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The Song That Never Ends

(A Meditation for Christmas Eve 2018, based on Luke 2:8-20)

It is most decidedly not a Christmas song; and in fact, I’d suspect that the only way you might even know it is if you had little children in your life round about the early 1990’s.  As performed by puppeteer Shari Lewis and “Lamb Chop,” it went a little something like this:

“This is the song that never ends,
Yes, it goes on and on my friend.
Some people started singing it,
Not knowing what it was,
And they’ll continue singing it forever just because…
This is the song that never ends….”

You get the idea; this truly is a song that once begun, goes on and on and on… suffice to say it’s a melody tailor-made for long car rides and antsy kids (if not for the parents or grandparents on board who are at the end of their last frayed nerve!).  Indeed, it’s one of those songs that’s silly and fun and all manner of irritating, all at the same time!  And the truth of it is, and here’s the reason I risked putting that tune into your heads tonight, this is pretty much how some people feel about Christmas music!  Even I must confess that as much as I absolutely love the music of this season, nonetheless there are some songs in the holiday canon that just seem to be played on an endless loop! I mean, especially given all the discussion this year, how many versions of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” or “Santa Baby” can there actually be?  It’s no wonder that there are those out there who are very ready to be done with these songs for another year (not me, not yet…. I’m just sayin’!).

As much as I hate to admit it, I’m aware that even some of the sacred carols of Christmas – the beautiful songs that we’re singing here tonight – sometimes risk having that same effect on people; but I dare say for a different reason than sheer repetition.  After all, Christmas carols by their very nature are non-traditional and even a bit irregular, both musically and lyrically.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that (!); as the late Halford Luccock once put it, some of the best hymns are the ones that are labeled “irregular,” especially at Christmas.  “Irregular?” he wrote.  “I should say so! The whole thing was highly irregular!  A baby in a barn.  What could be more irregular than that?  Shockingly irregular!”  But then again, that’s the way of God, isn’t it; if there’s no room in inn, “God will find a barn or other place in which God’s new word can be born.”

The truth is, friends, is that ours is an irregular God who is utterly determined to come to us and abide with us, even in the guise of a tiny, helpless infant born in a stable surrounded by farm animals; and that is the reason that we sing… again and again, and on and on!

In our worship yesterday we talked a little bit about the angels’ glorious song of peace and joy on that first Christmas night, and also about the shepherds “living out in the fields” who were the ones blessed to hear it.  It was, in the words of the old hymn, “music of the spheres,” a heavenly song sung by a heavenly host, a song as bright and as bold as the star that shone overhead.  It was truly “good news of great joy for all the people… a Savior, who is the Messiah the Lord,” and it was, to say the very least, a singular, revelatory moment for the shepherds just as it was for all of creation; it was in every describable way, a song for the ages.

That said, however, I wonder how it was for those shepherds “after the angels had left them and gone into heaven,” and after the song was done and all that was left was the enveloping quiet of that holy night, a calm only broken by the occasional bleat of the sheep who’d been sleeping nearby.  We know, of course, that their first instinct was to go immediately to Bethlehem to “see this thing that has taken place,” but what I want to know is if as the shepherds went “with haste,” as Luke puts it, were they singing?   That incredible song just sung by a literal choir of angels; was that still going round and round in their heads?  Was the song on their lips, were they trying to emulate the melodies and harmonies as they rushed into town, or could they have been simply whistling as they went?

Well, Luke doesn’t say exactly; we’re only told that just as they’d been told they could, the shepherds did find the manger and Mary, Joseph and the child within, and that when they did see this new, holy family, the shepherds were compelled to tell Mary and Joseph about everything that they’d seen and heard earlier that night.  And don’t know about you, beloved, but I have to believe that as they did, those shepherds sang!  And you know they sang with joy, they sang with enthusiasm, they sang loudly and maybe even a bit off key (!); the kind singing you do when you’re so filled up that you don’t even care how it sounds to those around you!

And the thing was, those shepherds were just getting started!  Even as they left the manger, even as they knew they needed to get back to the fields and the business of tending the sheep, all the while they were “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.”  And why not? The child was born, the Messiah had come and now the world and their very lives had changed forever!  This song, the song the angels sang, the song that was forever on their lips and in their hearts, this song of God’s redeeming love in Jesus who is called Emmanuel… this was, and is, the song that never ends!

