Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

Tag: Felix Mendelssohn

January 14, 2019 — Get some spiritual sleep

This week we will be using the Psalms of Ascent as our prayerbook. These Psalms, fifteen in number, were possibly recited by pilgrims as they ascended the road up to Jerusalem, or during Temple worship as the religious leaders climbed the steps of the Temple (15 in number). Their devotional quality has led to several of them being used in Christian liturgy as well. They generally evoke a sense of thankfulness for and confidence in God’s loving protection and provision. Since the Psalms were intended to be sung, a musical setting of each Psalm is provided, when possible. Singing, or even listening to music, is a good way to pray as it helps us move from our head to our heart.

Today’s Bible reading

Read Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
   from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
   who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
   he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel
   will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
   the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
   nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
   he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
   your going out and your coming in
   from this time on and forevermore.

More thoughts for meditation

It is fair to read this Psalm with incredulity. The psalmist seems to be making a promise that God will not be able to make good on, or at least so far has not. How can we say that “the Lord will keep [us] from all evil,” when we have felt the hurt of evil people? How can we say that “he will not let [our] foot be moved,” when we have slipped and fallen many times?

A theological answer could be made, and is worth making. It might go something like this: humans, made in the image of God and given the divine breath, have that in them which remains untouched by the various forces of destruction that are loose in the world. Despite the effects of sin, something deep within us still hungers and thirsts for God. Our essential humanity is preserved, even if we have been hurt.

Regardless of whether we believe that theology, our soul still craves to feel directly God’s doting care, like a sick child craves a parent’s comforting voice and arms. We would like to feel that God has not abandoned us. Unfortunately, standing in the way of that feeling is the fact that we have been abandoned, often by the people who were charged to protect us in our vulnerability. At the very least, the love that we were given was not enough to “keep us from evil” throughout our lives. And thus we have learned the hard way that we have to be the keepers of our own life, staying vigilant, even going without sleep (literally or metaphorically). Either that or we are ready to give the care of our lives to the first person or institution that seems willing to take it.

Vigilance is a testament to our resilience. That children survive situations of abandonment is heroic. But a still greater heroism is required to let go of your vigilance, and let God be the keeper of your life. Try this idea on for a minute: It is not your job to worry about yourself, because God worries about you. Let me clarify that I am not talking about the problem of ignoring your own needs for the sake of others. Instead, I’m saying that you can lie down and rest once in a while in God’s care. Give to God the job of “taking your spiritual temperature,” as a friend of mine says, instead of always doing it yourself. Or, to change metaphors, if you are constantly opening the oven door to check the roast, it’s never going to cook. Get some sleep. God will keep you.

Suggestions for action

Pray: “You who watch over my soul, slumber not nor sleep. Grant, Lord, that I might sleep the deep, restful sleep of those who belong to Your care.”

Listen to a famous setting of this Psalm by Felix Mendelssohn. The repetition of lines, common in these oratorios, is done so that the music can draw out nuances in the words. Let it be a prayer on your behalf, and maybe also hear in it an answer to your prayer.

Lift thine eyes to the mountains, whence cometh help.
Thy help cometh from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
He hath said, thy foot shall not be moved;  thy Keeper will never slumber.

He, watching over Israel, slumbers not, nor sleeps.
Shouldst thou, walking in grief, languish, He will quicken thee.

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.