Advent Two – Week of December 9

The Word

O sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples.
For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
he is to be revered above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
but the Lord made the heavens.
Honor and majesty are before him;
strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
bring an offering, and come into his courts.
Worship the Lord in holy splendor;
tremble before him, all the earth.

Say among the nations, “The Lord is king!
The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved.
He will judge the peoples with equity.”
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
let the field exult, and everything in it.
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
before the Lord; for he is coming,
for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with his truth.

Psalm 96

Reflect

Charles Winburn Photography - Westminster Christmas Music (22 of 53)

The Children’s Choirs sing at Lessons and Carols in 2017. Photograph by Charles Winburn.

Cantate Domino canticum novum.

It is a Latin phrase that translates several Bible passages, but most particularly the beginnings of two Psalms (96 and 98), one of which is today’s scripture passage: Sing to the Lord a new song. But what did it mean to the ancient Hebrews to sing to Yahweh a new song? The Jews of ancient times did not share our modern popular culture’s obsession with novelty. After all, one of their most significant acts of worship preserves a ritual meal that recalls God’s act of freeing His people from bondage in Egypt more than 3,000 years ago. I am sure they were not interested in a musical version of Psalm 96 (or any of the other “Cantate Domino” passages) that was new just for the sake of being new, and which would be forgotten next week or next month when another rendition of “Cantate Domino” hit the charts.

But they were concerned, I believe, with saying or singing their Psalms with feeling —not simply reciting them mechanically by rote. Doing so brought a sense of newness they could prize, even while singing the same old words to the same old melody. You have to sing as if you are just making it up on the spot, as if it is a fresh thought that just came to you.

This should be especially true for us today when this passage from Psalm 96 is used as an Advent reading. As we read it (or sing it!), do we capture its joy and exultation? Reflecting upon it, I have been struck by the exuberance of the closing verses (11-13), where

the heavens are glad,
the earth rejoices,
the sea roars,
the field exults,
and the trees of the forest sing for joy,

for Christ “is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.”

He is coming! Let’s join with all creation in singing for joy!

Listen

The Season of Advent is one of quiet preparation for the coming of the Christ at Christmas and also for the return of Christ as our King. This final hymn in our annual Advent Lessons and Carols Service is a favorite tune and is paired with a triumphant text. In it, we are reminded of the Second Coming of Christ. Charles Wesley directly linked this text to the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come.” The majesty of the text is painted beautifully with the soaring tune and delicious harmonizations. David Willcocks, perhaps the best church musician of the 20th century, provides us with a full choir descant in the final verse along with lush reharmonizations. Please use the recording to become familiar with this terrific hymn as we worship together on Advent 2!

Lo, he comes with clouds descending,
once for our salvation slain;
thousand, thousand saints attending
swell the triumph of his train.
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
God appears on earth to reign.

Now redemption, long expected,
see in solemn splendor near!
All the saints, this world rejected,
Thrill the trumpet sound to hear:
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
See the day of God appear!

Yea, amen! Let all adore Thee,
high on Thine eternal throne;
Savior, take the pow’r and glory,
claim the kingdom for Thine own:
O come quickly, O come quickly,
Alleluia! Come, Lord, come!

Melody: Thomas Augustine Arne (1710–1778)
Harmony: Ralph Vaughan Williams (1710–1778)
Arranger: David Willcocks (1919–2015)
Text: Charles Wesley (1707–1788)

Pray

Second Sunday of Advent – The Candle of Peace

WPCScan_20181107_131142_Page_04

The Christmas story is full of humans who made hard and faithful choices to honor God. This is especially true of the story of Jesus’ birth. Even though she was afraid, Mary  decided she would follow God’s plan for her. The angel told Mary, “Do not be afraid.” Just as the angel brought Mary peace, Mary would bring peace to others. She was the mother of Jesus Christ—and we call Jesus the “Prince of Peace.” Tell a story or draw a picture about a time you felt peace.

