The words we say matter deeply. They sculpt our understandings and shape the way we treat ourselves and others. And music deepens that connection. But first, I want to see how well you know some of the most common Christmas carols:
Finish this phrase:
– Dashing through the snow, (pause) on a one horse soap and hay… or is it on a one horse one open sleigh?
– From Silent Night: Silent Night, Holy Night – what comes next (Pause) Round John Virgin, mother and child…
– From Winter Wonderland: In the meadow we can build a snowman, then pretend that he is Parson Brown; He’ll say: Are you married? we’ll say: No man, But you can do the job when you’re in town. Later on (Pause) , we’ll perspire, as we drink by the fire…
– Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, had a very shiny nose and if you ever saw it, you would even say it glows, (What comes next?) Olive, the other reindeer, used to laugh and call him names…
– And the great hymn inviting us to adore Christ the Lord: O come, froggy faithful, joyful, and triumphant…
How easily we hear the wrong words, even in familiar carols. How easily we sing Round John Virgin, because who knows what yon means? Our ears readjust for our minds to make sense. This morning, we continue in this series of carols from Luke and from our modern carols. With our ears carefully attuned, we listen to music and lyrics and join in song. We praise God in worship and prepare our hearts for Christ’s coming through worship and learning from the words of your carols.
It was the words the prophet Isaiah proclaimed recorded in the eleventh chapter. Transformational words of a world completely different than we have known it. A world in which fear and hatred have no place. Anxiety and terror have been buried. A world in which true peace is palpable and visible. A world in which families do not fret about their young ones and former enemies learn from one another. Isaiah paints the now iconic vision of the lion laying down with lamb and a young child leading them. John the Baptist sings out the upside kingdom of the Messiah, the coming One. Sings praises to the God who would conduct an incredible symphony of hope and faith, peace, and love.
Our God who sang through the angel to Mary of the One who she would carry and then, would redeem the world. Most properly the Annunciation of the angel to Mary occurred in March, ahead of this December delivery. But this morning, we heard again of the incredible announcement of a Messiah who would change the world. The One for whom we wait this Advent season. The One for whom we pray to change our world from the broken place we known to the peace-filled healed world we hear promised by the prophets. Hope-filled news announced to a lowly young woman scared for herself and a baby now to carry. Hark! The angels call out. Listen! Pay attention! This is important! They shared with Mary and shepherds. They tell those of us who will listen. Even interrupting our regularly scheduled plans to do so.
Hark is not just the greeting of an angel named Harold. Hark is the greeting that angels lifted to Mary and others in sharing with us the good news of the Messiah who we are waiting for. The carol, Hark the Herald Angels Sing was written by John Wesley’s brother, Charles. Historians have suggested that of the two brothers, both ordained Anglican priests, John was the preacher and spokesperson of the Methodist movement, and Charles was the musician and soundtrack of the Methodist movement. Charles easily wrote over 6,00 hymns. He is the reason we sing Christ the Lord is Risen Today, Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and literally thousands more. He knew something that we understand today: the act of putting words to music increases our ability to remember information as well as our opportunities for reflections.
When we sing our theology, we allow God’s word to not only be heard, but to let it linger in our ears and open ourselves to be transformed by it. Even when we do not understand the nuances of the words, they work on us and through us. Charles Wesley captures the life transforming power of the Christ for whom we are waiting this Advent. In the last verse, he calls us to praise Christ as the heaven born, prince of peace. Wesley reminds us of our theology, explains to us how we worship and praise God. We praise Christ as the Prince of Peace. The One who will not only eliminate war, but bring ultimate peace in our hearts in which we will no longer imagine how to inflict punishments to those who harm us. Caesar was called the son of righteousness. Out of tradition, the Roman myths tell us of his divine birth and address him with reverence. Jesus redeems the title Son of Righteousness and turns on its head, the declarations of praise to Caesar. His life is not for himself alone, but sacrificially and transformationally, Christ brings life, light, and healing to all people. His very life changes forever the lives of others. Mild he lays. Born to give us second birth. Born that we no more shall die. Incredible news of hope, healing, and redemption.
Worthy of our playlists! At this point, I have seven separate Spotify play lists of Advent and Christmas music. Some of us may yet have records and tapes, cds and sheet music. In this season, we find ourselves drawn to the music. Perhaps, it is because of the traditions. Perhaps, it is because of the angelic effect. Perhaps, we live in incredible hope of the coming Messiah and our music is expressing the very hope of our souls.
Music calms us with lullabies and emboldens us with calls to action. Music speaks to us and sticks with us, Occasionally, we find ourselves humming along when we are not so sure of the lyrics. But mostly, we remember the lyrics of songs.
We have learned from song that “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” even if you write from sunny California as Irving Berlin did. We have learned from song that “we need a little Christmas right this very minutes” even if Christmas means more decorations and presents.
We have learned from song that as we await the coming of Christ, baby child, and life changing messiah, that “Pleased as man with man to dwell Jesus, our Emmanuel”, even if the language does not reflect the full vision of inclusivity. God’s way does!
After the angel comes to give Mary the gospel, the good news, she says Let it be with me according to your word. She was steeped in the word of God. She probably was not reading and writing. Copies of written scriptures were rare and primarily kept in temples and other religious places. She probably could proclaim knowing God through the God see learned about in music. The songs her mother sang at the well. The songs her father led as they went up to the temple. The songs she heard her neighbors sing as they worked. According to God’s word was what she heard from God’s people. Let it also be with us. Let us hear and sing, praise, and worship God with song. Let us choose music that uplifts us, praises God, and teach good theology. Let us sing praise so that we and others can learn about our God.
Joyful all ye nations rise, Join the triumph of the skies With the angelic host proclaim “Christ is born in Bethlehem”
This is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, thanks be to God, Amen.
Old Testament Lesson: Isaiah 11:1-10
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
Gospel Lesson: Luke 1: 26-38
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
Meditations For Your Week
Sunday, December 4 ~ Saturday, December 10
Sunday: “The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.” Isaiah 11: 12. We give thanks to God for wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and fear. Pray for God’s way in your life.
Monday: “His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.” Isaiah 11: 3-4. Christ’s ways are worthy of our worship and emulation. Where are you living in the image of Jesus?
Tuesday: “The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” Isaiah 11: 6-9. God’s vision for a redeemed world has all living together. Pray today for your vision to be expanded.
Wednesday: “And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.’ But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.” Luke 1: 28-29. God showing up in our lives can be quite surprising. Consider that God may show up in ways that you do not expect.
Thursday: “The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” Luke 1: 30. Our God who created us loves us and calls us. We have found favor with God. As others have hurt you with their words, rest in the presence of the One with whom you have found favor.
Friday: “For nothing will be impossible with God.” Luke 1: 37. God’s ways continue to confound us generations later. Watch today for where God might move in seemingly impossible ways.
Saturday: “Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.” Luke 1: 38. In this Advent season, God calls us to be open to how God will use us. Pray that you might be able to respond, let it be with me according to your word.