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Happy Sixth Day of Christmas!



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O, Holy Night (The Non Department Store Version)

With Christmas being the favorite holiday of most, and especially those who sell product, great attention is put into setting the Christmas "vibe" including the holiday music. It frustrates me sometimes that the songs that were once sacred carols about the coming of Christ are now played overhead by today's pop stars. It seems at times we have reduced them down to background music to our shopping frenzy.

A few years ago I channeled this frustration and in a personal attempt to begin to reclaim the carols. I began to search the history so that i would know more than "just knowing" the songs. I also found many alternate translations and musical versions of the standards.

Possibly my favorite find was this alternate version of O Holy Night.

O holy night! the stars are brightly shining-
It is the night of the dear Savior's birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining-
Till He appeared, gift of infinite worth!
Behold the Babe in yonder manger lowly-
'Tis God's own Son come down in human form:
Fall on your knees before the Lord most holy!

Chorus:
O night divine-O night when Christ was born!
O night divine-O night, O night divine!

With humble hearts we bow in adoration
Before this Child, gift of God's matchless love,
Sent from on high to purchase our salvation-
That we might dwell with Him ever above.
What grace untold-to leave the bliss of glory
And die for sinners guilty and forlorn:
Fall on your knees! repeat the wondrous story!

O day of joy, when in eternal splendor
He shall return in His glory to reign,
When ev'ry tongue due praise to Him shall render,
His pow'r and might to all nations proclaim!
A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices,
For soon shall dawn that glad eternal morn:
Fall on your knees! with joy lift up your voices!

I love the way these lyrics tell the story of Jesus so well, that he was born lowly in a manger, left his place in heaven, would purchase our salvation on the cross, and he will return to rule and reign. I also, love the variation of the last lines in the verses "before the Lord most holy" "Repeat the wondrous story" and "with joy lift up your voices". I loved "repeat the wondrous story" that i wrote a song using that line as the chorus.

Each time I've led this song i have people who respond positively to these alternate lyrics, but, I've also found it a good idea to warn the congregation, "this is a familiar carol, but follow along with us, as some of the words may be different than the ones you know."

If any of you readers know who to attribute these lyrics to, please let me know, as i cannot find that information anywhere, I'm not even sure where in the google world or stack of hymns i found them. And, if you use these lyrics please comment below and let us know how it went!



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Songs and Wisdom from Sufjan


Sufjan Stevens is one of the most prolific artists on the scene (or under it) these days. I can't get enough of his art, which makes it a good thing that he is frequently giving me more and more of it. I am currently revisiting his Songs for Christmas, using several of his renditions of carols in our corporate worship, banjo and all.

Here is a must-read article/interview with Sufjan Stevens. The interviewer from The Quietus asks Sufjan some pretty tough questions about his Christian faith. Sufjan's responses reveal his deep contentment in the faith. He is not threatened, but rather welcomes the questions with apparent joy and optimism about the world and the church. People who have been burned by the church and want to have nothing to do with the church would do well to listen to Sufjan's wisdom and love for all people and the church, despite how messed up it is. Here's and excerpt:

Quietus: Being an artist of some repute do you find the calling to spread the Good News sits awkwardly with your profile? Is it difficult?

Sufjan: Not necessarily, you know, I think the Good News is about grace and hope and love and a relinquishing of self to God. And I think the Good News of salvation is kind of relevant to everyone and everything.

Quietus: I find as I get older due to a sequence of events spirituality becomes more intriguing, though having been indoctrinated with the hard line dogma that I’d go to hell if I didn’t follow certain practices and believe very specific things, I was quite angry about Christianity for a while.

Sufjan: Oh dear.

Quietus: I suppose you could call it Protestant guilt.

