Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Music of Advent - I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light

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

Week 1, Wednesday—John 1:9-18

I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light by Kathleen Thomerson, 1966

I want to walk as a child of the light, I want to follow Jesus.
God set the stars to give light to the world. 
The star of my life is Jesus. 
In him there is no darkness at all. 
The night and the day are both alike. 
The Lamb is the light of the City of God. 
Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.

One time, to explain to youth the biblical truth about light and darkness, I took the opportunity to turn off the lights in a completely windowless room.  It was pitch black and you could not see your hand in front of you.  Of course, there was the ruckus you might imagine from the kids, but then I lit a candle.  This one candle changed the complete darkness of the room to one of light and shadows.  I explained that the light is Christ coming into the world.  The shadows in the corners of the room were those places where the light had not yet reached.  Then I gave them all candles and we lit them.  With the glow of the additional candles, almost the entire room was lighted.  They each bore the light of Christ wherever they went, and so do we.

This simple illustration helps us to see what it means to be disciples.  Each follower of Christ takes this light into the world and illuminates the darkness wherever we go.  The youth and I then listened the song “Go Light Your World” made popular again by Chris Rice in 2004. 

We who follow Christ all have this light burning within us, but sometimes we do not shine; sometimes we do not light other’s candles; sometimes we allow our candles to be snuffed out by situations and then we feel overcome by the darkness around us.  We need to tend this flame and keep it burning within us that we may walk as children of the Light carrying this light to everyone around us.  We do this by being continually in the light of the Christ—the light of Christ found in true relationship with the Light of the World, through the flames of other children of the Light around us, and through our desire to be light-bearers to the world. 

This Advent as we look at the coming of the Light of the World into the darkness of human lives, let us sing this Advent hymn as a prayer.  “I want to walk as a child of the light, I want to follow Jesus...Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.”  And then let us go light our world.

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God . John 1:12


Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Music of Advent - Send Your Word

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

Week 1, Tuesday—John 1:3b-5
Send Your Word by Yasushige Imakoma, 1965
Send your Word, O God, like rain falling down upon the earth.
Send your Word.  We seek your endless grace,
with souls that hunger and thirst, sorrow and agonize. 
We would all be lost in dark without your guiding light.

This Japanese song is slow and somber—set in a mood more like Lent than Advent.  Its tune is contrary to the unwritten score for the song of John playing around in my head.  The prologue to the gospel of John has trumpets and fanfare, or maybe flowing, earthy, harp music with a babbling brook behind it.  Never in my mind has
In the beginning was the Word, been a dirge.  Now that I think about it though, perhaps it should be.

This beginning to the gospel sets the stage for a tragic drama.  The hero, an ill-fated figure who the audience knows dies at the end, is foretold.  This cannot be the triumphant fanfare or the soothing meditation music that I first thought.  It is too important to be taken lightly.

Jesus, the child of Bethlehem, of Egypt, and of Nazareth is the promised Messiah in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  This is the Jesus that sweats and cries, sleeps and eats, and has a need for companionship.  Jesus in the Gospel of John, however, is the very divine, light, God, the Word spoken in creation.  This gospel’s  Jesus shows us God incarnate (in flesh), light in a world of darkness.   The Jesus of John is the divine who touches earth and brings all of creation to a single point—the Word, the Light of the World, the Christ.

This Advent let us look for those like us who need such a hero.  Those whose lives are in darkness and those whose lives are in shadow.  The light shines in the darkness, and the light triumphs. This is good news.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. John 1:5

Monday, November 28, 2016

Music of Advent - Of the Father's Love Begotten

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

Week 1, Monday – John 1:1-14

Of the Father’s Love Begotten by Aurelius Clemens Prudentius trans. 1859

Of the Father’s love begotten ere the worlds began to be,
he is Alpha and Omega — he the source, the ending he,
of the things that are, that have been,
and that future years shall see evermore and evermore.

While we are busily looking at the manger, the shepherds, the magi, and the virgin this time of year, let us not overlook the nativity story found in John 1.  In the beginning reflects the beginning of Genesis, the story of divine creation.   God’s love for creation began at the very beginning.

Much like the love of a mother for a child long before the child takes his or her first breath in the world, so is God’s love for us.  God does not love us because we are perfect, but because God is perfect—not because we are good, but because God is good.  The idea of the Christ, the salvation of humanity, came at the very beginning because of God’s great love for us. 

This extraordinary love of God in spite of our humanness, even toward the worst of humanity, does not give us carte blanche, to be able to do whatever we want.  God also gave us the ability to respond to the divine love with love of our own.  Our response in love to the God who dreamed us into existence is the only way we can truly appreciate the salvation of Christ during the Christian year, beginning with Advent.

