Many of you know that music is a gift I’ve incorporated into my ministry. I’ve sung in many good choirs in some wonderful settings. I’ve missed that since coming to Michigan. However, this Advent that love has been reawakened in me! The First Sunday of Advent I participated in a Messiah Sing Along, the Second weekend of Advent I attended the Western Michigan University School of Music Christmas concert at First Presbyterian Church, Kalamazoo. The choirs were awe inspiring, filling the sanctuary with glorious music that filled my soul with joy and wonder! Sacred music serves me as a “thin place,” as my Celtic colleagues describe, “where the distance between heaven and earth is tissue thin.” So on the Third Sunday of Advent, I changed my plans and joined in singing a Christmas Cantata with the Westminster Presbyterian Church Choir at Portage. Here are a few reflections on surprises from those three experiences:
First, of the many times that I have sung the Messiah, I don’t ever remember singing Chorus #45 from Part Three “But Thanks, Be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” No doubt the director included it because it was the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I wasn’t the only one who stumbled through the unfamiliar chorus. It made me pause to think, we really aren’t very attentive to giving thanks…too busy slaving away trying to get things right ourselves…we miss this song!
Second, the WMU University Choir moved me to tears singing “O Magnum Mysterium” by Tomas Luis de Victoria (1548-1611) in Latin. It’s one of my favorites. “O great mystery and wondrous sacrament, that animals should see the newborn Lord lying in their manger! Blessed is the virgin whose womb was worthy to bear the Lord Jesus Christ. Alleluia!” I knew it by heart from singing it with my college choir which toured Europe. I mouthed the words with this new generation of singers. Tears fell! I wonder if and when they will be moved by the glory of Christmas’ great mystery?
Third: the final song at worship with Westminster on Sunday was “Star Child,” a new carol by Shirley Erena Murray based on Matthew 2:1-12, and printed in the 2003 Presbyterian Hymnal Supplement “Sing the Faith”. A phrase in the first verse jumped off the page to me, poetically describing the Christ child, “heaven’s lightning rod.” Wow! I know about being a lightning rod. Most all ministers of the gospel know what it’s like to become a lightning rod, recipient of someone’s misplaced grief and wrath! What a tragedy if we are not grounded, not connected to Jesus, heaven’s lightning rod to channel that thunderous power right along to where it belongs… to the ground. No burnt offerings for us! In Christ, we have heaven’s lightning rod. Check it out, #2095.
These are some Advent blessings I’ve noted this year. May God bless you and those you serve and love this Advent/Christmas season!