Far as the curse is found

16 12 2010

Do you ever tire of constant bad news, or news about potential catastrophes that that could impact your life?  Yesterday on the radio they were saying western nations are once again potential targets for Christmas-time terrorist attacks.  If in the grip of greed, mega-corporations pursue profit at any cost, whether environmental or human destruction.  Millions of average Jane- or Joe- citizens would cheat on their taxes if they could get away with it (the IRS has stepped up audits 11% and is recovering huge amounts of money), or we squirrel away money in offshore tax havens: no one is righteous, we all act out of self-interest.  The curse of sin has corrupted everything.

Any yet, while we were still sinners, angels announced God was sending the Rescuer to make his blessing flow everywhere: far as the curse is found!

Joy to the world! the Lord is come:
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing.

Joy to the earth! the Saviour reigns:
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy.

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of his righteousness,
And wonders of his love.


bringing good cheer

14 12 2010

The song I shared yesterday, “All My Heart This Night Rejoices” gives the reason behind the season: the incarnation and its impact in our lives.  This is nothing less than the beginning of the new creation through the birth of a little baby.

Today’s song is also about newness, heralding bounty and fullness.  Originally, the Ukrainian lyrics to Shchedryk were a New Year’s carol telling of swallow announcing to a family the bounty that the would receive throughout the coming year.  However, the 1936 English lyrics for the Carol of the Bells were not a translation of the Ukrainian, but a new Christmas song.  They’ve remained popular for good reason: “Christmas is hear, bringing good cheer!

Hark how the bells,
sweet silver bells,
all seem to say,
throw cares away

Christmas is here,
bringing good cheer,
to young and old,
meek and the bold,

Ding dong ding dong
that is their song
with joyful ring
all caroling

One seems to hear
words of good cheer
from everywhere
filling the air

Oh how they pound,
raising the sound,
o’er hill and dale,
telling their tale,

Gaily they ring
while people sing
songs of good cheer,
Christmas is here,

Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas,
Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas,
On on they send,
on without end,
their joyful tone
to every home

Ding dong ding… dong!

I’m on lunch-break in Starbuck, listening to “Angels we have heard on high” played over their radio.  The “Carol of the Bell” is true: Christmas still is a time when words of good cheer fill the air everywhere.  When else do you hear Jesus’ birth proclaimed in so many public places in our modern, pluralistic liberal democracies?  Though many many not know the real Christmas story or its significance today, we still experience residual blessings from the widespread belief in the good news about Jesus Christ that many in western nations have held.  With the birth of Jesus, God became human, forever establishing the individual dignity of every person.  His life made clear that women and men have equal value–laying the theological groundwork for much of our western understanding of human rights today.  Now the radio singer is proclaiming tidings of comfort and joy, with the verses telling the tale of Jesus’ birth announced by angels to shepherds.

Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas!

mercy for the broken man

12 12 2010

We sang a Christmas hymn today that I think I’ve sung only once or twice last year.  Written by Stuart Townend, you can hear part of it and purchase the mp3 here (track 7).  Beautiful words, telling the whole story Christmas started.

From the squalor of a borrowed stable
By the Spirit and a virgin’s faith;
To the anguish and the shame of scandal
Came the Saviour of the human race!
But the skies were filled with the praise of heaven,
Shepherds listen as the angels tell
Of the Gift of God come down to man
At the dawning of Immanuel.

King of heaven now the Friend of sinners,
Humble servant in the Father’s hands,
Filled with power and the Holy Spirit,
Filled with mercy for the broken man.
Yes, He walked my road and He felt my pain,
Joys and sorrows that I know so well;
Yet His righteous steps give me hope again –
I will follow my Immanuel!

Through the kisses of a friend’s betrayal,
He was lifted on a cruel cross;
He was punished for a world’s transgressions,
He was suffering to save the lost.
He fights for breath, He fights for me,
Loosing sinners from the claims of hell;
And with a shout our souls are free –
Death defeated by Immanuel!

Now He’s standing in the place of honour,
Crowned with glory on the highest throne,
Interceding for His own belovèd
Till His Father calls to bring them home!
Then the skies will part as the trumpet sounds
Hope of heaven or the fear of hell;
But the bride will run to her Lover’s arms,
Giving glory to Immanuel!

