Singing our Faith

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Luke 1:39-55

Grace and Peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

After a few weeks of waiting and preparations we are getting ever closer to Christmas. In just a few short days we will be celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas Eve. In the meantime, many of us may still be running around to make sure that everything is all set for the coming days. Are the baked goods and the food ready for the family gathering? Are all of the presents purchased and wrapped? Do we have any last minute preparations that must be made? We hurry and rush around to get these items off our do to list, sometimes at the expense of just truly being in the season. There is definitely a busyness in the air during this season, kind of like Bing Crosby’s song, Silver Bells:

City sidewalks, busy sidewalks
Dressed in holiday style
In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas
Children laughing, people passing
Meeting smile after smile
And on every street corner you hear

Silver bells, (silver bells) silver bells (silver bells)
It’s Christmas time in the city
Ring-a-ling, (ring-a-ling)
Hear them ring, (hear them ring)
Soon it will be Christmas day

Read more:  Bing Crosby – Silver Bells Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Possibly, Mary could relate to our rushing around as we do today. We find out right away that she set out with haste to visit Elizabeth. Is the haste that she is moving about similar to ours as we feel the rush of time and perceive that we must accomplish a lot before we can settle down and relax? She is expecting a child, and there must be a lot that needs to be accomplished before she is to give birth. I know of mothers and fathers that rush around to get their child’s nursery around. Yet, I don’t think this is the concern that weighs on Mary. Perhaps she is starting to become fearful of what is to come.

Mary does say to the angel, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” In this declaration she seems to be fine with what is happening. Just maybe though the realization struck her that she is unwed and soon to be mother. Oh, how society is going to look down upon her and possibly punish her for her supposed wrong doing.

Perhaps, she is truly excited to be with her relative Elizabeth and would like to see how well she is doing, since she too is carrying a child in her womb. Mary finds this out from the angel Gabriel and she has yet to congratulate Elizabeth. It was also quite common for a relative to come and stay with someone that is pregnant to help them out and to see that they have everything they need. Mary ends up staying with Elizabeth for three months until the time John is born.

I like to think that she went to see Elizabeth in haste because of the excitement that was built up within her from what was happening in her own life as well as her joy for Elizabeth, who previously thought that she could not have a baby. This excitement and joy overflows in the words of Mary’s Magnificat, or Song of Praise. There is something about music and singing that pulls us into the moment. It sets a tone for whatever it is that we are doing. It can even help guide and direct our lives as we grow.

Music can speak to people in many different ways. People are moved by many different forms of music. My music collection on my phone is quite eclectic. I recall the first concert that I ever went to was a Beach Boys concert and to this day I still love the Beach Boys. If you come into my office during the week you will quite often hear some form of classical or possibly even blues playing. For me, this is great music that allows me to think clearer as I am reading or doing sermon preparation.

My families favorite music group right now is Fall Out Boy. I also am drawn in by the deep smooth lyrics of Adele as well as the varied talents of Coldplay and I cannot forget about my favorite band of all time, U2. All of you, I am sure, can name off your own list of favorite musicians and bands that have touched you in one way or another throughout your life.

One of the songs that truly connected me to Christ is I Can Only Imagine, by Mercy Me. The lyrics of many of our songs and hymns speak to us in various ways. No matter what though, I believe that music is essential to the human experience as we share with one another.

I think that Luke must have felt pretty similar. Just in the first couple of chapters of Luke we have four different occurrences of people singing their praises to God and giving thanks. Mary’s Song of Praise fills the household of Elizabeth with joy and great proclamation. Not only does she give thanks to God for what has been bestowed upon her, she also sings of God’s great mercies and the wonderful things that God has done. Her song is reminiscent of the one that is sung by Hannah in her prayer for her son Samuel.

When Zechariah is filled with the Holy Spirit after John’s naming he too sings with joy. The angels also sing at Jesus’ birth, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.” Simeon lifts ups his voice to the Lord when Jesus is presented in the temple, “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.”

To sing, no matter how good or bad you think you are, brings a stillness to one’s being. It is a calm amidst the storms. It is joy amidst the tears. It I can reflect the light that can overcome the darkness.

Our closing hymn today is Mary’s Song of Praise, taken directly from Holden Evening Prayer, by Marty Haugen. As we live out the week to come and continue our preparation and settle in for Christmas let us live out the song of Mary in our own lives. May our soul magnify the Lord, and our spirit rejoice in God our Savior. May song fill our lives with the Spirit and Joy in the days to come.

 

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Advent Devotions December 20

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Micah 5:2-5a

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labor has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel. And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.

A prophecy of the leader that will come out of the town of Bethlehem. Much like many of the other royal psalms that speak of the shepherd or king that will come to rule with peace.

This points towards Jesus as we open up this fourth Sunday of Advent and continue to wait in the midst for the birth of the newborn king. The signs and the prophecies continue to point to Jesus as we venture into various verses of the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) throughout this Advent Season. It is a season for us to wait. It is also a season for us to prepare. Through these scriptures, Christ is present and alive among them and is evident that he does not come to us in just the New Testament. As Christ can be present among us today in every bit of our lives, he was also present with our ancestors more than 2000 years ago, back to the beginning of time. The Christ that is, was, and will be.

