A Season of Rebirth, Renewal, and Peace or (The Meaning of the Nativity and Christmas to a Young Episcopalian)


Almighty God, who hast poured upon us the new light of thine incarnate Word: Grant that the same light, enkindled in our hearts, may shine forth in our lives; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ wasn’t just a physical visitation. It was a spiritual coming of Majesty. With the Incarnation and Nativity God’s Light was shone. His Light was shone on dark hearts. It was necessary for darkness to dwell in our hearts so God’s Light could find a dwelling to rest, shining forth Light on our entire beings. Remember, our hearts, in Hebraic poetry is our ENTIRE being, not our physical hearts.

And not only was that Light to shine forth in our entire lives, it shines forth FROM our lives.

Our light is ignited by THE Light!

Paul encourages his partner in the Faith, Titus, in chapter 2, verses 1-14, ” For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly, while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds” (Emphasis mine).

This season to me is a time about births, our Savior’s own humble birth and the humble birth and re-birth we experience as His followers through the gracious work of the Holy Spirit.

Notice that Salvation came to bring about TRAINING!

That means it is a on-going process. Salvation, rebirth, and renewal on on-going and continuing throughout the entirety of our Christian journey. The Spirit’s training brings about the piety that God desires of His followers.

The Light is manifested within us already. Shining through all the darkest depths of our hearts to change and develop them into areas illuminated by the strength of Salvation and the Light of Love

This is all taking place because in this season we celebrate the time of our Savior’s birth.

Without the grand design of God’s plan of salvation we would still be in wondering darkness filled with impiety and sin.

But God’s manifestation has come!

Our Light has been born!

Our hearts have illuminated!

God is purifying us in this time of renewal and rebirth to be His people, a people ZEALOUS for good works!

You know what I notice about that last verse in Titus?

The word people!

A PEOPLE!

We are God’s chosen. We are in community!

At Ascension’s Christmas Eve Holy Eucharist, we had candles at the end of the service that we all held. We started singing “Silent Night” and the usher walked down the nave’s main aisle and lite the person’s candle on the end who in turn would light the candle of the person on their right.

I find it a funny coincidence that those verses in Titus were also read for the public reading of Scripture for this service this night.

We were there to celebrate the coming of Light to darkness.

All the while it never hit me how powerful the image of our lighting each other’s candles were!

What a powerfully strong physical metaphor and reminder of what God’s Light does in our own lives.

Our lives have been taken from darkness into Light. God has walked down the aisle of our hearts and ignited our candles!

What are we to do in turn?

We are to turn to our neighbors and light theirs. We are A PEOPLE, COMMUNITY!

Jesus commanded us, “Be a light to the world” (paraphrase).

He also told us that we would do greater things then He! Why? Because we have the strength and promise of the Holy Spirit.

We are to, by the guidance of the Spirit and through prayer, go forth and light the candles that lay in darkness in the hearts of the world bringing the Peace of Heaven to those in the dark.

We have been touched by Peace in Christ’s birth. Our candles have been lite.

That Peace came into our hearts to bring serenity and salvation, truth and strength, and piety and righteousness.

We are to share this Peace, which by now you know IS Christ with the world.

Father Howard and Father Backus both spoke at the Christmas Eve Eucharist. They both made a point that this birth and renewal is accompanied with signs. That the narrative of the Advent and Christmas are filled with characters experiencing signs.

Father Howard made it strongly clear that those signs come from within community.

Community shining light on each other, lighting each other’s candles.

Community going forth to the world to light candles that lay in darkness as our own once did.

Community being zealous for good deeds, social justice, peace, reconciliation, and love.

But the warning we must follow is to not get trapped into the mentality that it is our own essence or our own light that does this lighting of other’s candles.

Our candles once laid in darkness too!

Our candles sometimes glow dimly!

The Light in our candles is the Light of Christ shining forth from the time of the Nativity.

I like Saint John’s writing in I John 4:7-15 because it is a fitting passage for this time of rebirth and lighting of candles in darkness:

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God” (ESV, emphasis mine).

We are to be MANIFESTATIONS OF LIGHT for a world laying in the dark as the Love and Light of God was made manifest among us.

This song by Chris Rice, “Go Light Your World”, is a fitting example of what this time in the liturgical calender and Church year is about:

Go Light Your World
There is a candle in every soul
Some brightly burning, some dark and cold
There is a spirit who brings a fire
Ignites a candle, and makes his home

Carry your candle
Run to the darkness
Seek out the helpless, confused and torn
And hold out your candle
For all to see it
Take your candle and go light your world
Take your candle and go light your world

Frustrated brother, see how he’s tried to
Light his own candle some other way
See now your sister she’s been robbed and lied to
Still holds a candle, without a flame

Carry your candle
Run to the darkness
Seek out the lonely, the tired and worn
And hold out your candle
For all to see it
Take your candle and go light your world
Take your candle and go light your world

Cause we are a family
Whose hearts are blazing
So lets raise our candles and light up the sky
Prayin to our Father in the name of Jesus
Make us a beacon in darkest times

Carry your candle
Run to the darkness
Seek out the hopeless, deceived and
Hold out your candle
For all to see it
Take your candle and go light your world
Take your candle and go light your world

Hold our your candle
For all to see it
Take out your candle and go light your world
Take your candle and go light your world
Take your candle and go light your world

By Chris Rice

To drive the point further, David Crowder proclaims in SMS (Shine), “Shine your light so all can see it. Lift it up cause the whole world needs it. Love has come, what joy to hear it! He has overcome, he has overcome!”

