Singing Our Faith in Advent

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Advent is one of the times I remember most clearly from my early years. My parents would gather my older brother and I around the Advent wreath each night to light candles and sing hymns about the coming of Christ. That tradition is one we have continued in our own family, since the time our children were young until today.

When our children were younger, they couldn’t read the words of many hymns, so we always sang the first verse and chorus of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” together. They quickly caught on and, during their earlier years, made up their own hand motions to parts of the chorus. I don’t think they make the hand motions anymore, but we still sing that song regularly in the evenings of Advent as we light the candles before reading Scripture, a devotional, and praying together.

There is something powerful about singing our faith. We experience that when we sing with others in corporate worship, whether in formal worship services or informally with a few friends or family members. Singing engages our minds and our spirits in worship. We both consciously and subconsciously enter into the meaning of the songs with our whole being. This depth of engagement is enhanced when we return to the same songs again and again, year after year. That may be why we find tears in our eyes when we sing a song that brings back memories of dear friends or family members like “How Great Thou Art” or “It Is Well (With My Soul).”

I didn’t think of it this way when my children were younger, but I realize now that we have been singing our faith into our lives for years. Every Advent, we again gather in this simple ceremony of singing, candle-lighting, Scripture, and prayer. There is not much to it at one level, but there is much more happening beyond what we see. The fabric of faith – Jesus has Immanuel – is being woven into our lives one strand at a time. The symphony of God’s story is rising up and we are joining in with it one note at a time.

So, let’s sing our faith during this season of Advent. No matter whether it is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” or some other song, may we be caught up into the symphony of God’s good story with our voice and in our lives.

The Beloved Anointed of God: Advent Devotional, Week 1

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Read Psalm 2

The story of God’s people, Israel, in the Bible feels like a story of people constantly looking for something. When Abraham and Sarah follow God’s call, they end up looking for a child of promise until Isaac is born. When Joseph is sold off into captivity by his brothers, he is looking for freedom, forgiveness, and a new beginning. When the people end up enslaved in Egypt, they call out to God, looking for deliverance.

Eventually, God’s people begin to look for a sort of leader who will come forth chosen by God. God raises up the judges one after another to fill this role, but the people want something more dependable. They ask for a king, like the nations around them. First it is Saul, then David, and eventually a succession of kings, some who are good and others who are bad. All the while, there is a deep searching for the kind of king truly set apart by God.

There is a word for that sort of king: the anointed one or, in Hebrew, messiah. When a leader was anointed, oil was poured upon their head as an outward symbol of God’s Spirit being poured upon them for the role of leadership. All through Scripture we hear the longing for an anointed one to come and make things right, both internally for God’s people and in relation to the peoples surrounding them.

Psalm 2 is a prayer song of that latter kind, calling out for God and His anointed to set things right with the nations raging around them. The anointed one is described as the son of the Most High, one whom the nations should kiss as a sign of their service to that kingly figure.

The early believers in Jerusalem later quote this psalm when they are being persecuted by religious and political authorities in Acts 4. It becomes a point of reference for them as they pray that God would enable them to step forward boldly to witness to Jesus, the true Messiah.

When we read Psalm 2 with Jesus in mind, suddenly some phrases take on new meaning. Verses 11 and 12 read: “Serve the Lord with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling. Kiss his son.”Once these words may have sounded like a demand from the writer, but now, through Christ, they sound like an invitation to devoted worship. It is probably no mistake that the most common word for worship in the New Testament (proskyneō / προσκυνέω) literally means to “kiss toward” someone as a sign of reverent adoration.

This Advent, may the words of Psalm 2 help us sing the song of the beloved anointed one of God, Jesus the Messiah, who is worthy of our love and worship.

REFLECTION QUESTIONS FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT:

  1. When you think back on Christmases past, what have been things you’ve sought throughout the season that determine whether it was a “successful” season for you or your family?
  2. Knowing that Christ is the anointed one, the promised Messiah of God, what are the ways you will keep Him as the object of your focus/worship this Christmas?

FAMILY TALK WEEK 1

INTENDED FOR FAMILIES WITH YOUNG CHILDREN

There’s a playground game called “Captain, May I?”. Maybe you’ve played it before? The “Captain” stands on one end of the play area while everyone else lines up at the opposite end. The Captain calls out a player and gives directions: Take five hops forward, or Spin in place three times.” The player called on must first ask: “Captain, may I?”. If a player forgets to ask, they are sent back to the starting line!

Of course, everyone wants to be the captain! It’s fun to be the one in charge, telling some players to go and others to stop, and really fun to send some all the way back to the start! This is what some people think it’s like to be king—telling everyone else what to do. The king is IN CHARGE!

But, who is in charge of the king?

This is what happened to God’s people. God wanted to be their king, but His people wanted to be like all the other nations—they wanted a person to be king. So, God allowed this. Sometimes, these kings were good, but sometimes they were bad—really bad.