And even now, over 2,000 years later, we still sing – again and again, and on and on – in joyful praising of the God who loves us so much that he will not rest until each and all of us have been embraced and so caught up in his tremendous and infinite love that we have no other choice than to sing!

Beloved, if I have but one prayer for you on this holy night, it would be that you’re singing; really singing, not just tonight in the beauty of candlelight and in the fellowship of kindred hearts together on Christmas Eve, but always… after Christmas Day, into the new year and beyond… that you will be so moved by the gift of this holy child and in him the presence of the living God that you will be singing with joy and faith and purpose that divine song of peace and love that never, ever ends.

The late Ann Weems once asked if “there are still those who long to hear an angel’s song and touch a star?  To kneel beside some other shepherd in the hope of catching a glimpse of eternity in a baby’s smile?  Are there still those who sing ‘Peace on earth, goodwill to all’? If there are,” Weems prayed, “then O Lord, keep ablaze their flickering candle in the darkness of this world!”

Well, here on Mountain Road in Concord, the candles are flickering and the light of the Christ Candle is about to be shared among us in this beautiful and sacred space, cutting through the darkness of this night and of the world that surrounds us.  May this light truly fill us with all HOPE in believing; may it awaken us to the PEACE that only Christ can bring; may it fill us with JOY and make us aware of divine and infinite LOVE…

…and may it inspire us, today and always, to SING!

Merry Christmas, my dear friends, thanks be God, and

AMEN!

c. 2018  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

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Posted by on December 24, 2018 in Christmas, Jesus, Joy, Music, Sermon, Sermon Series

 

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Angels Round About the Manger

(A Meditation for Christmas Eve 2017, based on Luke 2:1-20)

The late Ann Weems, that wonderful Presbyterian poet and worship leader once wrote this little piece that has kept coming to my mind in this Advent and Christmas season:

“Wouldn’t it be grand to be an angel,” she wrote, “and have as your address ‘The Realms of the Glory of God’?  And swing on rainbows, and gather stars in your pockets, winging in and out of earth in a flurry of moondust with the messages of God?  Comforting the distressed, warning the righteous, delivering the just, [and] guarding little children?”

Now there you go!  Now isn’t that the perfect image of a Christmas angel?  Granted, it is a bit childlike in its description; but I don’t know about you, but I’m realizing that so much of how I think about the story of the first Christmas and those who were a part of it comes down to how I envisioned it when I was child!  For instance, I remember when I was very little having a picture book (it might well have been the “Little Golden Book” edition of The Littlest Angel, I’m not sure, because one of the angels in the story had a slingshot sticking out of his robe, which even then I thought was very impressive!); and I remember this one drawing in the book of all the angels in heaven gathering together to sing their alleluias to the newborn king.  And here they were, all the cherubim and seraphim singing and dancing, and holding; jumping and leaping from cloud to cloud and over one another leap frog style!  Basically what it was was the multitude of the heavenly host transformed into an elementary school playground!  Just a childhood fantasy, I know, but the thing is that image has always stuck with me even as an adult.  And by the way, why wouldn’t that wonderful moment of annunciation be filled with such ethereal joy and singing, and might I add, such a whole lot of fun as well?

That’s how I wanted to see it, anyway!

However… when you read the story from scripture,  what’s the first thing the angels say?  It’s “Do not be afraid!”   And understand, they say this not just on the hillside with the shepherds, but also in the moment when the angel comes to tell Mary that God had chosen her to bear the Christ child, and also when the angel appears to Joseph in a dream to tell him that this child of Mary’s was of the Holy Spirit; it’s always the same thing:  “Do not be afraid,” as though the angels’ presence had not inspired joy and celebration as much as fear and dread!

