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.

Advent I – On Jordan’s Bank

When singing this at church yesterday, I just knew that this would be our hymn to begin our Advent
series. I love the sense of expectant preparation in this text. Many Advent hymns focus on the now-and-
not-yet of the season, but this one, to me, simply says ‘He’s coming. Make way.’ That’s exactly what I intend
to do in these next weeks.

On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry
announces that the Lord is nigh;
awake and hearken, for he brings
glad tidings of the King of kings.

Then cleansed be every breast from sin;
make straight the way for God within,
prepare we in our hearts a home
where such a mighty Guest may come.

For thou art our salvation, Lord,
our refuge and our great reward;
without thy grace we waste away
like flowers that wither and decay.

To heal the sick stretch out thine hand,
and bid the fallen sinner stand;
shine forth and let thy light restore
earth’s own true loveliness once more.

All praise, eternal Son, to thee,
whose advent doth thy people free;
whom with the Father we adore
and Holy Ghost for evermore.
Words: Charles Coffin, 1736;
trans. John Chandler, 1837
Music: Winchester New

But how do I prepare? How do I endeavor to allow the Lord to use me to “let thy light restore
earth’s own true loveliness once more”? For me, it’s simple ways – more time in the scriptures, a prayer book with me, and at least making an effort – at least for these first 2 weeks – to avoid straight-on Christmas music. That’s the hard part. Our culture doesn’t help us – most throw away their Christmas trees on Dec. 26th, the Christmas music stops – we don’t even put ours UP until the 24th!

I’m not intending or recommending scrooginess. Not at all. But a tempering to the Christmas celebration now will
bear significant fruit in your experience of the Christ child, and of Epiphany!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. For now, we wait in expectation. In anticipation. And even in a bit of tension. For
this is Advent, and a King is coming. Make straight a highway for our God.