christmas and gospel inversion

The structure of our Advent/Christmas calls
to hope, joy, peace, love, and light
made our Minister of Music think of this organ piece.

Listen carefully to this arrangement of “Adeste Fideles” by Charles Ives.
The melody is first established as the familiar tune to “O Come, All Ye Faithful,”
but upside down (inversion’s the musical term—
and a good scriptural and theological one too!)!
So where the familiar tune goes up, here it goes down—
where what we sing goes down, this goes up,
and we hear familiar notes (if the tune’s in our ears),
but out of order—not as part of the tune we know so well.
Then Ives flips it, and familiarity asserts itself.

Interestingly, the Sunday morning she played this,
we also sang from “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear” these words:
“heavenly music floats o’er all the weary world;
above its sad and lonely plains they bend on hovering wing,
and ever o’er its Babel sounds, the blessed angels sing”
(Edmund H. Sears).

In our upside-down world with all its Babel sounds,
we do not always hear the God-story—
do not always hear grace notes—
hope and joy and peace and love and light notes.
But there comes a moment—this we believe,
when God turns everything that’s upside-down
upside-down
(so right-side-up!),
and we hear in the startling fullness
of its beloved familiarity and glory,
the song of God.

That’s Christmas,
yes.
It it is also gospel
truth.

call to love

we should just give up on the world
and we do not truly believe
God is with us
I tell you I am convinced
fear
is more powerful than
love
we know from our own experience
there is no God
it is foolish to presume
grace and peace and justice are at work
and then we claim
God is born again
in our midst
and love turns everything upside down and inside out
in our midst
God is born again
and then we claim
grace and peace and justice are at work
it is foolish to presume
there is no God
we know from our own experience
love
is more powerful than
fear
I tell you I am convinced
God is with us
and we do not truly believe
we should just give up on the world

call to peace

it’s so obvious
look around
peace
it is a fool’s dream
the news of the world around us
calls into question
any purposeful work for peace
and
our own experiences in the world
raise doubts about
our faith claims and affirmations
but then God is born and angels sing
and the whole world shifts
our faith claims and affirmations
raise doubts about
our own experiences in the world
and
any purposeful work for peace
calls into question
the news of the world around us
it is a fool’s dream
peace
look around
it’s so obvious

call to joy

we’re supposed to expect deep, deep joy
in and through this season of advent
we know
yet the deepest truth is
our lives are profoundly marked
by griefs and sorrows,
regrets, losses, and disappointments
it’s almost impossible to claim joy when
it does seem
so disrespectful or dismissive of circumstance
and we’re not, honestly,
hearing angels singing
seeing heavenly host in bright array
yet the transformative truth of the mystery of God with us
invites us to open eyes and ears until we are
seeing heavenly host in bright array
hearing angels singing
and we’re not, honestly,
so disrespectful or dismissive of circumstance
it does seem
it’s almost impossible to claim joy when
our lives are profoundly marked
by griefs and sorrows,
regrets, losses, and disappointments
yet the deepest truth is
we know
in and through this season of advent
we’re supposed to expect deep, deep joy

call to hope

Included in our worship this Advent/Christmas season,
are responsive calls to hope, joy, peace, love, and light
that are written in such a way that they hinge
on the linch pin that is God-with-us—
Emmanuel.

You read through them
acknowledging the truth of life today
until you get to the truth of God with us
at which point
the truth of life today is necessarily reassessed.
Nothing is changed,
except for everything.

there’s little reason to hope
in this world of ours
we don’t believe
our voice and our living make a difference
it’s so obvious
the long arc of the moral universe bends toward greed
we don’t really believe
it matters that
we say we believe
in this season of waiting and expecting
God is to be born in our midst
in the divine topsy-turviness of hope-full-ness
God is to be born in our midst
in this season of waiting and expecting
we say we believe
it matters that
we don’t really believe
the long arc of the moral universe bends toward greed
it’s so obvious
our voice and our living make a difference
we don’t believe
in this world of ours
there’s little reason to hope

expressions of the weight of today

We used to offer,
each Advent season,
a service of griefs and hopes—
to acknowledge how hard a time of year it is for so many—
to try and name some of the ways it’s so hard.

It was sparsely attended,
and we eventually decided it was not worth what it took to pull it off.
This year, in our November deacons’ meeting,
talking about the history of that service—
the truth of the intent behind it,
one of our deacons wondered what it would be like,
to include an element of that in a regular Sunday morning worship.

So was born a new structure for our Advent/Christmas worship—
breaking each Sunday morning service down into seven(!) parts:
i. within the separate, community gathering;
ii. within the gathered community, waiting;
iii. within the waiting, hope;
iv. within the hope, fear and grief;
v. within the fear and grief, assurance;
vi. within the assurance, celebrating;
vii. within it all, fulfillment.

Each Sunday, during the “within the hope, grief and fear” time,
we included a Responsive Expression of the Weight of Today
which was then directly followed by a pastoral prayer.

Hear our expressions of burden:

I.
Dear friends and family members have died.
There is emptiness where once was fullness.
Dear friends and family members are sick.
What was strong is all too frail.
The stress is high.
The load is heavy.
The pace is deadly.
The news is terrifying.
The injustice systemic.
The violence pandemic.
The greed oppressive.
The denial mind-numbing.
The justifications short-sighted.
The priorities messed up.
The load is heavy.
The stress is high.

II.
Amidst the Christmas music on the radio,
the lights in windows, on trees, in yards, on houses,
the festive decorations,
all the expectation,
the emphasis on family and friends,
it’s such a lonely, lonely season for many—
made all the more lonely
by all those very things
so many others enjoy.
Grief triggers abound.

III.
Heavy the weight we bear.
Different for us all, of course—
different stresses and griefs,
pains and shames—
different reasons for tears and fears,
but heavy the weight we all bear—
the deep weariness we all know
accumulating through our living
draining us of life.

IV.
When our world and our culture
undermine and contradict
so much of what we understand Christmas to be most about
(often in the very name of Christianity—
I’m not talking about any of that war on Christmas stuff!),
it’s hard.
When we want,
more desperately than we know—
when we want more than anyone can give us—
setting each well meaning gift up for disappointment—
when we ask “what if” more than we celebrate “what is”,
it’s hard.
When empty places at Christmas events
remind us of loved ones no longer with us—
when we sit with loved ones
present only in bodies marking otherwise empty places
where the fullness of loved ones once were—
when what was and is no more
is as or more significant to our well-being
than what is,
it’s hard.