The Second of the 12 Steps of groups like Alcoholics Anonymous is this: “We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” This Sunday is all about the epiphany of seeing that Higher Power made manifest in nature and in our lives, and especially in the transformational moment when Jesus came out of the River Jordan baptized by John, blessed by God and driven by the Holy Spirit to begin his ministry (Matthew 3:13-17). The Higher Power is all about transforming our lives and our world to be more Spirit-filled and Spirit-led, to be more aligned with God’s realm of love and life and light, mercy and justice and peace.
The scriptures and music want to shake us and wake us to this truly amazing grace: we have access to this Higher Power! Isaiah says, “New things I now declare!” (42:1-9) Psalm 29 describes the world-changing Power of God in a thunderstorm coming off of the Mediterranean Sea. We can be changed and be instruments of change in our world with the help of this Power. In fact, we are not fulfilling our calling and accepting the full gift that Christ offers us if we are not living as continually transformed and transforming people. Continue reading Upcoming Service Notes: January 8, 2017, Baptism of Christ Sunday→
This Sunday falls in the middle of the twelve days of Christmas, but we will celebrate it as Epiphany (January 6th). Epiphany was one of the most important and ancient church holy days, predating Christmas itself. It has had other scriptures associated with it over the millenia, but we read the story of the Magi following the star to Jesus. (Matthew 2:1-12) The point of all the scriptures and all the Sundays of the Epiphany Season is the recognition of the manifestation of God in Jesus and in the world (including in us). We will hear Isaiah telling us to “see, and be radiant,” because when we truly see the light of God in the world and let it fill us, we ourselves shine. (Isaiah 60:1-6) What better way could there be to enter a new year?
We are blessed to have many manifestations of the Holy Spirit in this church that we can look to with joy. We will name some of them and reflect on how we can see more. Beauty opens our senses to the wondrous, transcendent presence of the creative force of love and life and light that we name God. We will hear and sing some beautiful music including three hymns and a little bonus (We Three Kings, What Child Is This, and What Star Is This, plus one verse of O Little Town of Bethlehem). The choir will sing the Bach harmonized chorale, “O Morning Star, How Fair and Bright” and a contemporary spiritual carol, “Jesus, The Light of the World.” John will play pieces by Murschhauser, Dandrieu and Pachelbel.
Below are two very different treats for the ear and soul. The first is a recording of the short and beautiful Pachelbel piece that John will play. The second is the amazing choir of the Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia, one of the oldest African American congregations in the country, singing “Jesus, the Light of the World.”
Advent has another week to go, the week of deepest darkness that comes before the glorious Christmas dawn. The more we immerse in the spirit of Advent–making time for our spiritual life doing things like reading, praying, getting out in nature, serving people in need–the more joyous our Christmas can be. Yet joyous outbursts are part of Advent, too–we felt it last week on Pageant Sunday and we will feel it Christmas Eve in the first half of the 6:00 PM service.
We will begin this Sunday in joy, too, celebrating Christ’s birth by hearing some of the nativity story and singing “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” and “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” and “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.” The choir will sing “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and a trio of Betsy Alexander, Bridget Peters and Marcia Tomlinson will sing “Jesus Christ the Apple Tree.” John Atwood will be playing special music involving chimes and a major Bach Prelude and Fugue that is traditionally associated with Christmas. The sermon will reflect on the “Universal, Unconditional, Unstoppable Love” that we witness in the Christmas story, and that we continue to see at work in our lives and in the world today.
Yet like Christmas Eve, we will end the service quieting into the silent night of Advent still left ahead, singing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and the ancient plainsong benediction one last time. John’s postlude will be the Ukrainian Bell Carol.
Here is a Simon Preston recording of the Bach Prelude and Fugue in C Major that John will be playing:
This Sunday will be a glorious mix of high and low church art, all of it beautiful and moving. The children’s pageant will once again act out the story as our Diverse Musical Traditions Team sings the Gaither song, “Come and See What’s Happenin’ in the Barn!” We are hoping to have fourteen children participate, which is very exciting! The same team will also sing the classic bluegrass Christmas song, “Beautiful Star of Bethlehem” which has been recorded by everyone from Ralph Stanley to Emmylou Harris and over four hundred others.
Organist John Atwood will play the haunting Appalachian carol, “I Wonder As I Wander,” to complete the low church art. He will also play two pieces from the baroque high church art department, both by Johann Pachelbel, One of them will be a chorale prelude on the tune that the choir will sing as an Intoit, “From Heaven unto Earth I Come.”
Our congregational hymns will include “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Joy to the World” (the children will sing it with the choir at the end of the Pageant and the congregation will join in at the end) and “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus,” as well as the Benediction hymn set to the ancient plainchant Advent tune.
We will light the candle of Joy and read responsively from Psalm 126 and hear Luke 1:39-45 and John 15:9-11. The sermon title will be taken from the John passage, “So That My Joy May Be in You.” We will reflect on what it means to have Christ’s joy in us in very practical terms–it is the peak experience, the highest meaning and pleasure in life, and Christ is very clear that he wants us to experience it to the fullest. Why let anything stand in our way?