And that’s an interesting thing to think about!  For instance, it’s hard to imagine how these shepherds, who by virtue of their profession and their very nature had to have been quite tough and rough around the edges, could have been afraid of anything; and yet we’re told specifically that they were “terrified,” or in the language of the old King James translation, “sore afraid.” Perhaps the angels’ presence was so mysterious and overpowering that they might well have fled or panicked; maybe the bright radiance that suddenly cut through the night was such that for a time they were both blinded and bewildered by what was happening; or perhaps they sensed that this was a sign of some judgment, and like criminals who fear getting caught in the act, they suddenly felt the need to hide from sight!  Whatever the reason, there was fear in their hearts; for what was immediately clear, to the shepherds, as it had been to Mary and Joseph before them, was that this was no less than an appearance from a messenger of God!

So the first words of the angel needed to be one of assurance, to keep them from running away, something to help them to open their ears and their hearts to what God wanted to tell them; this amazing good news of a great joy which was for all the people, “born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord;” a baby, of all things, wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in the manger!   And then, as if to emphasize the the greatness of this news, there was a multitude of angels singing their praises to God, saying “Glory to God in the highest!” And as that was happening, something even more incredible than the angels’ singing began to take place: the shepherds’ fear was gone, and in its place there was wonder, and joy, and the power of God’s intervening love for his people!

And when it was all over and the angels had returned to heaven, remember that the shepherds did not take the time to think about how scared they had been, nor to reflect on what had happened to them.  No… the shepherds went, and with haste, “to see this thing which [had] happened,” that the Lord had made known to them.  Fear was gone, replaced by need to see the child and tell the good news to everyone, everywhere!

The truth is, of course, that like the shepherds, you and I are scared too.   If we’re honest, then we know that fear is all-too-much a part of our daily lives; fear over a great many things in life and death: the kind of fear that holds us back, the fear that keeps us from giving of ourselves, the fear that keeps us from loving others and offering forgiveness.  Indeed, fear paralyzes us, imprisons us and often haunts us.  But here’s the good news; just as the angels appeared to shepherds on that holy night, we too are given that truly blessed assurance that we do not have to fear.  For you see, that loving, forgiving and redeeming presence of God is always with us in the person of Jesus Christ born in the manger of Bethlehem!  He’s there with us and for us, waiting to erase our guilt, to replace our shame with joy, and to warm our hearts so that we might truly love our neighbors as ourselves and to do our own part bring peace on earth.  The glory of God that is Christmas is  always that God comes, and intervenes, and in the face of fear truly gives us tidings of comfort and joy!

Yes, beloved, the angels who were round about the manger on that holy night long ago are still with us today, telling us the good news of God’s love and urging us on this night to faith; faith in a God who loves us and walks with us in whatever we face in life, giving us the assurance of his peace that the world can neither give nor take away.

So watch the skies tonight, dear friends; keep your eyes cast toward the stars, and listen for the songs of heaven playing even now in your heart.  Have no fear; do not be afraid, for on this holy night divine, Christ is born in Bethlehem and good news is ours!

Thanks be to God for that perfect love that casts out fear . . .

And may God bless you on this Christmas night.

AMEN and AMEN!

c. 2017  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
 

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Child of Light, Child of Grace

christmas-eve-2016(A Meditation for Christmas Eve 2016, based on Isaiah 9:2-7 and Luke 2:1-20)

One of the things that I find most compelling and beautiful about the story of Christmas is how the deep mystery and profound wonder of it is found amidst the most basic and earthy things of life: in the mud and hay of a stable with the sound and smell of animals all around; in the cold dampness of a silent, winter night; and especially in the most natural and some might say commonplace event of human life, and yet one that at the same time is among its most powerful and unique experiences:  the birth of a child!

One night a few Christmases ago I was out on one last quick trip out to a store to do some shopping and found myself waiting in a very long checkout line with a young couple who had also been out shopping, but in the company of their newborn: a beautiful, bright-eyed little baby boy no more than a month or two old.  Now, these parents were as proud of – and as attentive to – this child as you would expect them to be; and if their shopping cart was any indication, that little one was going to have way more gifts than he would ever know what to do with!

But it was also getting late, and the baby was understandably getting a little fussy (hey, we were all getting a little fussy; that line was very long, indeed!), and Mommy and Daddy were doing everything they could to calm him down.  They passed him back and forth, they gave him a bottle and a pacifier, they even did what I used to call “the Daddy Shuffle,” but nothing was working!  So by the time we were getting near to the counter, Mom and Dad were working double time to get the shopping cart unloaded; but it was too late, and the baby started to cry!  And although his parents were doing a commendable job even now in trying to settle him down, it was clear that this child had a very powerful set of lungs!

