Blogmas Day 22: Fourth Sunday in Advent: LOVE

Today’s song for the fourth and final Sunday in Advent is “Like You Promised” by Amber Brooks. I think this is a great song for an Advent that looks ahead to Christ’s coming and the promise of the Holy Spirit. It’s one of those songs that remind us that not only is there an Advent that commemorates Jesus’s first coming, but we also have something which we can anticipate. (Christine D’Clario also sang a Spanish version, which I also love).

Like You Promised:

Stir these stagnant waters of my soul
Merge me with Your river which springs life
I don’t have all the right words to say
That will provoke You to want me
Anymore than you already do

So won’t You come
Come like You promised
Pour out Your Spirit
Pour out Your Spirit

Come into my darkness where I hide
Pull me into Your arms Your arms of peace
Reaching past my hiding
Oh, reach out to my running
Oh, Lord, come fill my soul with Your love

You love like a Father
You love like a brother
You love like a Lion
Fierce Like no other
You violently chase me
Down, to embrace me
Engulf me
In who You are

———————

In my tradition, one of the most important concepts is REVIVAL, and that’s where my head would first go when listening to this song: Holy Spirit come! But, although this is very much an invocation of the Spirit, it is within the context of LOVE. The writer of the song is pleading for the Holy Spirit to come with love. And that is the theme of the fourth Sunday in Advent.

This song reminds us:

  1. We find true life and acceptance in Jesus.

When our souls are “stagnant,” Jesus is a river flowing with life. When I am apathetic and just not feeling much excitement or passion or joie de vivre (joy of living), even when I’m completely burned out, I need the reminder that I can drink from this river and be refilled. Jesus told a Samaritan woman–around the water cooler, because clearly that’s where all the deep convos take place–that He was the source of living water, and anyone who drinks from His water would never thirst (John 4:10-14, NRSV).

Water is one of the main sources of life. The majority of the surface of the earth (60%-80%) is covered with water. Similarly, about 70% of our bodies are filled with water. If we become dehydrated because we have not consumed water for a long period of time, we could die. Yet, Jesus says that the water that He has to offer is greater than the water that we drink here.

Revelation 22 gives us an image of the River of Life, which flows through the New Jerusalem:

Then the angel[a] showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life[b] with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” (Rev. 22:1-2)

The water that flows through the city (New Jerusalem) flows, as water does, through the ground and down into the roots of the trees. However, when this water seeps into the roots, it results in healing. The fruits that grow from those trees, having absorbed the nutrients (well, more than just nutrients–divine healing) from the water, result in healing and restoration for all people who eat them.

In addition to the healing and revival–of our souls, that is–that comes from Jesus, we also find unconditional love and acceptance. God loves us and wants us more than we can imagine. We don’t have to convince God to love us. We don’t have to strive to make ourselves worthy of God’s desire. God loves us because He is our parent and we are God’s children.

Intellectually, I know that you love me. I know that it is not dependent on me or anything I do. But sometimes I just need reassurance. Send Your Spirit to me. Fill me with life again, because sometimes I don’t feel like I can make it, and I can’t tell that You’re there.

2. God is capable of finding us wherever we are, even if we try to hide.

I’m one of those people that will–quite unproductively, I may add–intentionally hide when I’m feeling at my worst because I don’t want to talk to anybody. It’s extremely unhealthy and unwise, but I will smile and make small talk and get all my work done, all while hiding whatever is bothering me. And unless someone is particularly inquisitive–incessantly so–no one will ever know.

But it’s different with God. And deep down, we know this. That God is just waiting for us to let Him into our hiding places so He can heal what’s broken. Brooks pleads with God to break into her hiding place, to shine His light in her dark places; to embrace her with His arms of peace.

Isolating ourselves doesn’t change anything. It isn’t helpful. It doesn’t bring healing. We find health and wholeness in God’s presence, whether that’s at the altar or among trusted friends who bear God’s image.

God, help me to break down my walls and to let You in. You know that when I’m hiding, or not praying, or choosing to check out and withdraw from my chosen community that that is when I need You the most. Let the light of Your Spirit break into my darkness.

3. God’s love is furious and insistent.

Weird words to use to describe a good God–especially the One we’ve been calling the Prince of Peace this month. But our multifaceted, complex God is insistent on loving us, even when we don’t want it. God loves us like a father is supposed to love us. Tenderly, providing for our needs, protecting us. God loves us like a brother–playfully, with levity and lightheartedness, yet also defending us fiercely. (I’m just guessing here; I’ve never had a biological brother, but I do have a best friend who is very much like a brother to me).