Then, God sang a Savior Song! We hear it in Psalm 2: “I have placed my king on my holy mountain of Zion” (verse 6). God would set apart a special king, his own Son, Jesus, to be a king over all other kings!

This is what we celebrate throughout the season of Advent—the coming of God’s Son Jesus as the chosen, anointed king who would make everything right again. That’s why later in Psalm 2 God says:

Kings, be wise!
Rulers of the earth, be warned!
Serve the LORD and have respect for him.
Celebrate his rule with trembling. (verses 10-11, NIrV)

As God’s people today, we can be happy knowing that Jesus is charge! And we can worship Him as the king over all other leaders on earth.

[This is part of the Eastbrook Church 2019 Advent devotional, “Songs of the Savior.”]

A Prayer for the First Sunday in Advent

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Almighty God,
give us grace that we may cast away
the works of darkness, and put upon us the armor of light,
now in the time of this mortal life
in which thy Son Jesus Christ came
to visit us in great humility;
that in the last day, when he shall come again
in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Source: The Book of Common Prayer (1928)

 

The Weekend Wanderer: 30 November 2019

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

Screen Shot 2019-11-26 at 1.36.36 PM“The First Christian” – Some Christians, in an effort to avoid what can become an overemphasized Mariology, downplay the role of Mary in our faith. Luke’s telling of the gospel story, however, highlights Mary as an ideal picture of true Christian discipleship that all of us should look to as an example. The preeminent prayer of the life surrendered to God comes from Mary’s lips: “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38). Jennifer Powell McNutt and Amy Beverage Peeler’s article, “The First Christian,” offers a moving exploration of Mary as Christian exemplar.

 

Missional“Futurist Church Series :: Where is ‘Missional’ 10 Years after the ‘Conversation’ Peaked?” – The past ten to twenty years of church ministry conversation seems to have been dominated by the word “missional.” Sometimes, it seems, “missional” has become more of a buzzword than a word of substance, but it is still an important theme in the ministry of the church in a post-Christian era.  This interesting interview brings together five important voices in the early missional movement: Alan Hirsch, Michael Frost, David Fitch, Brad Brisco, and Jeff Vanderstelt.

 

advent-playlist_v2-01“An Advent Playlist” – Music is one of the most powerful means for engaging in both cognitive and non-cognitive worship and spiritual formation. At one level, our conscious mind intellectually engages with the words and beauty of music. At another level, our spirit engages non-cognitively with the emotive swells of music and find that songs linger in our memory and heart beyond mere intellectual consideration of it. As we prepare for Advent, I was glad to stumble upon this curated playlist on Spotify for Advent by Victoria Emily Jones from the Art & Theology blog. There was much here that I wasn’t familiar with, which is a gift at this time of year.

 

Fred Rogers“Mr. Rogers was a televangelist to toddlers” – When I graduated from high school, I participated in a recognition banquet where each student had to name one of their heroes. I said “Mr. Rogers,” which was partly a joke but partly truth. I appreciated how Fred Rogers’ faith had shaped his life toward public witness. With all the appreciation of Rogers’ life and influence in recent years, and in the form of two recent movies, Daniel Burke’s article at CNN is a welcome testimony to a Christian life lived as a public witness toward the love and hope found in God.

 

_109823848_gettyimages-1135630791“Egyptian woman ‘wins court battle’ over unequal inheritance laws” – There is a lot of discussion these days about faith and the public square, with most of the examples coming from Western society. We often ask not only “how should Christian faith interact with politics?”, but “can Christian faith really make a difference in the public discourse?” Here is a quite different example from Egypt, where Coptic Christianity collided with Islamic Sharia Law in relation to legality of gender equity for inheritance. “A Coptic Christian woman in Egypt says she has won a legal battle to receive the same inheritance as her brothers. Under the Islamic Sharia inheritance laws the country mainly relies on, female heirs inherit half that of male relatives. Huda Nasrallah, 40, brought the case to test the legality of the statute. The human rights lawyer built her case around Christian doctrine of equal inheritance. Two courts had earlier ruled against her based on Sharia. Sharia has been used in personal status law regardless of an individual’s religion, and this verdict could set a precedent.”

 

Music: Handel’s Messiah” by Jenny & Tyler from Christmas Stories.

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]

Thanksgiving 2019 at Eastbrook Church

I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds. (Psalm 9:1)
Thanksgiving is a day for family to gather and give thanks for what God has done (and is doing). Join us today at 10 AM as the Eastbrook Church family gathers to praise and thank God for His goodness, mercy, grace, and blessings in our lives.
As part of our Thanksgiving celebration, we welcome contributions to our annual Thanksgiving offering, which goes to support our partners in mission around the world. This year’s Thanksgiving offering will support local church partners working in northeast Syria and the work of Sheepfold Ministries and Francis Omondi in the Horn of Africa.