Monday, December 5, 2016

Music of Advent - Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming

Week 2, Monday—Isaiah 35:1-2

Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming 15th century German, trans. Theodore Baker

Lo, how a Rose e'er blooming from tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse's lineage coming as men of old have sung.
It came, a flower bright, amid the cold of winter
When half-gone was the night.

This particular Advent hymn is not usually a favorite with the congregations I have served.  I think maybe it is because it has no time signature.  Knowing little about the technicalities of music, what I do know is that the tune can be a little awkward.  Nevertheless, I like it and it has become one of my favorite Advent tunes, not in spite of the timing, but because of it.  It is haunting, and a bit nostalgic.  You can almost see the sepia tones coming up around your memories as you sing this hymn. 

Of course the rose to which this hymn is referring is Mary, mother of Jesus.  There is no end to tunes about Mary at Advent and Christmas.  But this one does not directly reference Mary of Nazareth, but a Rose of Sharon.  In the Isaiah passage, it tells of a crocus, but biblical scholars have attributed to the “crocus growing as a lily among the brambles” as the Rose of Sharon.  There are other ideas of this, but I think the lily among the brambles is a good image for this particular hymn. 

In Isaiah, without knowledge of Mary of Nazareth, the writer tells of a crocus that “shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing.”  Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55 rejoices, singing of God’s glory and majesty.  In her expectant condition, Mary is a flower “in bloom” with the glory of God. 

As we prepare for the birth of the incarnate God, let us remember Mary who was the lily among the brambles of troubled Nazareth and Ceasar’s reign.  In spite of her circumstances, she rejoiced with song and pondered in her heart the things of God.

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
   the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
   and rejoice with joy and singing.

Isaiah 35:1

Music of Advent - Hail to the Lord's Anointed

Sunday, Second Week of Advent—Psalm 72

Hail to the Lord’s Anointed by James Montgomery, 1821
  Hail to the Lord’s anointed, great David’s greater Son!
Hail in the time appointed, his reign on earth begun!
He comes to break oppression, to set the captive free;
To take away transgression, and rule in equity. 

The prayer of confession came up during the service.  Since I had not been to a church with a liturgical style of worship before, this was foreign to me.  People of the congregation—even the pastor—were all confessing with one voice that we were less than perfect, that we were repentant and were seeking reconciliation with God and one another.  No one was claiming to be a better Christian than the other.  This was a radical and progressive thought for me. 

I was brought up in a church that seemed to have a congregation of the holier-than-thou folk and the poor degenerates.  I fell in the later category.  Of course, this was my perspective at the time and was perhaps a bit skewed by my age. I found in later years that various congregations regardless of denomination can have those divisions, but during my teen years I felt this acutely.  I could never be “saved” enough.  My rebelliousness in my late teens sealed the deal.  At the tender age of 19, I believed I was doomed to hell.  Yet, in spite of my damnation, here I was in a church that not only conveyed God’s grace in my life, they all said they needed it too.

This is my understanding of breaking oppression and taking away transgression—the unison prayer of confession.  The captivity to the constant reminder of my past failures no longer held me.  I was free, and although I had been raised in church and had attended my whole life, it was probably the first time I felt that freedom in Christ.  This is the kind of relief you feel when you do not know how heavy the burden on you is until it is lifted.  Then you feel awkward by the lightness of your spirit.  Of course, you want to shout “Hail!” and “Blessed be!”  It seems natural at that point. 

If you are one of those who feel that others have put you in the “poor degenerate” category, do not despair.  God doesn’t see you there.  God desires relationship with you and for you to know the pure freedom of forgiveness and the unburdening of your soul. 

After a bit, assured of my life in Christ, the relationship with God (as many relationships go) became stale.  Shouting God’s praises seemed rehearsed and trite.  I looked around at others who seemed to be going through the motions as well.  I realized then this is how “holier-than-thou” starts.  Rather than being authentic about the ups and downs of our faith, we fake it.  If you are in this demographic, I just want to let you know you are not fooling anyone, and no one can fool God.   

It was in an intentional act on my part to remember the joy felt at that first act of radical belief that God’s grace was in my life regardless of what others may think about me.  I found this re-connection once again in the unison prayer of confession.  Only this time I was the pastor leading the congregation.  At this time, it was the words of the assurance of pardon that I get to say, knowing without question that the God I fell in love with, was the God that was in love with me and my congregation.  I fell renewed once again. 

I would invite us all to pray a Prayer of Confession this Advent, recognizing that we often fail God, but God never fails us. 

Lord we confess that we suffer today because of sin, both the sins we have chosen and the sins committed against us. We have done things we should not have done, and we have neglected to do those things we should have done. Save us from ourselves; save us from the forces of Evil in this world.

We do not have the power to undo what has already been done, so grant us grace to bear present burdens and courage to change things that can be changed. Teach us how to live as those prepared to die and dwell eternally with you and your Boy Child, our Savior, Jesus Christ.

SILENT CONFESSION (offer personal prayers of confession)

Jesus has, indeed, come to save us and show us the way to experience God's love. Jesus will strengthen us to the end, so we may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Hear the good news: you are forgiven!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Music of Advent - Toda la Tierra (All Earth is Waiting)

Week 1, Saturday Isaiah 40:3-5

All earth is waiting to see the Promised One,
And the open furrows, the sowing of the Lord.
All the world, bound and struggling seeks true liberty
It cries out for justices and searches for the truth.

It hadn’t rained.  The earth was parched and cracked.  Most wheat didn’t make it to the ground.  Much of what did dried up and blew away.  It was pretty bleak. 