God also loves us like a lion–which reminds me I really need to either watch or read The Chronicles of Narnia to do a better characterization of Aslan. But, lions, especially lionesses, are known for the ferocity with which they love and defend their cubs.

God, thank You for loving me. Thank you that Your love is not only familiar and comforting, but also insistent and even violent. You’re the Shepherd who will leave the 99 sheep in the pasture just to go back and find the one that is lost. You break down my walls and shine into my dark places with Your all-consuming love. Come. Pour out Your Spirit and fill me again with Your love.

acorn advent blur bright

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Blogmas Day 21: “The Night that Christ Was Born”

I sang this song, “The Night that Christ Was Born,” in college, when I used to be in the gospel choir. This song was written by Kirk Franklin and arranged by Cliff Duren. It’s a classic African-American gospel Christmas song. The lyrics are as follows:

[Verse 1:]
Listen to the angels
Rejoicing e’er so sweetly
Receiving heaven’s glory
The night that Christ was born

[Verse 2:]
Can’t you see the people
Coming from every nation
Pleading for salvation
The night that Christ was born

[Chorus]
Oh such a wonderful savior
To be born in a manger
So that I can share His favor
And my heart be made anew

[Verse 3:]
Listen to the trumpets
Shouting through the darkness
Crying ‘holy, holy’
The night that Christ was born

Part of me worries that this post won’t be as theologically robust as I would like, but there’s only one way to find out. Let’s explore it together!

Luke 2 discusses angels in conjunction with the story of Jesus’s birth:

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. 10 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: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah,[a] the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,[b] praising God and saying,14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” –Luke 2:8-14, NRSV

So, on the night that Christ was born, yes; there were angels. And yes, they were rejoicing.

Next up: the people from every nation “pleading for salvation.”

I know that Revelation 7:9 says that people from every nation will surround the throne of God. I also know that the wise men were the only people from another geographic area who came to see Jesus.

Matthew 2 discusses the visit of the wise men:

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men[a] from the East came to Jerusalemasking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising,[b] and have come to pay him homage.” –Matt. 2:1-2, NRSV

Two things here: First, this did not take place the same night of Jesus’s birth. The wise men arrived to Jerusalem after Jesus had already been born. Second, these wise men came from the East, likely Persia. While this location may be a microcosm used to represent a greater whole, i.e. Persia being used as a symbol for other nations, we really can’t assume that is the case.

Was anyone pleading for salvation? Not literally. But Luke does tell us that when the apostle John was born, the prophet Zechariah saw that he would “be called a prophet of the Most High…go[ing] before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins” (Luke 1:76-77, NRSV). In the next chapter, a man named Simeon says, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation; which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32, NRSV).

I believe that the prophets were pleading for salvation, because they knew it was coming. They knew Jesus was coming because Isaiah and the other prophets had written that there would be a Messiah coming to save Israel spiritually and literally/historically. But I don’t believe the average person even knew they needed salvation, let alone was pleading for it.

I wrote about Christ (Jesus) being born in a manger before, and the significance of His humanity for our salvation, so I’ll skip the chorus.

But the last verse refers to trumpets. I see no evidence of a relationship between trumpets and the birth of Jesus. The trumpets are “shouting through the darkness; crying ‘Holy, Holy'”. That language sounds more apocalyptic to me. In fact, all of the scriptures that connect trumpets with holiness or a proclamation of holiness in some way are in the Old Testament:

  1. Holy convocations and high holy days (Leviticus 23:24 and Numbers 29:1): A trumpet is sounded and a day of rest is declared.
  2. The “day of the Lord” and the relationship between God’s holiness and Mt. Zion, God’s “HQ,” so to speak: Isaiah 27:13 and Joel 2:1.

(It’s extra funny–in a “Wow” sort of way– when we think of the images of angels blowing trumpets that are so present in the Christmas aesthetic. Unless I’m mixing this up with somewhere else, I’m pretty sure such angels are outside Rockefeller Center).

I think it’s nice to imagine that angels with great big trumpets let out a great fanfare up in heaven when Jesus was born.

 

 

Blogmas Day 20: “Keep Your Lamps!”

(Because I already started working on this post last night, I’m going to pretend it’s still December 20th. Don’t tell anyone–Shh…)

1 Keep your lamps trimmed an burning,
keep your lamps trimmed and burning,
keep your lamps trimmed and burning,
for the time is drawing nigh.

Refrain:
Children, don’t grow weary,
children, don’t grow weary,
children, don’t grow weary,
for the time is drawing nigh.

4 Christian, journey soon be over,
christian, journey soon be over,
christian, journey soon be over,
for the time is drawing nigh. [Refrain]

The first time I sang “Keep Your Lamps! (Trimmed and Burning)” was, yet again, in seminary. This song is an African-American spiritual. A version of it happens to be hymn #350 in the Glory to God hymnal. (Gee, I must really love that hymnal!)