We light the candle of peace on the Second Sunday of Advent, and we immerse in the vision of Christ as the Prince of Peace coming to earth. Division, conflict, anxiety, terror, violence–all seem to be on the increase in our nation and in the world, so the Sunday of Peace has rarely been so welcome. We will immerse in its hope and joy and love this Sunday.
The prophets Isaiah and John the Baptist take center stage (Isaiah’s peaceable kingdom vision, 11:1-10 and John’s foretelling of Christ in Matthew 3:1-12), with a supporting role by John the Baptist’s father, Zechariah with his beautiful Benedictus about the tender mercy of God and the dawn from on high that is coming “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:68-79)
This is one of the most beautiful services of the church year. The children will bring in the greens to decorate the church during the Prelude, and they, along with members of the Search Committee, will light the Advent candle of Hope. We will sing three classic and beloved Advent carols, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “Wake, Awake for Night Is Flying,” and “Watchman, Tell Us of the Night.” We will sing a Benediction set to the oldest Advent tune, a plainchant that has been sung daily during Advent in monasteries for over a thousand years. We will hear scriptures with a message of hope and teachings on how to live in hope.
The choir will sing an Advent hymn from Spain as the introit, “Toda la Tierra (All Earth Is Waiting).” They will sing “Ah! Think Not the Lord Delayeth” as the Anthem with a text by one of the great hymnodists of the early 20th Century, Percy Dearmer, set to a J.B.König tune. Organist John Atwood will play three pieces from the Baroque era, one by Johann Sebastian Bach and the other two by his cousin, J. G. Walther.
Here are two of the organ pieces, starting with a Walther chorale prelude based on the hymn “Wake, Awake for Night Is Flying.” The second is the Advent piece by J.S. Bach that John will play as the Postlude.
This is one of the biggest Sundays in the church year–Thanksgiving, Reign of Christ Sunday, the last Sunday in the season of Pentecost, and New Year’s Eve–the new church year begins next Sunday, the 27th, with the First Sunday of Advent. In addition, this week we will be celebrating the Wild Game Supper (still tickets available, click here), and the highly successful Church World Service Kit drive of our Board of Mission and Social Action, and the completion of a program on God and Family by Cub Scout Caleb Peters. To top it all off, we will have a warned Congregational Meeting immediately following worship to consider whether to go forward with a study of what it would mean to become an Open and Affirming congregation.
This is one of those Sundays that has an evocative sound track–all many of us need to do is hear “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come,” or “We Gather Together,” or “Now Thank We All Our God,” and we feel an old familiar Thanksgiving feeling come over us, and memories of people and meals come flooding back. We will hear all three this Sunday, plus a Reign of Christ hymn, “Now Is the Time Approaching” (sung to the exuberant tune of “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus”), plus the beloved “Fairest Lord Jesus” sung by the choir. Organist John Atwood will play pieces by J. S. Bach (hear it below), William Selby and H. Clough-Leighter. Continue reading Upcoming Service Notes for November 20, 2016, Thanksgiving & Reign of Christ→
Advent begins on Sunday, November 27th. It is a season of preparation in the church year, and to many it is the most beautiful, spiritually rich and moving of them all. It is full of candles and greens and children’s wonder and excitement. It focuses on hope, peace, joy and love. It turns our hearts toward the light that shines in the darkness. Advent hymns and sacred music convey a mix of quiet longing and eager anticipation, as powerful in their own way as the awe and jubilation of Christmas music.
Advent is intended to help us pause and savor the quiet darkness, and help us open our hearts wide to prepare for the choirs of angels that will come singing their glorias to celebrate the birth of the light of the world. Advent teaches us how transformative it is simply to wait and watch and pray.
This Saturday, the 28th, we will hold a workshop in the church that will talk about the role of church leaders in difficult or anxious times. One of the principles of that leadership is that “We recognize that Beginning Again is a Way of Life – that we believe in the resurrection – that new life comes.” We tend to think of the 1500s on Reformation Sunday, and we tend to think of the departed on All Saints Day, but they are both important reminders that God is a reforming, reconciling and resurrecting force at work in our lives today, and saints are all around us right now, and we ourselves are saints when we open to that force and let it work through us.
Beginning again is at the heart of Christ’s way in part because it is human nature to stray or fall. There has never been a saint who did not need to pick herself back up and begin again from time to time–in fact for most of us, many times a day! Also, change is the nature of life, it is a constant, so the community of saints needs to be reforming and reconciling itself and resurrecting constantly, beginning afresh in response to change within or around it.
The first hymn this Sunday will combine two old favorite traditions, the words of the 84th Psalm and the tune of the Christmas carol, “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming.” We will have read the Psalm responsively before we sing, addressing these words to God: “How lovely is your dwelling place…. A day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere.” The church is called the house of God and the body of Christ, so on one level the Psalm is talking about how calming and comforting it can feel to be in our beautiful sanctuary. Jesus said that the realm of God is also within us, and Paul said that our bodies are temples, so on another level, the Psalm is talking about how lovely it is to sink into the presence of the Spirit within us and trust and rest in it because our true self is as beautiful and full of love and peace as any sanctuary.