Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

Category: Advent 2016 (Page 1 of 7)

December 25, 2016 — Peace on earth

Today’s Bible reading

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” — Luke 2:13-15

More thoughts for meditation

Jesus was probably born in September, not December. After Christianity became the dominant religion in the Roman Empire, the Christianizing powers decided to make the “birth of the sun” celebration into the birth of the Son. So they set the date on December 25. You can read why that date is unlikely for the actual birth here. The holiday was not widely observed until the 400’s, so it is not connected to practices in the early church.

Nevertheless, it has become the focus of the Advent season, which begins the church calendar. Today the “twelve days of Christmas” begin, leading up to the day of Epiphany, when we mark the revelation of King Jesus to the wise men.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. If you are reading today, you must be seeking a moment to pray and reflect in the middle of all your togetherness or all your aloneness. We are praying in the middle of a world always on the brink of disaster. We are praying with fellow believers having babies and losing babies, celebrating the joys of family and seeing their families destroyed in Aleppo and Southern Sudan.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron in 1868.jpgWe can also pray with the famous American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (18071882), whose poem “Christmas Bells” was put into song. It reflects his own struggle to deal with his difficult experiences and still welcome the joy of Christmas Day.

During the American Civil War, Longfellow’s oldest son Charles Appleton Longfellow joined the Union cause as a soldier without his father’s blessing. Longfellow was informed by a letter after Charles had left. It read, “I have tried hard to resist the temptation of going without your leave but I cannot any longer. I feel it to be my first duty to do what I can for my country and I would willingly lay down my life for it if it would be of any good.” Charles soon got an appointment as a lieutenant but, after nine months in the army, he was severely wounded. Longfellow was still grieving the tragic accidental death of his wife, whose dress caught on fire, as he nursed his son on Christmas Day, listening to the bells in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In the middle of it all, Longfellow was inspired to write “Christmas Bells”.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
“There is no peace on earth,” I said;
“For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Casting Crowns created an updated version of the traditional melody put to Longfellow’s words in 2007

December 24, 2016 — The Newborn King

Today’s Bible reading

Then David praised the Lord in the presence of the whole assembly:

“O Lord, the God of our ancestor Israel, may you be praised forever and ever! Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power, the glory, the victory, and the majesty. Everything in the heavens and on earth is yours, O Lord, and this is your kingdom. We adore you as the one who is over all things.” — 1 Chronicles 29:10-11

More thoughts for meditation

The Christmas carol “O Come All Ye Faithful” asks us to journey to Bethlehem and adore Christ the Lord.  We sing words that echo the Nicene Creed and affirm the incarnation (God becoming one of us to reach us with his love and grace), urge angels to sing praises and finally we greet Jesus, our Lord at his birth. The song begs us to enter the story personally and to respond intimately.  The Latin translates to “be present, be near, all you faithful people.”

John Francis Wade (1711-1786) is now generally recognized as both author and composer of this hymn, originally written in Latin in four stanzas. The earliest manuscript signed by Wade is dated about 1743. By the early nineteenth century, however, four additional stanzas had been added by other writers. Wade, a Roman Catholic, apparently moved to France because of discrimination against Catholics in eighteenth-century England–especially after the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. He taught music at an English college in Douay and hand copied and sold chant music for use in the chapels of wealthy families.

The translation in the Psalter Hymnal is based primarily on the work of Frederick Oakeley (1802-1880), who translated the text for use at the Margaret Street Chapel in London (1841).Oakeley was ordained in the Church of England in 1826 and was influenced by the Oxford Movement (remember the Wesley brothers, John and Charles, and George Whitfield who have been mentioned in previous Daily Prayer entries).  Oakeley and his organist friend at Margaret Chapel, instituted “high” liturgies there in their attempts to elevate worship, that got him in trouble and charged with “Romanism.” Oakeley eventually left the Church of England and became ordained as a Catholic and worked among the poor in Westminster for the rest of his life. He knew about division and struggle, which makes the very personal plea to the faithful in this carol even more poignant. When we sing this song, we join a pilgrimage that stretches over centuries.

O Come All Ye Faithful

Adeste, fideles,
laeti triumphantes;
venite, venite in Bethlehem.
Natum videte
Regem angelorum.
Venite adoremus, Dominum.

O come all ye faithful,
Joyful and triumphant,
O come ye, o come ye to Bethlehem;
Come and behold him
Born, the King of angels
O come let us adore him
O come let us adore him
O come let us adore him
Christ the Lord.

God of God
Light of Light
Lo, he abhors not the virgin’s womb;
Very God
Begotten not created
O come let us adore him
O come let us adore him
O come let us adore him
Christ the Lord.

Sing, choirs of angels,
Sing in exultation,
Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above:
Glory to God
In the highest
O come let us adore him
O come let us adore him
O come let us adore him
Christ the Lord.

Yea, Lord, we greet thee
Born this happy morning;
Jesus, to thee be glory given;
Word of the Father
Now in flesh appearing
O come let us adore him
O come let us adore him
O come let us adore him
Christ the Lord.

Suggestions for Action

As you listen at the link below, close your eyes and be present. Let your imagination aid you as you go on the pilgrimage to adore Christ the Lord.