Let us pray.

Eternal God, we give thanks for prophecies point us towards your son, Jesus Christ. We ask that he may continue to guide us today, tomorrow and into the future to come. AMEN.

Advent Devotions December 19

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Isaiah 66:7-11

Before she was in labor she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she delivered a son. Who has heard of such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be delivered in one moment? Yet as soon as Zion was in labor she delivered her children.Shall I open the womb and not deliver? says the Lord; shall I, the one who delivers, shut the womb? says your God. Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her— that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious bosom.

The image of mother is very strong in this passage as the author refers to Israel returning to their homeland after the time of exile. This is the time to rejoice and celebrate for everything that they need is present.

The return from exile was a long time coming through many struggles and hardships. The book of Isaiah takes the reader through all of these from pre-exile to a time of exile and then post-exile. It is a story of the people and one that spans a long length of time. As Isaiah comes to a close, the story of the people does not. They have returned to their promised land and it is here that they may be satisfied with everything that is necessary for a good life.

We too, enter into these dark times of life where we may feel as though we have been exiled. God is present in those times whether we sense it or not, just waiting for the right time for us to return to God’s love.

Let us pray.

Loving God, we pray for those times in our lives that are dark and at times appear hopeless. May you break through the darkness with your light that brings hope and promise. AMEN.

Podcast: OnBeing

I subscribe to many different podcasts that I listen to during the week (another blog later down the road). One of the most recent ones that I have listened to is an episode of OnBeing by Krista Tippett. Her interview with Martin Sheen is wonderful as he shares his faith with her and where he currently is as a person and activist. Simply one of the best OnBeing interviews I have listened to. Check out the website.

Advent Devotions December 18

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Hebrews 10:32-36

But recall those earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and persecution, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion for those who were in prison, and you cheerfully accepted the plundering of your possessions, knowing that you yourselves possessed something better and more lasting. Do not, therefore, abandon that confidence of yours; it brings a great reward. For you need endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.

The author of Hebrews is referring to an earlier time when the listeners had first received the good news of Jesus and endured many hardships. It was not easy to be a follower of Jesus in first century Israel as there were many persecutions and people being tortured and killed because of their faith. All we have to do is turn to Acts to see this.

Is it much different being a Christian today? There are still many places around the world where the Christian faith is not welcome and people are persecuted. The Gospel message of Jesus Christ is one that questions the status quo and turns people towards a God of love and acceptance. Yet, many remain strong and follow the letter to the Hebrews in the regard that they must endure through any hardships and struggles. They know what is most important in life and their faith is strong. Following the teachings of Jesus even in America at times is counter-cultural. May our proclamation continue to shine Christ’s light in the darkness.

Let us Pray.

Lord, we pray for those around the world that do not have the freedom to openly express their faith in you. Be with them and provide them peace and comfort in times of hardship and struggle. May we be a voice for those whose voices are not heard. AMEN.

 

Advent Devotions December 17

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Jeremiah 31:31-34

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Verses from this passage are also included in today’s selection from Hebrews in the daily lectionary. As we get closer and closer to Christmas the anticipation builds and we are drawn to the manger. The promise that comes to us in Jesus can reflect the covenant that is spoken of in this passage of Jeremiah.

One of the verses that will forever strike me within this passage is, “I will put the law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” This law, or covenant, is already in each and everyone of us. We are closer to God than we realize, even those that claim they do not know or want to know God. God is present within each and everyone of us from the day that we came to being. It was this verse that continually went through my mind and heart when I had the opportunity to witness an open heart surgery while doing my clinical pastoral education. As I watched the patients heart beating outside of their body I marveled at the wonder of God within each of us.

Let us pray.

God of the covenant, we give thanks for the promises that you make to us and pray that we continue to live into this promise. As you have written the law on all of our hearts may we live into the mystery in which you have bestowed upon us. AMEN.

Advent Devotions December 16

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Isaiah 11:6-9

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.

These verses at first may seem shocking to both the hearer and the reader. Here, two things are brought together that at most times would be a danger to one another. This is the foreshadowing of the Kingdom of God, that is to come to the world.

Today amidst our violence we pray that we too may resemble this scripture in our lives. We pray for those that are at odds with one another may get along well and learn to live peacefully, even in disagreement. May people of all faiths come together in a common collective to serve their sisters and brothers so that everyone is treated with love and respect.

Unfortunately, the violent acts of people have tarnished the reputation of an entire group of people, at this present time it is Muslims. There are many Christians as well that carry out acts of terror, but for some reason this gets overlooked. University Lutheran in East Lansing is a great example of faithful people working together regardless of their faith.

Let us pray.

Dear gracious God, we give thanks for all we have and ask that you guide us in this time of uncertainty. May we reach out to our neighbors in loving compassion with your good news. Amen.