I’m particularly struck by verse two.  I recently met two guys in line at a coffee shop, one of whom was a broken man sharing his disappointment with two local Chattanooga churches that basically refused to help him in the midst of his brokenness.  He said that when he went to elders in the one church, they basically showed him no mercy and didn’t walk with him and point his hope to Christ for righteous steps to walk in.  Then when he went to his pastors at the second church they told him, “we don’t do that kind of ministry here.”  This man was clearly hurting, broken by the fall, struggling to see the Friend of sinners, and local shepherds refused to help him see the Good Shepherd.

The two men got their coffee and went to their table, and I stood in line, deeply saddened at what I’d heard, hoping it wasn’t that bad, but knowing we’re all deeply broken I was more grieved at those church leader’s actions than I was surprised.  I’m reading in Ezekiel, and have been struck in the first few chapters by how  God’s judgment of his people is so that they would know that he is the LORD.  I was mad and wanted those church leaders judged, but then I remembered I too should have been judged, but the King of heaven was lifted on a cruel cross to draw me and those church leaders and all nations to himself.

I’m so thankful that Jesus fought for me, for them, for all his people on the cross, that he conquered, and that he intercedes for us while “crowned with glory on the highest throne.

Come Emmanuel, Lord Jesus, and bring the restoration of all things.

Christ our God to earth descendeth

5 12 2010

We sang this ancient song from the St. James Liturgy during communion this morning:

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six winged seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia
Alleluia, Lord Most High!

This one could be a Chrismas carol, or an Advent hymn, but really its a Eucharistic hymn celebrating the good gift of God himself given for us.  Jesus the Christ–the Messiah–given for us!  This really is incredible, when you think about it: we are sustained by Jesus’ body broken for us, and his blood shed for us.  This is where the Nativity ends up, where the Christmas story concludes, in the risen Christ feeding his people on himself from his throne in heaven.

What’s up with the six winged seraphs in the final verse, the cherubim?  When our church small group was studying Revelation this past summer, the best we could come up with was that God is so incredibly glorious that he surrounds himself with these magnificent, incredible, mind-boggling creatures, whose apparent purpose is to accentuate the glory of God.  Revelation 4:6-8 describes the scene:

And around the throne, on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with the face of a man, and the fourth living creature like an eagle in flight. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say,

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!”

Jesus is God.  He was and is and is to come, and this is what we recall and anticipate in celebrating Advent.  Come, Lord Jesus, come!

washing dishes with Advent antiphons

1 12 2010

The other evening I had a huge pile of dishes to wash. Well, OK, it wasn’t actually that much, but since it filled my sink and covered the entirety of my tiny counter, it felt like a lot. I avoided it until the though struck me that I could sing Christmas carols while washing dishes, and since Advent songs are some of my all-time favorites, I was actually excited to wash dishes. As I finished my third carol, I found myself looking around half-wishing for more dishes to wash, so I could keep singing.

There are so many wonderful carols.  Seems that when God does something incredible, surprising, and unbelievable–like sending his Son to become human, yet fully God, to live with us and for us, to die in our place and drink the cup of God’s wrath that we should have received, to burst the bonds of death to give us life–seems that our response necessarily involves song, and lots of it.

One of my most favorite Advent songs ties together the coming of Emmanuel, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23), and our rejoicing:

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, O come, thou Lord of might,
Who to thy tribes, on Sinai’s height,
In ancient times didst give the law
In cloud and majesty and awe.

O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free
Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;
From depths of hell thy people save,
And give them victory o’er the grave.

O come, thou Dayspring from on high
And cheer us by thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.

O come, thou Key of David, come
And open wide our heav’nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

This carol is John Mason Neale’s translation of the Latin hymn, Veni, veni Emmanuel, published by the Oxford movement in the mid 19th century at a time when they were digging up older Latin, German, and Greek (i.e., Roman Catholic, Reformed Protestant, and Eastern Orthodox) hymns and translating them into English.  It was a collection of Advent antiphons that had been sung in the church for hundreds of years before being translated into English.  I’ve always loved the melody and the lyrics to this one.  Random trivia: U2 used this tune on No Line on the Horizon in their song, “White as Snow.”