One scripture that this spiritual refers to is Matthew 25:1-13, the parable of the ten bridesmaids (or virgins, depending on your tradition). Five of them were considered wise, and the other five foolish. They were all waiting for the bridegroom. However, while they were waiting, they fell asleep and their lamps went out. The wise bridesmaids brought extra oil for their lamps, but the foolish ones did not. When the foolish bridesmaids asked for some extra oil for their lamps, those who had brought extra oil refused to share with them, saying that there wasn’t enough. When the five went to buy more oil, the bridegroom arrived to let them all into a wedding. Because the five foolish bridesmaids were not there on time, they were not able to enter the wedding.

“Keep Your Lamps (Trimmed and Burning)” is really a cautionary metaphor. If you live in the city like I do, you probably don’t use oil lamps–maybe a flashlight. However, imagine that flashlight. It likely runs on batteries. Batteries that should always be in stock in case of an emergency. So, think of this song as saying, “Always have a flashlight and always have spare batteries on hand.”

The reason for this is because we are expecting our bridegroom. In the New Testament, especially in the book of Revelation, Jesus is referred to as a bridegroom and the Church is referred to as His bride. The lamp (or flashlight, if you will) is a metaphor for staying ready. Jesus tells us “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.  But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son (i.e. Me), but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man” (Matt. 24:35-37, NRSV).

During “the days of Noah,” people were going about their daily routines when all of a sudden, it began to rain. And it didn’t stop. And the whole earth flooded for forty days and forty nights. Similarly, when Jesus returns, it will be a very ordinary day, up until that divine interruption. We have to be prepared because we do not know when that day will be.

Similarly, the next verse (or refrain), “Children, don’t grow weary,” is an echo of the verse “Let us not grow weary in doing what is right (or well-doing)” (Galatians 6:9, NRSV). Doing what is right means doing what God commands us to do, which is to love God and each other. This simple commandment is mentioned many times in scripture and using different words. It is in the Old Testament in Deuteronomy 6:5 (“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”) Jesus adds to it, in Matthew 22:39, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” In Micah 6:8, this is phrased differently: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (NRSV). Therefore, doing what is right means seeking the welfare of all people, being kind to others, and being humble (i.e not prideful vs. not proud). Remember that you are not any better or greater than the person next to you.

Finally, the next verse I include, “Christian journey soon be over,” is a reminder that our lives are short. However, we will have to give an account to God of how we have spent our lives, even up to the words that we say (Matt. 12:36, 1 Peter 4:5). Not only that, but I believe it can refer to the Christian journey in general. The journey of Christians in this world will come to an end when Jesus returns to reunite heaven and earth.

In the meantime, are you trying to stay ready?

antique board burnt close up

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Blogmas Day 19: “Holy” — Worship Pt. 4

As you can probably tell, with the exception of the fourth Sunday in Advent, I have pretty much run out of hymns/classical Christmas/Advent songs to post, and I am now in my second comfort zone: Contemporary Christian Music, also known as CCM, with some modern gospel sprinkled in.

Today’s song is “Holy” by Kim Walker-Smith of Jesus Culture.

Just one look on Your face
Just one glance of Your eyes
My whole world is changed
my whole world is changed

Oh I seek only to see Your face
I don’t wanna go anywhere without You God
Without Your presence
Oh let me see Your face
The beauty of Your holiness God
Take me into the holy place

And only one word comes to mind
There’s only one word to describe

Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty

There is no one like You
You are Holy
Holy


I think I’m beginning to annoy even myself with how repetitive my posts are becoming. On the bright side, I am sensing a theme here: worship and adoration.

We talked about adoration yesterday, but I really think the lyrics of this song give us an accurate image of what that looks like.

Walker-Smith sings:

Oh I seek only to see Your face
I don’t wanna go anywhere without You God
Without Your presence
Oh let me see Your face
The beauty of Your holiness God
Take me into the holy place”

This is what I imagine adoration to look like. It’s like when Moses longed to see the face of God. In reality, God’s glory was so profound–so overwhelming–that if any human saw it, they would die, but God told Moses to hide behind a rock so that he would not be overpowered by the weight and brilliance of God’s glory. When God passed by Moses, Moses was only allowed to see the back of God as He passed by (Exodus 33:12-23).

