Comfort and joy, comfort and loss, comfort and hope

I love my silver tree.

Comfort and Joy

Such tidings! What a wonderful Christmas we are having here in Baraboo. Our Christmas Eve service at Trinity was one for the record books – because of the ice storm, of course, but also because of the turn-out despite the ice storm, and the loveliness of this incredible and historic building. Greenery hanging everywhere… candles at every corner… lights throughout at half beam… it was glorious. From the Willcocks arrangements of hymns to the Communion Hymn for Christmas, the music was marvelous, and the congregation responded beautifully. The choir chanted Psalm 96 to one of Joseph Kucharski’s tunes. Glory! We were particularly moved as a family because it was our first Christmas as Rector and Family, and people were so unbelievably generous with us and with our children. It was wonderful, indeed. And of course our daughter turned 5 on Christmas Day, which always adds a sweetness to Christmas – caused both by celebrating her birthday, but also by recounting the Christmas Eve service 5 years ago when my water broke at church as I was about to begin playing organ and piano, directing the choir, and singing several solos. What a rich memory. Comfort and joy!

Comfort and Loss

Christmastide equals memory, so I have heard it told. True, I think, though there is clearly much more to Christmas than what is in the past. Haven’t the proclaimers of such limited truths ever read Dickens? Nonetheless, I always experience a melancholy just on the other side of the Christmas joy – remembering years and beloveds gone by, I suppose, and experiencing the reality that you never can go home again. This year, though, Christmas for me has the deeper sadness of the death of a friend. Amy’s second pregnancy started off quite normal, but when tests revealed that her unborn son would be the bearer of a chromosomal disorder called Trisomy 18, we all knew that Micah’s birth would be one of great complexity. Amy went into labor on the night of the 26th, and Micah was born almost 6 weeks early, on the 27th. His heart beat for a moment, and then he was gone – from life with mom to life with Jesus. Not a bad deal for him, but a heartbreaking one for those of us who love him and who love Amy and her family. Amy and Doug are standing on the steadfast and sure person of Christ Jesus, and are receiving comfort that they will undoubtedly one day tap into to comfort another. But in the meantime, they grieve. We all do. Comfort and loss.

Comfort and Hope

In the meantime, November and December have been marked by the breast cancer diagnosis of one of my best and dearest friends from college, C. C and I were inseparable for a couple of years as I rounded out my [lengthy] undergrad career. She was a freshman when I was a super senior, and our hearts were knit together by a common love of musical theater, ABBA, and Very Bad Movies. She was Cinderella to my Wicked Stepmother in Into the Woods. Years, marriage, time and space made their way into our friendship and we had sort of lost track of one another as time had gone by.  Every now and then when her name would pop up onto my yahoo chat screen, we’d say hello and giggle and that was that. This fall, though, we had managed to reconnect more significantly just before word came in that her biopsy was not filled with good news. C has cancer. C is starting chemo in January. C has been my hero for the last 2 months. Her real-life acceptance of this journey has been filled with hope on every level. She and her awesome husband don’t have kids. Yet. What this all means for the future of their family, they don’t know. But they continue to be filled with hope. C has a fantastic family – I mean, hardcore, the real deal, awesome people – and she’s surrounded by love. If anyone has the courage to face this head on, it’s C. I’d be grateful if you’d remember her in your prayers. Just reference her as The Rock Star. The Lord will know. Comfort and hope.

And I’m off to put a 1-year-old down for a nap.

Now to the Lord sing praises all you within this place,
And with true love and brotherhood each other now embrace;
This holy tide of Christmas all others doth deface.
Oh tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy,
Oh tidings of comfort and joy.

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Advent III – Comfort.


Comfort, comfort ye my people,
speak ye peace, thus saith our God;
comfort those who sit in darkness,
mourning ‘neath their sorrow’s load;
speak ye to Jerusalem
of the peace that waits for them;
tell her that her sins I cover,
and her warfare now is over.

For the herald’s voice is crying
in the desert far and near,
bidding all men to repentance,
since the kingdom now is here.
O that warning cry obey!
Now prepare for God a way!
Let the valleys rise to meet him,
and the hills bow down to greet him.

Make ye straight what long was crooked,
make the rougher places plain:
let your hearts be true and humble,
as befits his holy reign,
For the glory of the Lord
now o’er the earth is shed abroad,
and all flesh shall see the token
that his word is never broken.


Words: Johann G. Olearius, 1671;
trans. Catherine Winkworth, 1863

Music: Psalm 42 Midi tune found here. [with one really bad chord in it.. trying to find a better recording.]