I look around today and see a world bound and struggling.  Listen carefully, and you will hear the cries for justice and truth, which is growing louder every day.  How do we proclaim “Joy to the World” at such a time in human history?  How do we explain peace on earth good will to all humankind to our children?

It hadn’t rained.  The earth was parched and cracked.  Most wheat didn’t make it to the ground.  Much of what did dried up and blew away.  It was pretty bleak.  Then came the glorious summer rain blessing the earth, kissing the ground.  It was warm and sweet and lasted for hours.  Children were dancing in it.  Birds were bathing in puddles.  Farmers, with hats off, lifted their faces to it, their tears mingling with the drops hitting their faces.  The dried furrows were filled with life-giving water from heaven.

All the earth is waiting.  How are you giving hope and courage?  How are you like the rain that blesses the earth?  Do you fill up the low places with life-giving speech?  Or do you dig the trenches deeper and drier?  Do you bless and give life?  Or do you crush and oppress?  There cannot be a somewhere in the middle in this current climate.

All the earth is waiting to see the Promised One.  The world, bound and struggling, desire freedom, justice and truth.  Do you bear the child of promise?  Or do you bear the curse of Herod on the world?  We are waiting.

Every valley shall be lifted up,
   and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
   and the rough places a plain. 
Isaiah 40:4

Music of Advent - View the Present Through the Promise

 Week 1, Friday--Isaiah 40:3-5
View the Present Through the Promise by Thomas Troeger, 1994

View the present through the promise,
Christ will come again.
Trust despite the deepening darkness
Christ will come again.
Lift the world above its grieving
through your watching and believing
In the hope past hope’s conceiving
Christ will come again.

There was a time when the religious powers-that-be thought the best course of action was a “scared straight” approach to the divine.  That same idea has repeated over time with faith being the beautiful beginning to relationship with God devolving into religion (in the worst sense of the word) being the ultimate ending of that faith.  I do not mean to say that I believe that churches or denominations are bad, I don’t.  I think ecumenical cooperation among denominations is important to being able to see how vast and diverse God truly is.  I just mean when suddenly those that follow the Christ begin to look like the Pharisees and the empire that crucified Jesus, we have gone astray. 

In this passage of Isaiah, we are told of a solitary voice crying out.  We have often skipped the punctuation though.  It does not say that a voice in the wilderness is crying out, it reads that the message of that voice is that the way of the Lord should be prepared in the wilderness.  This gives us a whole new meaning.  The divine is coming not in the bustling city or the fertile farmlands, but in the desert wilderness.  Barrenness.  Of course!  Where else should God come first, but to the barren places.  

Our faith begins with waiting, hoping, and watching for an appearance of the divine in our world.   We often lose sight of this faith as our waiting is not realized.  Then we turn to law and penalty as opposed to the grace with which we first began.  Holding on to the waiting without becoming discouraged is important, so we must be renewed.  Where do we look for the Lord?  We look in the desert places of our lives and in our world.  Where do we see God at work, while we watch and wait?

This hymn allows us to lift up our voices with confidence proclaiming Christ will come again!  It is in the very darkness that the light shines brightest.  Let us renew our faith, trusting that we are here in this place for such a time as this watching and waiting.  Watching for God’s work in our world.  Waiting for the revelation of the divine in our lives.  Even if we never see what we believe to be a triumphal return, if we watch for the smallest things in the barren places we will not miss the Advent of the divine. 

A voice cries out:
In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
   make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 

Isaiah 40:3

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Music of Advent - Prepare the Way of the Lord

(Because I originally prepared this for print, I have forgotten the brilliance of the internet for information at our finger tips!  I have put in links to the scripture and other information in this one and will go back later to put them in previous posts.)

(For the beginning of this series of readings go here.)

Week 1, Thursday—Isaiah 40:1-5; 52:10
Prepare the Way of the Lord by Jacques Berthier

Prepare the way of the Lord.
Prepare the way of the Lord,
And all people will see the salvation of our God.

On a trip to Israel and Palestine, our group of fairly sedentary Americans, were struggling with walking the streets of the villages and towns in which we stayed.  Every step was either uphill or downhill and rocky, so much so that to step into a flat surface was quite a relief.  One particular literal uphill struggle we had stopped to rest halfway up, and as we were resting we see a little boy running and kicking a soccer ball up the hill, seemingly without effort!  The ease with which he moved was quite the cause of conversation among our little group.  One of us remarked that she wished nothing more at that moment than the valleys had been lifted up and the mountains brought low in preparation for the Lord, so that we who visited the area later might enjoy it.    

The prophet Isaiah speaks of preparing the way of the Lord so that all people will see the redemptive glory of the Lord.  After experiencing the terrain of the land, I appreciated more fully the “valleys and mountains of the scripture.  I thought not only of the ease of movement, but also the ability to see for a distance, which only happened at mountaintop moments. What if we could see clearly without any obstruction all the time the salvation of God?  

This hymn from the TaizĂ© community is a repeated chant, and after singing it a couple of times through becomes so deeply rooted in our hearts and minds that we recognize that we are to prepare the way of the Lord so that all people see the salvation of our God.  What can we do this season while we watch and wait for the Advent of the Christ to prepare the way for God’s salvation for all people?  How have we either with or without intention caused those places that people struggle and stumble, and we block the way of the Lord, rather than prepare the way for God’s salvation to be known?  Wherever we have caused hardship for others, we have caused it for ourselves and have kept ourselves from fully seeing God’s salvation as well.  How can you remove obstacles so that you too may experience God’s salvation?

Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.’  Isaiah 40:5