Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Of grass, flowers, decorations, plans and the Word

I as thinking about and meditating on Isaiah 40:6-11, which was part of the Old Testament reading for this last Sunday. I know that I should be looking ahead at the readings for tomorrow evening's service and this next weekend readings in order to be ready to preach on them, but I find myself reflecting about life in general. The idea is that we are all like grass and our acts are like flowers in the fields. The grass withers and the flowers fade. The grass doesn't stay green and luscious nor do the flowers bloom forever. As I look out on the grass (which I will do as soon as the sun is up this morning), I see that it isn't the beautiful looking yard that it was last spring. Why? Because it is December and we have had the cold weather that causes grass to go dormant for a while. The flowers don't look so beautiful. In fact, they look downright sick. The cold air has nipped them pretty good. I should probably just pull them up but I want to hang on to the thought of summer, or at least fall, as long as possible.

Do you feel like that? Like withered grass? Or maybe you feel like the flowers that have been nipped by the deep cold. Or maybe it is the cut flower that looks beautiful in the vase only to fade as it has been removed from the plant itself. Perhaps you feel that way because at this time of the year there is so much to do and so little time to get it done. Presents to buy, decorations to put up, cookies to bake, parties to attend, cards to write, friends to call, family to visit and all in this coming week! Ugh! Just thinking about it wears you out. I think about it as I look at the "to do" list for this week (actually just for today!). Service to write, sermon to accompany, tests to grade, services for the next 3 weeks to plan (the organist is calling and wanting the hymns a day or two ago, not tomorrow), paper on patience to write (how ironic), calls to make, meetings to prepare for, all the while keeping the joy of Christmas in front of myself and the members of the congregation. Add to that trying to keep up on what is going on in the family, shopping, planning and interacting with one another. And I feel like the cut flower, the withered grass, the shriveled begonia that the cold has made look pretty sick. Toss in physical problem once again (a new one, as the others have been or are being taken care of), and yes, I am worn out.

Grass withers and flowers fade - BUT THE WORD OF THE LORD ENDURES FOREVER! That is the best news I have heard up to this moment. The Word of the Lord never changes or fades. It is so true and wonderful. It touches my heart with wonder each time that i go into it. On these busy days, it is so tempting to set aside personal devotions in order to accomplish those things that NEED to be done. But I can't do that. (Neither should you.) It is right there in the Word that I am given new life. The withered soul is watered with the Lord's Word and greens back up and becomes wonderful again. The soul that feels cut off because of all that needs to be done, finds new life when it is connected to the vine once again - connected through the daily use and study of God's Word.

I needed that Word this morning. I needed to be reassured that while my works fade (as they always will), the Word endures forever. So what I bring to people, what I give to others, is not myself. It is the Lord's Word. Each of us need the Lord. That is the message of this season - the Lord has come to us.Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel. Ransom me from the bondage to the things that I feel need to be done. Oh come and be God with ME!

He has come for you too. He has come to give you strength, comfort and guidance through this time of the year. He has come to save you from yourself and the traps of life that have been set for you, traps that are meant to rob you of the true joy and peace. He has come to save you from yourself. Rejoice! Rejoice! Join with us and sing. that is what the "Carols of Christmas" is all about - singing the praise of Him who came into this world for me, for you, for all mankind! Christ Jesus is born! Christ Jesus comes to us each day in the Word! Christ Jesus is coming again.

Thanks Lord, I needed to hear that this morning. I needed You to remind me of that which gives me the ability to accomplish all that needs to get done. I am now focused on what matters - the grass withers and the flowers fade, but the Word of the Lord endures forever.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Singing in Advent

Last night, Nov. 30th, St. Paul's had their first Wednesday evening Advent service. The Wednesday evenings are following the theme "The Carols of Christmas." What we are doing is spending time in the songs, hymns and spiritual songs of the season. While it talks of the "Carols of Christmas," we found ourselves in the songs of Advent last night. "On Jordan's Bank the Baptist's Cry" and "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" were the main focus. We closed the service with "Savior of the Nations Come." We didn't actually spend any time learning about the last song. We also visited the song "O Christmas Tree" and learned the Christian emphasis that Martin Luther applied to the Christmas tree.

Our theme verse is Psalm 95:1-2 "O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation! Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise." (ESV) As I prepared for this series, I studied through the Scriptures on songs and singing and was amazed at how important it is through the pages of Scripture for the praise of the Lord to ascend in forms of songs, hymns and spiritual songs. Even just this morning, as I was reading in the Psalms, I ran across the verse, "Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous." (Ps. 118:15 ESV)

Singing is an important aspect of our lives of worship. We sing because of the joy that lies in our hearts over what God has done for us. Our songs of praise rise to heaven because the Lord has filled our hearts with His Word. That Word is not what we make it to be but it is the very Son of God Himself - the Word become flesh. Too often, we try to make worship our act which God accepts because we are so faithful. It isn't. It is where we meet God in His Word, where He fills our hearts and lives with the power of the message of both Law and Gospel and where we are lifted up in His hands. He comes to us and we respond in song and in prayer. He strengthens us and we rejoice at the wondrous gift He gives to us.

And so we sing! that is one way that we respond the to the wonders of what God has done for us. We lift up our voices in songs of praise. And in the words of the songs we sing, there is such depth of meaning. Just take a look at "On Jordan's Bank the Baptist's Cry" and you will see how it weaves together the wonders of the Old Testament prophecy and the fulfillment in Christ Jesus. You begin to understand the power of the words to touch the heart with strength and comfort, hearts that are in bondage to sin, death and the devil yet freed from that bondage by the very One that we long for, who comes to us in His Advent!  Wonder of wonders - the hymnody of the Church touches our hearts and lives with the powerful message of life.

The Lutheran Church has been called "The Singing Church." It is for good reason that this is said. Singing is an important part of our response to what the Lord has done and continues to do for us in worship. O come, let us sing unto the Lord!