As we look for mangers and nativity sets with Christmas tunes playing in the background, let us not forget to look for signs of the creation around us and remember that in the beginning we are God’s beloved. 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. John 1:1-3a


Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Music of Advent - 1st Sunday - Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus

Introduction
When I was in high school, I played in the concert band.  Performances were always a time of anticipation.  There was the merest amount of performance anxiety, but there was also a heaping portion of excitement.  When the moment arrived—following the noisy of sounds of people tuning their instruments or playing scales that my band teacher called “noodling”—I found myself holding my breath.  Of course, I played a wind instrument so that was part of it, but also just the anticipation of the moment when the director raised his arms, baton in hand, and his hands hung suspended in air for just a fraction of a moment in time, and we all responded in unison our instruments at the ready.  Our knowing the music that followed from hours of rehearsal, its swells and times of silence, seemed to be secondary to that moment of anticipation.

Advent is that moment in time, suspended, waiting.  We collectively hold our breaths, and we wait.  It is a time of anticipation; a time of excitement.  We should not rush past this moment in the secular understanding of the Christmas season which begins earlier and earlier each year.  It is a time to pause, and we should savor it.

Because music is such an important part of life, because the Advent hymns are beautiful (if often not singable), and because they often get swept away in our rush to Christmas carols, I am writing about the Music of Advent.  I hope it is something that blesses you this Advent season as we pause, holding our breaths in anticipation and excitement, and just for a minute or two each day, observe a pregnant moment of silence and reflection.

Join me on an Advent journey as told by the writers of the hymns and songs found in our hymnals and other songbooks of the Christian faith.  While the destination is beautiful—the birth of the Prince of Peace—the journey is not to be dismissed. 
Rev. Dr. Sonja Tobey


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First Sunday of Advent – Psalm 65
Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus by Charles Wesley, 1744

Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
Dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.

We begin the Advent journey with a prayer—a plea for the coming of the One who would free God’s people, heal the sick and liberate the oppressed, the fore-told Messiah.  God enfleshed and living among us and with us that we may come to know God in a human way—a God who can relate to humanity as we never understood before.  This prayer is the inhalation of breath just before we hold it for a moment.  It literally takes our breath away.

As you begin Advent, do you find that you are holding your breath?  Waiting.  Perhaps the waiting is one of anticipation of good things to come—family gatherings, church activities, communities events, parties.  Or perhaps the waiting is one of dread—memories of loved ones gone, of bouts of depression or anxiety, fear of the future, pain.  Maybe we even have a little of both anticipation and dread as the Advent season begins. 

Advent is a time of prayer, a prayer of petition for all that troubles us and a prayer of praise for all that blesses us.  This prayer has been echoed throughout all time, from the beginning of Creation to the end of our existence—Come, Lord come. Show us the Divine, that we may reflect God’s glory, even in the midst of troubled or joyous lives.

The psalmist, the singer of songs of praise and petition, writes in Psalm 124, a tale of remembrance of God’s provision of salvation in the turmoil of life.  Much like we anticipation the saving work of God through the Christ, the one who delivers.  Let us remember as we begin this season of waiting...

By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation; you are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas.  Psalm 65:5

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Day After Tomorrow...

Do you remember the movie, The Day After Tomorrow released in 2004?  In it, Dennis Quaid warned others in various venues about his environmental concerns.  His words fell on deaf ears, probably because their heads were buried ostrich-like in the sands of self-interest.  The rest of movie was predominately about his trek across a frozen, snow covered New York to rescue his son and others during the catastrophic superstorm.

However, it is the end of the movie that I woke up thinking about this morning.  In the end, while the northern third of the world was covered with uninhabitable ice and snow, everyone below the Mason-Dixon line was being evacuated to Mexico.  In 2004, I thought it ironic that the demographic who hated the immigration of our neighbors to the south into our country, now found themselves crossing the river headed south to get into a safer place to live.  Today, however, it wasn't the irony in my thoughts.

I wonder why I woke up thinking about this today.  Could it be that our country is precariously perched on a precipice that prophets have warned about, but no one heeded?  Could it be that our country is so virulently divided that we are devouring ourselves?  You can taste the acrid bitterness in the fall air.  

At the very end of the movie, after many deaths and much trauma, faced with the reality that they were wrong and the buried heads are plucked from the sands, they seem to work together--because they must to survive.  When they were forced by circumstances, they became what they should have been all along.

I am reminded of Galatians 5:14-15 which says, "For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another."  We have broken the law of love.  We have devoured one another, and we will pay the price, even if we weren't the ones purchasing the end product.  

Now what?  What will we do the day after tomorrow?  The choice is ours, we can continue on stubbornly fighting with one another.  We can despair and respond in fear and anger.  We have choices.  

Let all who are under the law of Christ to love our neighbors as ourselves, to pray for those who persecute us, to love our enemies, and to love so that the world might know we are Christ's followers humble ourselves and pray this prayer of confession found in the Book of Worship of the United Methodist Church:
Merciful God,we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart.  We have failed to be an obedient church.  We have not done your will, we have broken your law, we have rebelled against your love, we have not loved our neighbors, and we have not heard the cry of the needy.  Forgive us, we pray.  Free us for joyful obedience, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
And let us keep repeating this daily...hourly...until we begin to be recognized once again by our love for one another.  And let us keep working for the rights of all humanity to live in peace.