world will be set to rights.  But it is more than this. Advent calls us to respond. If not a come to Jesus moment, we are called to a Jesus is coming moment. We are called to be Shalom agents now and prepare the way for the Lord!

At Jesus first Advent, his cousin John preached a gospel of repentance. Luke 3:4-6 (cr. Isaiah 40) says:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
    make straight paths for him.
Every valley shall be filled in,
    every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
    the rough ways smooth.
And all people will see God’s salvation.’”

If we believe this stuff, then the call isn’t for us to sit, wistfully dreaming of someday. Jesus is coming and things got to change. Someday is cold comfort to the hurting.

What can we do today, to alleviate inequity, suffering, pain? How can we make our crooked roads straight? How will the wounded, the wicked, the victims and victimizers all see God’s salvation? It is when we finally start living and acting in ways that are cognizant with the reign of the coming King of Kings.

A friend recently tweeted, “How are you complicit in creating the conditions you don’t want?” I can’t think of a more Advent-y question.

Image taken from Wikimedia Commons

 

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matichuk

I am a pastor, husband, father, instigator, pray-er, hoper, writer, trouble-maker, peacemaker, and friend. Who are you?

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