Sufjan: The church is an institution and it’s incredibly corrupt obviously, but that’s because it’s full of dysfunctional people and people who are hurt and battered and abused. It’s very normal in any institution to have that kind of level of dysfunction. That’s unfortunate. I find it very difficult, I find church culture very difficult you know; I think a lot of churches now are just fundamentally flawed. But that’s true for any institution you know, that’s true for education, universities and it’s definitely true for corporations because of greed, and I think part of faith is having to be reconciled with a flawed community. But the principles, I don’t think the principles have changed. They can get skewed and they can get abused and dogma can reign supreme, but I think the fundamentals, it’s really just about love. Loving God and loving your neighbour and giving up everything for God. The principles of that, the basis of that is very pure and life changing.

Quietus: Church originally was a body of people and it had nothing to do with a building.

Sufjan: I mean it’s weird. What’s the basis of Christianity? It’s really a meal, it’s communion right? It’s the Eucharist. That’s it, it’s the sharing a meal with your neighbours and what is that meal? It’s the body and blood of Christ. Basically God offering himself up to you as nutrition. Haha, that’s pretty weird. It’s pretty weird if you think about that, that’s the basis of your faith. You know, God is supplying a kind of refreshment and food for a meal. Everything else is just accessories and it’s vital of course, baptism and marriage, and there’s always the sacraments and praying and the Holy Spirit and all this stuff but really fundamentally it’s just about a meal.

HT: Matt Tebbe

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iBand: Appropriate for Worship or Not?

I'm sure many of you have seen what the folks at North Pointe have been up to this season (which they mistake for the Christmas season). I wonder what you think about it. Is this type of creative element appropriate for Sunday worship, or better suited for a non-Eucharistic setting (assuming that North Pointe considers their Sunday worship Eucharistic)?


(Video link)

I remember waking up Sunday morning thinking, I sure hope this works...
We just want people to laugh a little bit and just enjoy the season. Hopefully they'll connect with what we do, but if not, that's okay.

So what do you think? Contemporary Church pragmatism? Cultural accommodation? It's certainly "new, improved, and continuously improving," Andy Stanley style. (My thoughts on this ministry philosophy here.)

Don't get me entirely wrong, I do think what they're doing is pretty danged awesome. Just wondering if this is the best way to lead people in the active participation of proclaiming and enacting God's story together, particularly in the context of Eucharistic worship.

Here's the full video of their seven minute worship element:


(Video link)

HT: Michelle Bythrow

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You Can Begin Singing Christmas Carols This Sunday


According to Dennis Bratcher at The Voice we can begin singing Christmas carols on the Third Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Joy.

It is important, in terms of the purpose of Christian Holy Days as teaching tools of the Faith, that Advent and Christmas be different, with different emphases, especially on the first two Sundays of Advent. These need to emphasize expectation and longing, a preparation for celebration much as Lent is a preparation for Easter. Without that, the season becomes one long celebration without any context for that celebration and with little contact with the reality of life that gave birth to the season in the first place.

Of course there is a progression to the services of Advent. By the third Sunday, which is usually the Sunday of Proclamation with the Magi or the Shepherds, or the Sunday of Joy, we can begin celebrating, not because it is all finished but because the promise is moving to reality, because we have heard from God and have the promise in concrete terms. It is in that movement from distant longing and crying out on the first Sunday, to hope and immediate expectation on the Second, to Joy and proclamation on the Third Sunday, that prepares us for praise and celebration on the Fourth Sunday as the year moves into the Christmas Season. If done well, that liturgical movement takes people along in the journey of their lives, as they enact their own experiences in worship. It gives people a structure in which to take the vagueness of their own distant longings as they identify with Israel’s longings, and brings them to an expressed hope and faith that God is, indeed, "with us." It is this journey that gives people a context for celebration.

We will be singing "Joy to the World" this Sunday, which was not originally intended as a Christmas carol, but rather a song about the return of Christ, based on Psalm 98, although it definitely works as a Christmas song (we'll be slapping some sleigh bells on it). It actually works better as an Advent song, if you think about it, with its great theme of the Second Coming of Christ.

