Advent Two – Week of December 8

The Word

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.

Isaiah 11:1-10

Reflect

nypl.digitalcollections.510d47dc-94e3-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99.001.w

Rare Book Division, The New York Public Library. “Rosa gallica” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1799.

I was once at a Christmas party with the supporters of the Alexandria Symphony. Then-Maestro Kim Allen Kluge was playing Christmas carols on the piano while a group of us sang along. We were singing “Lo, How a Rose E’re Blooming” when halfway through, I realized I was the only one still singing. I looked at the Maestro, and he said, “It’s great! Keep singing!”

To me, it’s not Christmas without this song. It has been special to me since I first learned it as a teenager. It reminds me of the many friends I have had in choruses and church choirs. When we get together at Christmas reunions, we still sing it in four-part harmony.

The devotional scripture for today foretells the birth of the Messiah. It has been dated to the seventeenth century, before the birth of Jesus. It clearly foretells that this Messiah will come forth from the line of David (Jesse’s son). For this reason, Christians have always traced the lineage of Jesus through the House of David to prove that He is the long-expected savior come to set his people free. Both Matthew and Luke include a genealogy at the beginning of their gospels to make this point.

Until modern times, most people could not read, but they could sing. This is why hymns of all types were so important in the Church—they told the story of Christ in a form that was easy for people to understand and to memorize. “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” is not just a beautiful carol, it was a way for Christians to recall Isaiah’s prophesy and its meaning.

Lo, how a rose e’re blooming
From tender stem hath sprung
Of Jesse’s lineage coming
As those of old have sung.
It came a floweret bright,
Amid the cold of winter
When half-spent was the night.

Isaiah ‘twas foretold it
The rose I have in mind.
With Mary we behold it
The Virgin Mother kind.
To show God’s love aright
She bore for us a savior
When half-spent was the night
.

Listen

This week’s passage is my favorite from the Book of Isaiah. I always find a way to include it in Advent Lessons & Carols services, and this year is no exception. While there are many carols and anthems that reflect on this text, our terrific associate for children’s music, Molly Roden, found a perfect fit in our own library. Listen above to a recording of our children’s choirs singing a portion of “A Shoot Shall Come Forth Out of Jesse” by Richard Horn. Horn chooses to set several verses from Isaiah 11 and 32 in this anthem:

A shoot shall come forth out of Jesse,
And a bud shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of life shall be with him,
The spirit of wisdom and truth.

From out of the wells of salvation
Will he draw us the water of life;
His waist shall be girdled with justice,
The heart of his heart shall be Love.

He’ll come from the end of his heaven,
And the earth shall be torn from its place;
Our lives shall be filled with his radiance
As floodwaters cover the sea.

Refrain:
Then the lamb shall lie down with the leopard,
And the lion eat straw with the ox,
For the hand of a Child shall lead them
To the peaceable kingdom of God.

It is the words of the refrain that are most meaningful to me. May the voices of the children of Westminster remind us all of the promise foretold by the prophet Isaiah as our prayers for peace and concord ascend to the throne of heaven.

Pray

Second Sunday of Advent – The Candle of Peace

What is peace? Where can we find peace for ourselves, our family, our community, our world? How do we help others find peace? In this season of Advent, take the time to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas and find peace within yourself. Spread that peace to others. Use the word peace at your gatherings, dinners and prayers.

The children of Westminster were asked to talk about the word peace. This is their response:

Peace.png

 

Prayer

Dear Lord, thank you for giving us peace. May we find it within ourselves and help give it to others.

Serve

mission-01.jpeg

Each Christmas season, we look through Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus and remark at the accomplished and God-fearing ancestors of Him. One of those is Ruth, known not only as David’s grandmother, but also as one who gleaned Boaz’s fields to provide her and her mother-in-law Naomi enough to eat. Like Ruth, we at Westminster glean—gather produce left after a harvest—twice each year to provide food for those who need it.

In the summer, we glean corn through Healthy Harvest Food Bank, an organization which organizes gleaners to harvest fresh produce that has been left behind after farms in the Northern Neck of Virginia have finished their harvest. The produce is then taken to food banks within the Northern Neck region of Virginia, so that people can have fruits and vegetables when they otherwise may not be able to afford it. In the fall, Westminster gleans apples through the Society of St. Andrew. They coordinate produce gleaning across Virginia and, like Healthy Harvest, donate it to local food pantries. This year, we gleaned truckloads of apples and corn through the two organizations.