As I watched this, it got me to remembering Lisa’s and my three children when they were newborns, and how we realized early on that the cry of a new born baby is one of the beautiful and most awful sounds in all the world!  On the one hand, that sound is filled with what Patricia DeJong has described as “the urgent, insistent power of new life,” but at the same time, anybody who cares for a baby can also tell you that it is also an equally urgent demand for satisfaction and immediate attention: this very basic, human need each one of us is born with to be fed, to be changed, or simply to be held and loved.

And I’m watching these new parents, and I’m thinking, “There you go (!); if you haven’t figured it out yet, this is just the beginning!  Everything you know is going to be turned upside down and inside out; you’re in for the biggest change of your lives, a reversal of life as you once knew it.  Your house, your eating habits, your ability to sleep, to be awake, to work and even to love all change simply by the virtue of this child coming into the world.”  It does seem like a monumental change, and it is: but as all this was going on in the checkout line, here was the thing that I couldn’t help noticing: that one look at these parents, and you knew they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Well, beloved, tonight there has been another birth: “a child has been born for us, a son given to us,” a child born in the manger of Bethlehem, surrounded only by his mother and his earthly father, along with assortment of farm animals and some visiting shepherds. Tonight we’ve happened upon a moment that’s utterly silent and filled with serenity, and notable for its incredible simplicity; but make no mistake, this is a birth that’s turning the world upside down and is about to disrupt everything we’ve ever held to be true about life, for the sake of making all things new!  For unto us this night is a child who brings good tidings to the afflicted and binds up the wounds of the broken hearted; this is a child who by his very being will bring forth gladness rather than mourning, and praise instead of a faint spirit; this is a child who heralds a new realm where love and justice will prevail, and where the peace we’ve longed for so long will finally come to pass.  This is the child who is named “Wonderful Counselor, Might God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  He is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah, the Lord; the one who will grow to be prophet and teacher, healer and master and friend, the Savior of us all; but on this silent, holy night, he’s simply a baby, a newborn crying out in the night to be held, and to be fed and to be loved.

Throughout the weeks of Advent, we’ve talked a lot about waiting, watching and preparing for the moment of this birth. Some of that has involved getting ready for the big celebration of Christmas that has already begun; but it’s also been, and primarily so, about preparing our hearts spiritually for his coming.  And one of the most important parts of preparing is understanding that our coming to the manger tonight is not the end of the journey, but merely its beginning.  It’s the knowledge that now the baby grows up, and that now we are being called to walk with this child Jesus as he grows to adulthood, as he begins his ministry of salvation on the roads of Galilee, as he heals the sick and gives hope to those without hope.  It’s the realization that as eventually he turns his heart toward Jerusalem and finally to the cross of Golgotha, we will have to go with him. You see, as beautiful and joyous a thing it is for us to approach the manger tonight, you and I need to understand that this is the beginning of something more; something deeper; something wholly divine.  Friends, this silent, holy night as an affirmation that Jesus has come to change our world, to give us life, and in end of that life, as the song goes, “to take us to heaven and live with [him] there.”

This the journey that awaits us, beloved; but may I say here that it’s a journey that will wait till tomorrow?   Because tonight is a time for adoration; it’s our moment to come to the manger and gaze upon this “Child of Light” who lies sleeping there while angels keep glad watch from above.  Tonight is our night to be as the shepherds  who were compelled to come and see what God has done; tonight is our time to be as the magi, bringing the child our gifts of the heart that pay him homage.  Tomorrow the journey begins; but on this holy night, we come bringing praise and thanksgiving for the gift we have received of this “Child of Grace;” this little baby boy who with every breath, brings us closer and closer to the Almighty and his love.

Thanks be to God, who by grace and in the fullness of time, has sent his son to us bathed in his glorious light.

Merry Christmas, dear friends.

And AMEN!

c. 2016  Rev. Michael W. Lowry

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2016 in Christmas, Jesus, Joy, Sermon

 

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