This Advent I hope to share some of my favorite Christmas carols, and perhaps a comment or two about why I like it or something about its history or context.  Perhaps I’ll post a carol each day until Christmas, with the hope that in reflecting on the lyrics and the Real Story they describe, I’ll love Christ more deeply and become more like him, as he draws near to me.  We’re told to let the word of Christ dwell richly in us, and to speak to one another in songs, hymns, and spiritual songs, and we have the promise in James 4:8, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.”

Come, Lord Jesus, come.  Maranatha!

Advent music

26 11 2010

In my apartment my Advent celebrations have begun: the Christmas music came out of storage today.  As many years ago as I can remember, the day after Thanksgiving kicked off the Christmas season.

Yesterday I enjoyed a Thanksgiving feast with friends.  Our celebration began with a time of worshipping God for his incredible goodness to us, seen most clearly at the cross of Christ, where Jesus fully satisfied the Father’s wrath and gave us life!  How else could we have celebrated God’s goodness than to acknowledge him and enjoy the good he provides as we feasted on an incredible spread of food.  My culinary contribution was my Grandma Swanson’s corn pudding recipe, and a cranberry chutney from a friend.  Next year I may be cooking for Thanksgiving with friends in Kiev–wow!

Today I’ve got dishes from yesterday’s cooking to wash, a few things to clean out at my place, and I’d like to get my Christmas tree.  In the mean time, I’ve got classic “Swanson” Christmas music spinning in my CD player:  Amy Grant’s 1983 “A Christmas Album”.  The music is totally dated, but having listened to it every Christmas since I was five years old, it is part of Advent for me.

Here’s my list of five albums that are Christmas to me:

  1. “A Christmas Album” – Amy Grant (1983).  This one is a family favorite from growing up–I don’t remember a Christmas without it.
  2. “Messiah” — George Frideric Handel (my copy is the English Concert & Choir, Trevor Pinnock, 1988).  I always listen to the Messiah in its entirety at some point during the Advent season.  This may also be the only “Christmas” album that I play throughout the year.  Easter is the other season were I make sure to listen to the entire work.
  3. “The Promise” — Michael Card (1991).  I’ve grown up with Card’s music, and his writing is a sort of musical home for me.  I particularly enjoy the biblical depth of his lyrics and his eye for the paradoxes of our faith.
  4. “Christmas With the Academy” — Academy and Chorus of St Martin in the Fields, Sir Neville Marriner (1994).  Twenty-three classic carols, mostly English, with a smattering of French, Germany, and Latin.  Excellent, timeless music.
  5. “Love > > > Begotten” — Psycho Acoustic Records / Pageant Music / Ring Records (2008).  I received this one last November from a friend who is one of the musicians on the album, Hiram Ring.  The music has variety, takes a fresh look at a number of traditional carols, has some original songs, and the lyrics center on the celebration of Christ’s incarnation.

If you could only keep five Christmas albums, what would make your advent album list?

where I’ve been

26 01 2010

Hi folks. I didn’t disappear, but have been negligent updating my website. For those of you who’ve been praying for me as I begin building a team of supporters, thanks! I’ve had joy and comfort in the gospel over the holidays and as this new year has begun.

Over the Christmas and New Years holidays, I covered about 2,200 miles by car, visiting family and friends, making an introduction at a church near my grandmother’s church, and connecting with some imagine a grey Europe map, with Ukraine blue, and Joel's contact info on it friends in person and a few over the phone. I designed a business card with my missions contact information, and almost caught up on reading recommended by Mission to the World for new missionaries like myself who are just beginning to build partnerships with friends, supporters, and churches.

The first request I asked you to pray for in my last post, practical wisdom to set my week-to-week support raising expectations, is still a prayer request. The Lord has blessed me with plenty of work at my engineering job, but that has meant less time than I had planned in the evenings for living and building my team. Please keep praying that I will make wise decisions regarding how I use the time the Lord gives me.

By the way, if anybody reading this has a really good borsch recipe, I’d love to try making it. Having a big pot of soup and some good rye bread is an excellent was to ward off the cold of winter and free up the next few evenings for writing, planning, praying, and calling people.  Please let me know how I can pray for you.