So, for this reason, we have to think of the face of God in a metaphorical sense. God’s face is a symbol of God’s favor. The first time we see God’s face referred to in this context is in Genesis 4:14, after Cain murders his brother Abel out of jealousy. (Background: Cain and Abel both present offerings/sacrifices to the Lord. Cain is a vegetable farmer and brings vegetables. Abel brings an animal sacrifice to God. God accepts Abel’s offering, but not that of his brother). Cain tells God, “Today you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face; I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me” (NRSV).

Similarly, in Genesis 32:30, after Jacob wrestles with an unknown man whom he later surmises to have been a divine messenger, he says: “I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved” (NRSV).

God punishes people who disobey Him by “set[ting His] face against them” (Leviticus 20, NRSV). In Deuteronomy, the language is “hide my face” (Deut. 31, 32).

In a more positive light, the Aaronic priestly blessing in Numbers 6 includes the line, “the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;” indicating God’s favor (Num. 6:25, NRSV).

Similarly, seeing one’s face is a sign of respect. It is disrespectful to turn away from another person or stand with your back toward them when they are speaking to you. It indicates a total disregard for what they have to say, whereas looking them in the face is usually a sign that you are paying attention.

Linguistically, this word “face” comes from a Hebrew word called paneh or panim (meaning “face” or “faces”, depending on the suffix). This word has more meanings than just the one we are discussing, such as surface (the surface of the waters at creation or of the earth), the open firmament or heavens, the presence of the Lord, someone’s actual face, i.e. countenance, or even a preposition meaning before or in front of (Strong’s Concordance, 6440).

One good thing is that we don’t have to worry about the same risks that come with seeing the face of God or experiencing the glory of God. In 2 Corinthians 3, the author writes: “Since, then, we have such a hope, (i.e. the greater glory that came through Christ), we act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside….And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as if reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:12-18, NRSV).

What I think this refers to is the Holy Spirit within us. I don’t believe it refers to the Imago Dei (Image of God), because the concept of Imago Dei has been around since the beginning. However, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (rather than just empowerment or having the Spirit rest upon you) is something that came from Jesus. Since Jesus sent us His Spirit, whenever we look at other believers, it is like looking at Jesus Himself (or even God). We don’t need to hide behind a veil or a cleft in the rock. Instead, looking at each other is like looking in a mirror. It may not be the same intensity as looking directly at God, but as the Spirit continues to work in us, we become even closer to experiencing God’s glory.

Benjamin_West_-_Joshua_passing_the_River_Jordan_with_the_Ark_of_the_Covenant_-_Google_Art_Project

By Benjamin West – 1QFKub9RpoHOHg at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21997572

 

 

 

Blogmas Day 18: “O Come Let Us Adore Him”

O Come Let Us Adore Him. It is part of the chorus to O Come, All Ye Faithful, but it has also become a song in its own right. Today (or rather, tonight–because I make most of these posts at the end of the day) I will be discussing two of these songs: Emmanuel by Norman Hutchins, and Let Us Adore by Elevation Worship.

Emmanuel:

Come
Come let us adore him
Kneel down before him
Worship and adore him

[Chorus]
Emmanuel x8
We worship you x?

Let Us Adore:

For the unclean, the unholy
For the broken, the unworthy
You came, Jesus you came

For the wounded, for the hurting
For the lost, and for the lonely
You came, Jesus you came

O come all ye faithful
Bow before our Savior
Come let us adore
The one who came for us
Glory in the highest
Praise the name of Jesus
Our King has come

For the outcast, the defeated
For the weary, for the weakest
You came, Jesus you came

O come let us adore him
For He alone is worthy
Our King has come
Our King has come
O give Him all the glory
For He alone is worthy
Our King has come
Our King has come

And then there’s the original, translated by Frederick Oakeley and written by John Francis Wade, here performed by Benita Jones:

1 O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him,
Christ the Lord.

2 For he alone is worthy,
For he alone is worthy,
For he alone is worthy,
Christ the Lord.

3 Let’s praise his name together,
Let’s praise his name together,
Let’s praise his name together,
Christ the Lord.

4 We’ll give him all the glory,
We’ll give him all the glory,
We’ll give him all the glory,
Christ the Lord.

Many versions of one song with one theme: Adoration. Since I used up so much space with lyrics, I’ll keep my reflection on the shorter side.

Adoration is defined as “deep love and respect,” or, “worship and veneration.” To adore means to glorify or magnify, to exalt or pay tribute to. (Thanks, Oxford Dictionary!)

This ties in with my post from yesterday about giving glory to God. (But actually…*preacher voice* I’mma need you to take just five minutes and GIVE HIM THE GLORY!!!)

When I imagine adoration, I pretty much imagine the worship set I linked to above by Sis. Benita. At a certain point, the song drops out and everyone is in the presence. Sis. Benita is still serving as a leader, but for the most part, the Spirit is leading everything. It’s like what I wrote last week. When God’s presence falls, we respond. And we respond through worship and adoration.