Prayer

Dear Lord, help us to have the faith of Mary. Help us to have courage, and to bring peace to others. Amen.

Serve

Wanikiya tonpi wowiyuskin! (Merry Christmas!)

The wintry windswept high plains of North Dakota, where buffalo can be seen in their heavy winter coats grazing through the deep snow, are pretty far away from Bethlehem, but Christmas still comes to the Spirit Lake People in its own way. Joe Obermeyer serves as the youth and outreach coordinator at Bdecan Presbyterian Church in Spirit Lake and is sponsored in large part by Westminster. He recently described the holidays on the reservation. “Bdecan is a small family church,” says Joe. “Family is very important to members at Bdecan. Because of this, the people of Bdecan love gathering together for
special holiday services….The Christmas service is always very meaningful.”

As one of our national missions, Westminster sponsors several activities supporting the Dakota Sioux Mdewakan (Spirit Lake People) on the reservation at Devils Lake, North Dakota. WPC has partnered with the Bdecan Presbyterian Church for several years, and helped to install and fund Joe Obermeyer at Bdecan. Six Westminster members travelled to North Dakota to celebrate Joe’s fifth anniversary with the Bdecan ministry earlier this year. WPC visits the reservation most years, provides funds to support building improvements, and provides scholarships to students at the Cankdeska Cikana (Little Hoop) Community College. The WPC senior high youth have the Spirit Lake reservation on their four-year rotation for mission trips as well, and were there last in 2016.

For the last several years, Westminster members have filled out Christmas cards for Joe Obermeyer, but this year let’s widen our outreach! During the Alternative Giving Bazaar, please stop by the National Mission table and write out a Christmas greeting to one of our friends at Spirit Lake (simply address it to “Our Friends at Bdecan”). If you cannot attend, feel free to write a card and leave it in the National Mission box in the church office.

 

 

Advent One – Week of December 2

The Word

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.

Micah 5:2–4 

Reflect

“L'arrivée au champ" by Charles Emile Jacque, New York Public Library Digital Collections.

“L’arrivée au champ” by Charles Emile Jacque, New York Public Library Digital Collections.

ֵצֵ֔א לִֽהְיֹ֥ות מֹושֵׁ֖ל בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל
yese liyowt mowosel be’Yisrael
From you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel.

Ancient words of ancient dreams.

When Micah preached seven centuries before Christ, he was mostly concerned with local problems: the suffering of the poor, the corruption of the kingdom, and the fall of Israel. The first half of his teachings are all accusation, woe, and destruction. Yet, halfway through the book bearing his name, he turns and speaks of hope and redemption – how Jerusalem will rise again, how the descendants of Jacob will have a new Exodus from slavery, and how a new king will rise to rule and protect. He says it will all start from the small town of Bethlehem, the birthplace of King David. But he also says it will begin in pain and agony, chaos and confusion.

Micah, quite frankly, had trouble seeing the forest for the trees – and how easy it is to be blinded by the tyranny of the immediate and miss the wider significance. His prophesy and preaching was all about how Israel would rise again, but he didn’t understand that the One who would come forth to rule, would rule far more than the ancient kingdoms. God would not come to rectify local politics. He would come to change the world.

The King that Micah prophesied did not come in thunder and righteous fire, but from the pain and agony of childbirth, carried out in the chaos of a crowded town during a census. He did not rise up and expel invaders, but He would overturn the tables in the temple – and, in doing so, overturn centuries of tradition. His origin may have been from the most ancient of days (“In the beginning was the Word…” [John 1:1]) but His impact would be for centuries to come. The flock he fed grew not to rebuild Jerusalem, but to become one of the most powerful forces in human history.