December 23, 2016 — Enter the hush

The Newborn. Georges de la Tour, 1640’s

Today’s Bible reading

On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. — Matthew 2:11

More thoughts for meditation

Ceremony with the church in Provence on Christmas Eve.

“Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella” (French: Un flambeau, Jeannette, Isabelle) originated in the Provence region of France in the 16th century. The carol was first published in France, and was later translated into English in the 18th century. The tune was originally dance music for the French nobility. It was likely plucked from history by the composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier to use with these words.

The song evokes the tradition of erecting a crèche in the village square to honor the Christ Child and the many traditions surrounding midnight mass on Christmas Eve. In the carol, visitors to the stable have to keep their voices down so the newborn can enjoy his dreams. To this day people in Provence, especially children, put on plays depicting the Christmas story and carry torches and candles to midnight mass, often singing this carol – or so we who have not been to Provence are told.

The journey of Advent moves toward our own experience of entering in, like in the reading for today, toward our own entering into the house and paying homage, worshiping the newborn King. People do not act out the story merely because they like plays (well, some might); sincere believers act it out because they want their behavior to sink into their thoughts and feelings or they want to use a behavior as an expression of their thoughts and feelings. Singing a song like “Bring a Torch” may test one’s ability to enter in, since it is from a foreign culture to Americans, it is old, and it has been reduced to lovely background musak in Target. But you can probably do hard things in the cause of entering in. The wise men came from Persia, Jesus came from oneness with God.

Suggestions for action

Use the song to enter in. The version below is slower than we usually hear it (and in French! — with translation below). Don’t just use it as an interesting mental exercise, let it slow you down and hush you up. It could be the hush of a bygone time when car alarms were not going off. It could be the hush of awe as you realize who this baby is again. It could be the hush of respect because you should stop talking and thinking about yourself as if you are the center of all stories.

Bring a torch, Jeanette, Isabelle!
Bring a torch, to the stable call
Christ is born. Tell the folk of the village
Jesus is born and Mary’s calling.
Ah! Ah! beautiful is the Mother!
Ah! Ah! beautiful is her child

It is wrong when the child is sleeping,
It is wrong to talk so loud.
Silence, now as you gather around,
Lest your noise should waken Jesus.
Hush! Hush! see how he slumbers;
Hush! Hush! see how fast he sleeps!

Softly now unto the stable,
Softly for a moment come!
Look and see how charming is Jesus,
Look at him there, His cheeks are rosy!
Hush! Hush! see how the Child is sleeping;
Hush! Hush! see how he smiles in dreams!

December 22, 2016 — The Newborn King

Today’s Bible reading

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” — Luke 2:8-14

More thoughts for meditation

Hark! the Herald Angels Sing
Words: Charles Wesley (1707-1788), George Whitfield (1714-1770)
Music: from a chorus by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-1847), adapted by William Hayman Cummings

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled
Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
Join the triumph of the skies;
With th’ angelic host proclaim,
“Christ is born in Bethlehem.”

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Christ, by highest heav’n adored:
Christ, the everlasting Lord;
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of the virgin’s womb.
Veil’d in flesh, the Godhead see;
Hail, th’incarnate Deity:
Pleased, as man, with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel!

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Hail! the heav’n born Prince of peace!
Hail! the Son of Righteousness!
Light and life to all he brings,
Risen with healing in his wings
Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die:
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

Come, Desire of nations, come,
Fix in us Thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conqu’ring Seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.
Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”

The text to this popular carol is based on Luke 2:8-14, the portion of the familiar Christmas story that includes the angels and shepherds. It first appeared in the Wesley hymnal, Hymns and Sacred Poems, in 1739. It was originally composed as ten verses with the title, “Hymn for Christmas Day.”  The song has undergone many changes. Whitfield’s most obvious change is in the first line.  In Wesley’s original it was, “Hark! how all the welkin rings, Glory to the King of Kings.” “Welkin” is an obsolete word that means “the vault of heaven.”  Whitfield gave us singing angels (praising) with a focus on Jesus (the newborn King), rather than on God (the King of kings) with his revision to “Hark the herald angels sing, glory to the new born King!”  

There were many other changes along the way as hymns tend to evolve over the years, but this change to a focus on Jesus was a theological point that Whitfield wanted to underline.  Christmas is about the coming of a new order with a new King given by God.  The whole emphasis centers on the great work that Jesus’ accomplishes for believers by mildly laying aside his glory to come and dwell with us and then within us, freeing us from death, drawing us into new life, and stamping his image within us.  

Suggestions for Action

When I was a new Christian I began to pay more careful attention to Christmas carols.  When I read beyond the first verse of this one (and Joy to the World), I was shocked to find the whole gospel message there.  How had I missed it?  As you listen to the voices on the link below singing Hark the Herald Angels Sing, listen for the Spirit of God to whisper through them the fullness of His love for you and how his care covers everything about you:

  •  Are you lonely? – He wants to live with in and in you.
  • Are you angry over the world’s cruelty? – He seeks to remedy that with love and redemption that goes to the very heart of our need for newness.
  • Are you hopeless? – He wants to give you a new start.
  • Are you confused and doubting God? – He wants to reveal the fullness of God to you.  

Listen. Hark.

Don’t miss the last verse. Read it again above.  Nobody sings all the verses.  Listen to the whole story.

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