Let Us Adore is another song that reminds us of why we adore. God came for us when we were still unworthy of God’s love and presence. We were unclean, unholy, broken, and unworthy, but through Christ, God has made us clean, holy, whole, and worthy. And while we are wounded, hurting, lost, and lonely, Jesus dwells with us. When we believe that we are outcasts, defeated, weary, and weak, God reminds us that we are adopted. That God has given us victory through Christ. That the joy of the Lord is our strength.

If that don’t make you SHOUT–

JJHMJO

Blogmas Day 17: “Hallelujah, Salvation and Glory” – Worship, Pt. 3

I believe that this song I am about to discuss–“Hallelujah, Salvation, and Glory”–is one of the best gospel arrangements in history. Originally arranged by Stephen Hurd for choir, the lyrics follow:

Hallelujah, salvation and glory
Honor and power unto the Lord, our God

For the Lord, our God, is mighty
Yes, the Lord, our God is omnipotent
The Lord, our God, he is wonderful

All praises be to the King of Kings
For the Lord, our God, is wonderful
Hallelujah,
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, He is wonderful
Hallelujah, salvation and glory
Honor and power, He is wonderful

The lyrics come from Revelation 19:1, which states: “After this I heard what seemed to be the loud voice of a great multitude in heaven, saying, ‘Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power to our God…'” (NRSV).

Another song/chorus based on a simple verse of scripture. And it is so beautiful when you hear it!

This is all worship. This isn’t just “Jesus we love you/Oh how I love Jesus/Jesus loves me/Reckless love”–although all those are appropriate and wonderful, and there were times when Reckless Love got me through seminary.

BUT–this song is about more than just the relational aspect of God. We’ve moved beyond–no pun intended–God’s immanence and onto His transcendence. Because while God is near to us and loves us, God is also powerful, omnipotent, wise, and mighty. So this song expresses honor in proportion to those qualities.

As beings created in the image of God and for the glory of God, this verse and song works because, through it, we are joining in the chorus of angels and elders and saints in the Kingdom of God and proclaiming God’s excellence and worth through song.

Revelation 7:10 is another verse we can use: “They cried out in a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (NRSV)

Hallelujah–literally, “Praise God!”

Salvation–remember Palm Sunday? Hosanna–Hoshienu–“Save us!” Salvation belongs to the Lord our God because only God has the power to save.

Glory–Glory has two aspects. It is something that we give to God, but it’s also something that emanates from God. We say things like, “God, we glorify Your name,” but also “Fill this place with Your glory.” Glory is an abstract concept, difficult to define, but through context I would say that it is the full God-ness of God. It is the immense weight and gravity of God’s essence combined with God’s might and holiness. When God’s glory is made manifest, when you’re in church or your dorm room (or, for me, in the kitchen lol), you KNOW when you are in the presence of God’s glory. It’s hard to describe, but you know.

I also like this teaching by John Piper on the glory of God.

Honor–we think of honor as respect that we give to anyone in authority, such as kings, presidents, and dignitaries, which is true. But it is also something that we give to each other. You know how those hippie-like people who do yoga (or the actual Hindus from whom they got that practice) say Namaste at the end of a practice? That word, which I believe is Sanskrit, means something along the lines of “The divine in me recognizes the divine in you.” That’s what honor is. And regardless of the image I use to explain it, I hope such a concept would not be foreign to Christians or anyone else who believes in God, because it’s like saying “We are both created in the image of God, and I honor you as a fellow sibling.” (In fact, this is originally a Jewish concept–remember, creation in the image of God originated in Genesis–part of the Torah).

Power–AKA might, AKA omnipotence. Power is the ability to do something. Power is physical strength. Power is influence. God has all of these qualities.

Because my brain is extra active tonight, I’ll give you another song: Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus”, from his epic work “Messiah”. This work is traditionally sung at Christmas every year in the chapel of my alma mater. I think part of the reason I like “Hallelujah, Salvation, and Glory” is because the different layers and parts remind me of the “Hallelujah Chorus”.

Hallelujah! For the lord God omnipotent reigneth. The kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ. And He shall reign for ever and ever. King of kings forever and ever! And Lord of lords forever and ever!

(This also sounds a lot like Agnus Dei).

group of people raising hands silhouette photography

Photo by Chad Kirchoff on Pexels.com

Blogmas Day 15: “Joy to the World!”

Yesterday, on the third Sunday in Advent, we lit the pink candle for JOY. (Because, of course pink is synonymous with joy).