There is a short list of songs that, in certain seasons of the year, I would desperately miss during my mega-church-Evangelicalism season of life. Elements of the church calendar were mentioned in passing but, with the occasional exception of Lent, they weren’t at all integrated into our services or worship times. This hymn is the one that I would always miss the most during Advent. The tune, while rhythmically interesting, is not hard, but it’s unique. And the text is a fabulous setting of several of the preparation texts that are commonly read during Advent. I especially love the third verse, that reflects on crooked being made straight, rough places plain, and the glory of God revealed. I hang my hat on this preparation for Advent III this year.

I continue to be shocked at how quickly the season is passing. Only one more Sunday of Advent in 2009. We’ll be decking our halls sometime this weekend, as we always wait until after Advent IV to do so. I’m anxious to get there, but not so anxious that I want to miss the message of the ensuing days. Christmas concerts abound this week for our kids at their schools, and that’s all very fun. It’s so beautiful here in Baraboo – we have SO much snow, but it’s also wicked cold. All the more reason to stay cozy inside, and to contemplate what it will take in my life this week to make straight what was crooked, to make plain what was rough, and, most importantly, to let my heart be true and humble to befit His holy reign. That’s good stuff.

No lightning bolts this week, but a steady, paced movement toward Christmas Eve. May my heart and soul and life be ready!

Advent II – and a snow day

Hark, A Thrilling Voice is Sounding

Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding.
“Christ is nigh,” it seems to say;
“Cast away the works of darkness,
O ye children of the day.”

Wakened by the solemn warning,
let the earth-bound soul arise;
Christ, her Sun, all sloth dispelling,
shines upon the morning skies.

Lo! the Lamb, so long expected,
comes with pardon down from heaven;
let us all, with tears of sorrow,
pray that we may be forgiven;

that when next he comes with glory,
and the world is wrapped in fear,
with his mercy he may shield us,
and with words of love draw near.

Honor, glory, might, and blessing
to the Father and the Son,
with the everlasting Spirit,
while eternal ages run.


Words: Latin, sixth century;
trans. Edward Caswall (1814-1878) as “Hark, an awful voice is sounding”.
Murray’s Hymnal of 1852 changed the first line to “a thrilling voice”
and Hymns Ancient & Modern of 1861 altered the text further into its present form.

First of all, as Scott and I always say when we encounter a video or snippet from a church service that delights us, ‘I would TOTALLY go to church here.” Can you imagine? That organ! That chancel! Those ROBES! That BRASS! Oh my, a feast for the senses, all pointing to the King of glory, declared in Advent terms to be the one who not only has come, but will come again in glory. The fourth stanza above gives me goosebumps every year when we sing it – the very person who has come will shield us by Himself from the judgment of the One who is coming – by Himself, by His blood, by the forgiveness of sins offered to us in the person of the Lord Jesus. It’s a spinning spiral of now and not yet; redeemed and fallen; sinner and saint. It is precisely in the middle of this paradox where we live our lives… knowing the end, watching for a King, clinging to one who has already come – oh, the drama! Perhaps this is why I
am so continually drawn to liturgical worship, too  – to participate in the retelling of the story, the drama of the light and the darkness, the visual of the Gospel lesson being processed to the center of the church every Sunday – a picture of the Incarnation week after week.

It is into this darkness that He comes. And it is my commitment this week, to that end, to cast away as many of the works of darkness that I can, and to be a bringer of light into the darkest corners. Come, Lord Jesus.

We spent last weekend in South Carolina for the Ordination to the Priesthood of our great friend Marcus Kaiser. Marcus and his wife Kim were our seminary housemates for a year, and for the two years that we served in Racine, they traveled to do Marcus’ field education with us at St. Michael’s. Every Sunday. And most Tuesdays. Scott and I marvel at our friendship with them for many reasons, but the simple fact is that this is a couple that we love equally, met at the same time, and enjoy in the same manner. I love Kim. Scott loves Kim. I love Marcus. Scott loves Marcus. Our kids love their kids. It’s an absolute delight. They are too far away for our liking, but the roadtrip was actually quite fun, and the Ordination service was one for the record books. Scott preached an extraordinary sermon – I mean, I’m biased, but I’m also opinionated. This one was a keeper. My spirit was emboldened by Scott’s work.

I played organ for part of the service, and sang a song or two. I felt like Jacob while I was playing that instrument – it was a wrestling match for sure, and I wasn’t going to let it go until it blessed me. And bless me, it did. Holy cow. Festival trumpets, and a Rutter arrangement. That’s all I need to say about that. But it was thrilling – THRILLING – to participate in this service together. I married up. I highly recommend it.

We made it home between blizzards. Today the kids have been given a snow day, so we’re all cozy inside and watching the foot and a half of snow that has fallen through icy windows. It’s appropriate that it’s cold, and so dark now. Because we’re getting close to the shortest day of the year, which comes right before the Darkness Turns to Dawn. But that’s our next Advent hymn. So stay tuned.