Unfortunately, like many Christmas carols, we have sentimentalized this tremendously rich song, which is packed with deep kingdom and eschatological proclamations. Have you ever gone beyond the sentimentality of "Joy to the World" to reflect upon its theology? If you have, one of the first things you noticed is the (seeming) grammatical bourde in the first line: "the Lord is come." Many change the word "is" to "has," so that it makes more sense as a Christmas song. Wikipedia notes:

In the first line of the first verse, we might expect to hear "The Lord has come", but "The Lord is come" is correct. In old English, verbs of movement such as "to go" and "to come" were used with the auxiliary verb "to be" and not the present day auxiliary verb "to have".

Personally, I like to sing "is come," thinking of it in "Already/Not Yet" terms, sort of like the combining of two phrases: "the Lord has come" and "the Lord is coming." Who knows, maybe Isaac Watts had the same thing in mind when he wrote it, i.e., intending for "Joy to the World" to be an Advent song, combining "has come" and "is coming" into one phrase, "is come." Probably not, but I wouldn't put it past him; he was one of the greatest hymn writers in the church's history.

We'll also be holding a good old fashioned hymn-sing Sunday night, with lots of Christmas carols and children singing and a jolly time of relieving the Advent tension pressure valve for a night.

One more thing about Christmas carols during Advent: I heard yesterday that the University of Notre Dame has banned a certain Protestant student group from holding their meetings in the basilica because they were singing Christmas carols during Advent.

Awesome.

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O Come, O Come (to the mall) Emmanuel


(facebook video link)

O come, Desire of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind
Bid thou our sad divisions cease
and be thyself our King of peace

Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel
shall come to thee, O Israel

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Advent Resources

Just wanted to mention a few ideas for observing Advent as individuals, families, and churches. Take the time to intentionally wait this season. Go against the way the culture wants you to celebrate Christmas. We were teaching our daughter what hope is and that our greatest hope is for the King to come. She said, "King Triton!?" We were convicted that, to a degree, Disney has been her defining narrative. What's yours?
  • Jesse Tree: Let God's story from Creation to the coming of Christ be the narrative that defines you this season. You'll read short passages of the story every day to be reminded of the story you are a part of. Then you'll add one ornament that represents that particular part of the story to your tree every day. Here are instructions to one way of doing this: https://www.rca.org/sslpage.aspx?pid=1628
  • Advent Wreath: 1st Week Hope, 2nd Week Peace, 3rd Week Joy, 4th Week Love. Light a candle and talk as a family (perhaps around the dinner table) about the hopes you have the first week, where in your life you’re experiencing (or not) peace the second week, and so on.
  • Decorate in phases instead of all at once: outside lights one day, inside decorations one week, Christmas tree with lights the next week, add ornaments the next week, etc. This builds anticipation and is a good practice of patience and waiting.
  • Homemade Gifts: This takes time, but the anticipation of giving a homemade gift is a millions times greater than a bought gift, especially because most people told you what to buy them in the first place.
  • Ten Minute Advent Retreats: A great way to intentionally devote to the Lord as individuals or families. We did this as a small group this morning. Subscribe to it here: http://www.tenminuteadventretreats.com/
  • Church Year Website of Resources: Here is a wonderful website to peruse if you are interested in understanding more about Advent and the Church Year: http://crivoice.org/chyear_resources.html
Here are a couple previous posts with more ideas:
Lastly, we're going through Luke's narrative account of the coming of Christ this Advent. We are showing clips from The Nativity Story to coincide with each Sunday's text. We thought it was fitting for a few prominent symbols of our Advent worship to be a nativity, wreaths, trees, lights, and of course an Advent wreath. We had a great team of artists who put this all together, conscious of the colors of the season (royal purples and blues). We actually just painted the back wall a light gray color. It was burgundy. We also de-centered the band in favor of making room for seasonal symbols. Yea! No longer am I front and center, nor is a huge spaceship drum rig the main focal point of our space. The band will remain off to the side indefinitely. I'd eventually like to lower the band from their elevated position, too. I'd also like to remove the giant screen that screams "WATCH!" from its place of primacy in our space, and maybe replace it with stained glass. Really excited about the modifications to our space, and hope it aesthetically leads our church into greater worship participation. I have posted some photos of our worship space below.

Hope.













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