So, in accordance with this theme, let’s talk about “Joy to the World.” We’re going back to the Glory to God hymnal, #134. (I linked the Whitney Houston version because I like it better).

1 Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her king;
let every heart prepare him room,
and heaven and nature sing,
and heaven and nature sing,
and heaven, and heaven and nature sing.

2 Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let all their songs employ,
while fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat the sounding joy,
repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

3 No more let sins and sorrows grow,
nor thorns infest the ground;
he comes to make his blessings flow
far as the curse is found,
far as the curse is found,
far as, far as the curse is found.

4 He rules the world with truth and grace,
and makes the nations prove
the glories of his righteousness
and wonders of his love,
and wonders of his love,
and wonders, wonders of his love.


Unfortunately, I missed posting on Saturday because my wifi was acting up. I’m also pretty burned out, and at this point, I’m only writing to honour a commitment I made to myself. However, instead of playing catch-up in this post, I’m honoring this Sunday’s theme. I’ll probably post days 14 and 16 later today.

“Joy to the World” was originally written by Isaac Watts in 1719. The music was written by none other than George Frederick Handel (I feel like I wrote about him already) in 1742 and Lowell Mason in 1836.

This song has four verses and, to me, it looks like there’s a pattern. Verses 1 and 2 tell us to have joy, and verses 3 and 4 tell us why.

Verse 1: World! Have joy! The Lord has come! Receive your king! Prepare the way of the Lord! Sing for joy!

Verse 2: Earth! Have joy! The Savior reigns! If the rocks can cry out, so can you!

Verse 3: No more sins and sorrows! The Lord has come to bless you and wash away your curse (?)

Verse 4: The Lord rules the world with truth and grace! His righteousness is glorious and his love is wondrous!

(Okay; this one is pretty hard. Let’s see the scripture that inspired it).

Verses 1 and 2 are inspired by Psalm 96:10-13, which describes the kingship of the Lord. All creation rejoices, from the heavens to the earth, and the seas to the fields. The Lord is described as a righteous and true judge. Psalm 98:4-9 echoes a similar theme: rejoicing in song.

And, of course “prepare Him room” refers to the prophecies of the “voice crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord.'”

Verse 3 seems to refer to Genesis 3:17-18, in which God punishes Adam (the first man and the first human being) for disobeying God’s command not to eat from a particular tree (the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil). Adam’s punishment was that he was cursed to do hard labor and till ground that was not arable. Instead of healthy soil, it was a ground filled with thistles and thorns.

Verse 4 contains an allusion to Revelation 11.15: ” ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever’ ” (NRSV). (It also reminds me of Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus, which I will definitely write about in a later post).

What I can glean from this song is that Jesus’s (the Lord’s) coming will be joyful. It will be joyful because He is the fulfillment of the prophecies of a King and Saviour who will finally come to restore the world and rule with righteousness. All of creation will sing and shout for joy. He will wipe away all tears and there will no longer be reason for sadness. He will rule in love.

After a while, a lot of this becomes redundant, but it’s such a great reminder of the hope that we have in Christ. We have so many songs to sing through which we can learn about our faith. I have sung many of the songs I have posted so far without thinking about their content, but now that I’m doing this project, I’ve realized that they hold such deep, important messages.

lighted candles

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Blogmas Day 13: “Alpha and Omega” – Worship Pt. 2

I’ve read blog posts where writers tend to get super personal and vulnerable, and I’m usually reading them like, “Wow. So brave. 4 for you, Glen Coco. You go, Glen Coco!” in the most unironic, genuine way, of course. Yet today, I must join the ranks and transparently admit that I do not have the Christmas spirit, Sam-I-Am.

I actually don’t remember getting excited about Christmas since I lived with my mother’s family when I was between five and seven years old. Now that I’m an adult, and I work in a church, I have a very different relationship with Christmas, but I’m still not excited. Part of that could be because I experienced many unfortunate events over the past couple of years during the holidays, but even before those took place, I was still “Meh,” about the whole thing. I do get excited about the “churchy” things–the sermon series, the Christmas pageant, everything that integrates theology and the story of Jesus’s birth and life–but it’s the other things that are “Meh.” Outside of the church, I have no Christmas spirit. There is nothing magical in the air. It’s just winter. I’m cold.

Yet, I love worship music. (I was going to write “Christmas music,” but for the next few days, some of the songs I will be writing about are very clearly not about Christmas). Worship music reminds us of the person that this season is all about. It doesn’t matter whether or not I get a white Christmas–in fact, I would very much prefer if I didn’t–or if Santa Claus squeezes his way down the chimney with an iPhone 11 Pro. (Though if you’re listening, a professional camera would be pretty nice).

What matters is glorifying God–the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit–in recognition of God’s purpose in Christmas.