How easy it is to be mired in tradition when the new life that awaits us is so difficult to imagine. Even Matthew, when he quoted Micah in his gospel, probably lingered on the soft consonants and poetic cadences of this prophesy in Hebrew, and probably nurtured those promises of a Jerusalem ascendant. So is it also easy for us to be mired in our personal and local problems and miss that there is a greater vision that God holds for us. We are like students fretting tomorrow’s classwork but missing the vision of college and the life beyond it that awaits us – like the patient dreading the surgery but missing the cure.

That is why, even as we heed God’s call to be shepherds to His world, we must remember that this world is such a small part of what God has in store for all of us – and how amazing it is that a God who can set an entire universe to order, can still find the language that speaks to each of us personally.

Listen

“Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland” (English: “Savior of the Nations, Come”) is a Lutheran chorale of 1524 with words written by Martin Luther. The chorale was used as the prominent hymn for the first Sunday of Advent for centuries. The tune – simple and beguiling – fits perfectly with this season of preparation for the great Feast of the Nativity.  At the late service, on Sunday, a quartet of voices will sing each of the four verses with organ pieces (called Chorale Preludes) inserted between each. The remaining verses are included below.

Saviour of the nations, come; virgin's son, make here your home. Marvel now, O heav'n and earth, that the Lord chose such a birth.

From God’s heart the Savior speeds;
back to God his pathway leads;
out to vanquish death’s command,
back to reign at God’s right hand.

Now your manger, shining bright,
hallows night with newborn light.
Night cannot this light subdue;
let our faith shine ever new.

Praise we sing to Christ the Lord,
virgin’s son, incarnate Word!
To the holy Trinity
praise we sing eternally.

This week’s recording is of this tune played on the Westminster Organ. Verse 1 is just the melody and showcases the foundation stops in the positiv division. Verse 2 is performed on the Oboe. Verse 3 is a choral prelude by German Baroque composer Dietrich Buxtehude. Verse 4 returns to only the melody and features our “chiffy” flute: the small percussive sound at the beginning of each note is a “chiff,” and is cause by the sudden rush of air into the pipe.

Pray

WPCScan_20181130_115259_0001First Sunday of Advent – The Candle of Hope

Advent is a time of preparation. We spend a lot of time getting ready for Christmas during Advent—buying presents, making food, sending cards. It can be exhausting! For families, it can be a time of stress and over-stimulation and we tend to forget about finding comfort and peace in God’s words to us. This week, think about how God brings “comfort” to you. When we find God’s comfort, we are able to “hope— where do you feel hopeful? At dinner this week, or before bedtime, tell a story about a time you were comforted.

Prayer

Dear Lord, help us to remember your comfort and hope. Help us to bring comfort and hope to others. Amen.

Serve

AGB 2018

Though Christmas is still weeks away, we have been bombarded for months by Christmas commercials, all telling us what we can or should buy to make someone’s Christmas bright.  As a community of Christian faith, we join in that desire to bring joy to others, though we attribute the light we share to a different source. “I am the light of the world,” Jesus said (John 8:12).  Jesus also said, “I do not give to you as the world gives” (John 14:27). In that spirit, Westminster celebrates its annual Alternative Giving Bazaar (AGB), a festival of giving that provides an opportunity to honor friends and family with gifts in their names to nearly twenty organizations supported by our Local, National and International Mission Committees.

One purchase gives rise to two gifts:

  • to the people whom these donations will serve, and
  • to members of your family, friends, co-workers or neighbors whom you enable to be a part of this expression of love and care.

The Alternative Giving Bazaar is also a great introduction to the mission ministries of our church. This year, the Alternative Giving Bazaar will be held on December 2 and 9, after the 11:00 a.m. service in Fellowship Hall. As part of your Advent devotion, make a point of visiting one of the tables and making a connection with the mission representative. We will also have children’s activities to help our young ones engage the bazaar. If you cannot attend, go to the church web site to read the AGB catalog and prayerfully consider finding ways to support one of the featured groups with time, talent or treasure. Doing so will indeed infuse a measure of Christ’s light into the darkness of this world.