Though it is a little cold for us to be gleaning this Advent season, the National Missions team hopes you will keep our summer and fall opportunities in mind as you plan out your 2020 calendars. In addition to our annual gleaning trips, Westminster also contributes financially to the two organizations.

If you are interested further in Healthy Harvest Food Bank or the Society of St. Andrew, explore hhfb.org or endhunger.org/virginia. Please also pray this week for those who farm and those who glean food that will feed the Ruths and Naomis of the world.

 

Cover Art: Two Trees, first half 1800s. Johann Jacob Dorner (German, 1775-1852). The Cleveland Museum of Art.

 

Advent One – Week of December 1

The Word

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 

But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” 

He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” 

Genesis 3:6–12 

Reflect

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“Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden,” Nathaniel Currier (1813–1888), Springfield Museums.

Then the eyes of both were opened, and [Adam and Eve] knew they were naked; And the Lord God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them.
(vv. 3:7 and 3:21) 

Through the ages, the church has regarded Jesus Christ as the new Adam, who came to save humanity from the tragic sin that originated from (or is epitomized by) the “old” Adam and his wife, Eve. 

A theological question arises: Had Adam and Eve chosen not to eat forbidden fruit, would Christ have needed to come? Should we be somehow grateful for the First Couple’s tragic disobedience, without which we might not know the love and mercy of our Lord? This strand of thinking exists in the historical church, which explains in part why this “bad news” text is part of the Advent cycle of readings, but it can be hard to accept. Would we celebrate a cancer because of the joy of its remission? Would we embrace the ravages of war, without which we would not know the relief of armistice? 

And yet, so often we hear those emerging from periods of great ruin and suffering describe how paradoxically grateful they are for their hells, because of the new life that emerged through them. I have heard people express gladness for their battles with addiction, which shaped them into new people, capable of greater love and forgiveness. I have seen a friend nearly destroyed by his divorce nonetheless embrace it as a part of the journey that led him to the wife and marriage he now cherishes. In the church, we honor the cross for a similar reason, as we acknowledge how a grotesque tool of torture and death became an instrument of eternal life. It is this perspective that allows us to call the terror of Good Friday, “good.” 

The point of this is not to solve riddles (is darkness really a necessity of light?) or be persuaded to celebrate suffering or sin of any kind as a prerequisite of healing or forgiveness. Our invitation, instead, is to celebrate and anticipate the ways in which the God of our faith shines light in the midst of darkness so that even our horrors can become vessels carrying the possibility of transformation and gratitude. If Adam and Eve’s shame in seeing their nakedness led them to receive the very fabric of God’s mercy, may we in Advent look upon all that is unworthy of praise as the raw material through which we receive the joy that awaits us in Christ. 

And so we pray anew the prayer of the ancient church, saying, “Come, Lord Jesus!” 

Listen

O Come, O Come Emmanuel

As we begin this season of preparation and expectation, there is nothing more appropriate than the beloved carol, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Like much of the music of this season, the music for this carol began its life in the 12th century. The text is taken from the so-called “O Antiphons,” and is more ancient than the music. We can find references to these dating all the way back to the 6th century. 

Originally, there were five “O Antiphons;” later, two more were added. The first letters of the Latin titles, from last to first, form an acrostic – ero cras – meaning, “Tomorrow, I will come.” 

O Sapientia (O Wisdom)
O Adonai (O Lord)
O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse)
O Clavis David (O Key of David)
O Oriens (O Dayspring)
O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations)
O Emmanuel (O With Us is God) 

We will all join in singing this carol at Advent Lessons & Carols on Friday, December 6 and Sunday, December 8. For today’s recording, you will hear our own Dr. Ben Hutchens performing the original plainsong chant, in Latin. 

Pray

 

First Sunday of Advent – The Candle of Hope

Advent is a time of hope. It is hard for us to remember this when we think about all that we have or want to do. When your family is baking, wrapping, setting up the tree, shopping, or writing cards, remember what Advent is about. When the stress, hurriedness and over-stimulation of the season happens, stop, breathe and say the word hope. Use the word hope at your gatherings, dinners and prayers. 

The children of Westminster were asked to talk about the word hope. This is their response:

Hope

Prayer

Dear Lord, thank you for giving us hope.

Serve

AGB 2019

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: 

1) to the people whom these donations will serve, and
2) 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 AGB is also a great introduction to the mission ministries of our church. This year, the AGB will be held after the 11:00 a.m. services on December 8 and 15 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 wpc-alex.org/bazaar 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.