Today’s song, “Alpha and Omega,” comes from Revelation 1.8: ” ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty” (NRSV).

You are Alpha and Omega. We worship You, our Lord. You are worthy to be praised. We give You all the glory. You are worthy to be praised.

Yep. That’s it. A simple chorus of worship.

You are Alpha–the first letter of the Greek alphabet. You are the first, coexisting in one with God and God’s Spirit, before anything else was.

You are Omega–the final letter of the Greek alphabet. You are the last. No one will come after you. You are the victor, the last left standing. You have the final word. You are the final Word.

I believe that this is part of the revelation that the wise men received–the three kings from the east who, at least according to legend, came to bring gifts of frankincense, gold, and myrrh and to worship the newborn King of Israel and of the universe. This baby was different from all other babies. This baby was special. This baby would change the world. And a group of wise men–possibly pagan astrologers, but again, I’m hesitant to speculate without hard proof–who were not Jews and did not share the religion of Mary and Joseph (or Miriam and Yosef, as they were called by their people) received a divine revelation from God that this baby is indeed the Alpha and Omega, the One who is worthy of glory, honor, and praise. After all, the men say:

“Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage” (Matt. 2:2, NRSV).

This reminds me of the exchange between Jesus and Peter, where Jesus asks His disciples who they say He is, and Peter says, “You are the Christ. The Son of the Living God.” (Or some variation on that theme.) Then, Jesus essentially says, “You didn’t come to that knowledge on your own but by revelation from God.” I think this is what happened to the wise men. They were acting in response to a revelation that they received from God.

And now this is revelation that we all have through scripture. Jesus’s own words affirm what those wise men were shown by God.

three kings figurines

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Blogmas Day 12: “Agnus Dei”: Worship Pt. 1

What’s up, readers?

I kind of want to slow things down a bit and dwell with the shepherds and the wise men who came to worship Jesus at His birth. We’ll probably stick with the theme of Worship over the next few days. These are the lyrics to “Agnus Dei,” made popular by Michael W. Smith.

Alleluia Alleluia
For the Lord God Almighty reigns
Alleluia
Holy Holy
Are You Lord God Almighty?
Worthy is the Lamb
Worthy is the Lamb
You are Holy
Holy

_______________________

Worship is perennial. It isn’t limited to the moment of Jesus’s birth, but it’s also suitable. I choose to include worship songs in my Christmas playlists because no matter what time of year it is, they are still true.

Jesus is the Lord God Almighty, and He reigns over an everlasting kingdom. This kingdom will be actualized when He returns.

I want to bring us back to Colossians, this time to chapter 1. Verses 15-20 state:

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in[h] him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in[i] him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross” (NRSV).

For Christians, Jesus is worthy of our worship because He is the incarnation/visible image of God. God in human flesh. He is holy because He is divine. He is Lord because, not only did He create dominions and powers, but He Himself has dominion and power over all things.

Jesus is also referred to as a lamb because of the extension of Old Testament theology/Jewish theology. Lambs were one of the animals that were sacrificed as sin offerings. When a person came to the temple to present their sin offering, the offering would be consumed by fire as a sign of God’s acceptance of both the sacrifice and their act of repentance. In the New Testament, the apostle John calls Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29, NRSV). Jesus’s crucifixion was similar to the sacrifice of a lamb, except instead of having to repeatedly present a sacrifice every time we sin, we can depend on that one act as the sin offering that lasts for all time.

In Revelation 5:12, all of the elders and the angels sing “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”

When we sing “Hallelujah” and “Worthy is the Lamb,” we are giving Jesus the same glorification as the angels, the elders, the shepherds, and all created beings. By recognizing Him as the Lamb, we are recognizing His crucifixion as the fulfillment of the practice of sin offerings and sacrifices. The difference, I believe, is in Jesus’s resurrection. Normally, when people sacrificed their lambs, turtledoves, and other animals, those animals never came back to life. But Jesus did. And His resurrection symbolizes victory. Even though our eyes can see sin and evil in the world, what’s happening spiritually/supernaturally is another story.  To sound like a cliche, we already know how the story ends. Jesus says so Himself: “I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33, NRSV)

I could try to speculate as to exactly how Jesus conquered the world and exactly what that entails, but, to be honest, I really don’t know. It requires wrestling with the really big question of theodicy, i.e. “Why are there bad things in the world if Jesus already won the battle against evil?” or “Why do bad things happen to good people?” etc. And I don’t have the answers to those questions. But maybe that’s a good thing. After all, the thing about God is that God is so vast that God is unsearchable and unknowable. Even based off of what God chose to reveal to us, we’ll never be able to understand God completely, at least not in this life.

This is why–especially if you listen to the linked recording–there is such a sense of wonder and awe when we are confronted by the presence of God. Could it be that this slaughtered lamb, this paschal (related to Easter and Passover) sacrifice is really the Lord God Almighty? That this God, this Lord, who reigns in power and might, would stoop so low as to DIE? Yesterday, we talked about the significance of His birth to poor, young parents in a filthy stable because there was no room in any of the inns in town. Today, we are reminded that His birth was the first in a chain of events that led to His glorification.

Do you remember those trade school commercials from the 2000s? There was one with a young man who wanted to go back to school, but he didn’t have any money. He didn’t have any money because he couldn’t get a job. He couldn’t get a job because he didn’t have any skills. He didn’t have any skills because he didn’t go to school. (See his problem?)

This is how I view Jesus and the Gospel. I can’t talk about Advent without talking about the Crucifixion, because the Crucifixion was the whole purpose of the advent of Christ. I can’t talk about the Crucifixion without talking about the Resurrection, because there would be no victory without the resurrection of Christ. Even Pentecost fits in here somewhere, because if Jesus hadn’t died, He wouldn’t have left us with His Spirit. And all of these are essential elements to the gospel. They are all essential to the narrative.

So I don’t think it’s weird to sing regular worship songs for Advent, because all they do–especially this one–is remind us of the reason why Jesus came in the first place. It’s how we honor Him for what He has done.

shallow focus photography of white sheep on green grass

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Blogmas Day 11: “O Holy Night”

Tonight’s hymn is “O Holy Night.” Another classic Christmas carol, it was written by John S. Dwight. The music was composed by Adolphe Adam, who lived between 1803 and 1856.

Lyrics:

1 O holy night! the stars are brightly shining;
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope – the weary soul rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!
Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
O night, O holy night, O night divine!

2 Led by the light of faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here came the Wise Men from Orient land.
The King of kings lay thus in lowly manger,
In all our trials born to be our Friend.
He knows our need — to our weakness is no stranger.
Behold your King, before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King, before Him lowly bend!

3 Truly He taught us to love one another;
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother,
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we;
Let all within us praise His holy name.
Christ is the Lord! O praise His name forever!
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!
His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!


I don’t think I’ve ever thought about the theology in “O Holy Night” before, but it is rich.

Verse 1 describes the birth of Jesus Christ and the era of hope that He represents. Jesus was born for the purpose of saving the world, like a super(natural)hero. When humans were deeply entrenched in and affected by sin, Jesus came to set us free from that influence. Our souls felt worth because we no longer needed to feel guilt and shame for the bad things we had done. Jesus’s arrival meant an outpouring of grace, rather than of condemnation. Even today, if (or, really, when) we do sin, this means that Jesus will never make us feel like failures, but His Spirit will speak to us and remind us that we are good–that we are righteous–because His Spirit is within us and because we have faith in Him. His grace is meant for us to freely approach Him for forgiveness, instead of hiding in fear and shame.

Verse 2 describes the “lowly” conditions of Jesus’s birth. Jesus, the child both fully human and fully divine, born to be a king and savior, was born in a smelly old manger–a barn with cows and sheeps and goats and–I wonder if there were also pigs there. (Seriously, imagine a practicing Jewish couple in the first century forced to give birth in a barn where there was manure and unclean animals. And then this baby is destined to rule the world?) It’s like a preview of Philippians 2:6-8: “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross” (NRSV). 

According to these lyrics, among all of His other titles, Jesus was born to be our friend–someone who can empathize with our weaknesses, especially because He was born just like us (Hebrews 4:15, NRSV). He was born into poverty. He experienced all human limitations–including death and the descent into hell. (Yet, through His resurrection, He conquered it all on our behalf).

Finally, verse 3 looks ahead to the future. This is one aspect of the messianic vision. Because of the conditions of Jesus’s birth, He is able to empathize with and to deliver the enslaved and the oppressed. For us to live according to Jesus’s law of love means seeing everyone as a sibling. Hopefully, we don’t hate or detest our siblings. Even if our relationships may be challenging, we still strive to overcome those challenges because we value the relationship that we have. Similarly, all of the siblings of Christ (Jesus) all around the world, of different colors, ethnicities, and cultures, face many challenges, either from their position in society or because of history. Reconciliation–or just conciliation, for that matter–is difficult and costly, especially when we don’t trust each other. But the law of love requires that we love each other as family. If our example is someone who would later on in life sacrifice His own life and give up His own divine privileges for our sake, maybe we could contribute to the eradication of oppression by using our own privileges wisely for the sake of others.

Star of Bethlehem Nativity