With Christ light we CAN and SHALL overcome our own darkness and that of the world.

O God, who didst wonderfully create, and yet more wonderfully restore, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, thy Son Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Amen.

Advertisements

Let Us Lift Up Our Hearts Unto the Father or (The Sursum Corda)


Psalm 134 (A Song of Ascents)

“Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, who stand by night in the house of the Lord! Lift up your hands to the holy place, and bless the Lord. May the Lord, maker of heaven and earth, bless you from Zion.”

A Song of Ascents is a sacred song, or a sacred hymn. Fifteen of the Psalms are given the title “A Song of Ascents”. I particular want to focus on Psalm 134, which is one of those fifteen. And further more I want to focus on the verse two of Psalm 134, “Lift up your hands to the holy place, and bless the Lord”.

In The Great Thanksgiving, which is the Eucharistic Prayer, or Anaphora (“Anaphora” is a Greek word “ἀναφορά” meaning a “carrying back” hence its meaning in rhetoric and linguistics or a “carrying up”, and so an “offering” hence its use in reference to the offering of sacrifice to God), for those of us in liturgical traditions begins with this responsive reading called Sursum Corda started by the Celebrant:

Celebrant: The Lord be with you.
People: And also with you.
Celebrant: Lift up your hearts.
People: We lift them to the Lord.
Celebrant: Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
People: It is right to give him thanks and praise.

I have a good friend named Zack that attends St. James Episcopal Church here in Knoxville, which is where Courtney and I attend Wednesday night Holy Eucharist/Healing. Zack is a very very reverent young man. I admire his reverence and view it as a role model for my own; He has been an influence for my spiritual life. One night while reading the liturgy I just posted above I noticed Zack lifted his hands towards the heavens while saying responsively, “We lift them to the Lord.”

That has really been something on my mind here lately coupled with the Song of Ascents found in Psalm 134.

Lift your hands to the holy place and bless the Lord!

Could there be a connection between that sign of reverence and the command to lift our hands to the holy place and bless Yahweh?

I believe there is a connection………………………………THE HEART!

The heart is the bridge to those two. Because the Celebrant instructs lift your hearts to the Lord and we respond saying, “We lift them to the Lord.”

Now, we cannot actually lift our physical hearts in our hands to the Lord, nor is that what the author of Psalm 134 and of The Great Thanksgiving meant.

The heart is so much more then what we here in Western culture give it credit for. The heart to the Ancient Hebrews was the center of one’s ENTIRE being. All emotions, feelings, and thoughts originated not with the mind as they do with us in the West, but in the heart.

One author put it this way: “The heart is the centre not only of spiritual activity, but of all the operations of human life. ‘Heart’ and ‘soul’ are often used interchangeably (Deu 6:5; Deu 26:16; compare Mat 22:37; Mar 12:30, Mar 12:33)”.

Jeff Benner said it this way: “We often associate the heart with emotions such as love and kindness as in ‘He has a good heart’. This is also true with the Hebrews who saw the heart as the seat of emotion. But unlike us they also saw the heart as the seat of thought whereas we see the brain as the seat of thought. To the ancient Hebrews the heart was the mind including all thoughts including emotions. When we are told to love God with all our heart (Deut 6:5) it is not speaking of an emotional love but to keep our emotions and all our thoughts working for him”.

Even more ironic is that our very theme this year on Johnson Bible College’s campus is Proverbs 4:23, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (They actually have the NIV verse, but I prefer the NRSV for the wording, and that I hate the NIV).

Keep your heart with vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.

There is something more to the heart that we tend to overlook.

This begins to paint a very beautifully poetic portrait of worship.

If we are lifting our hearts to the Lord then we are in essence lifting ALL of ourselves in honor to the King.

We are lifting our hearts, our entire being, our essence, our all to Jesus Christ.

If we are lifting ALL of our being, that which is our hearts, then we are lifting ALL that comes with our hearts: fear, dread, worry, anger, frustration, lust, bitterness, burdens, joys, strengths, loves, hopes, passions, and goodness.

For it is in worship that we can lift our hearts and worship our Lord.

For it is in worship that we can lift our hearts with all the weaknesses that are causing them to rupture at the seams and be strengthened by Jesus’ presence in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. And we exalt God with the goodness that our hearts may contain having them strengthened by His presence and accepted as gifts of spiritual worship.

Lifting our hands while reciting the “Lift your hearts. We lift them to the Lord,” is such a strong symbolic and reverent sign of worship.

There is such beautiful imagery there; think about it.

In lifting our hands and hearts to the King of Kings in the prayer beginning Holy Eucharist we also acknowledge that the Sacrament’s contain Jesus Christ’s own presence. So in lifting our hands and hearts in worship Jesus’ presence comes down to dwell with us in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood.

He meets us there in our worship and surrender! Our depravity collides with His divinity, as David Crowder would say.

We exchange the burdens of our hearts in our spiritual act of worship for the Grace of His Blessed Heart.

I do not know about you, but that is some POWERFUL imagery.

And that’s what makes the Anaphora such a powerful part of the Holy Eucharist. Because Anaphora as we discussed meant “carrying up” or “offering”. We are offering our hearts, our ENTIRE being as an offering unto the Lord.

Last night in a meeting for our weekend of prayer here at JBC, Lauren Mills read John 4:23-24, “‘But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’”

Lifting our hearts and hands to the Holy Place, lifting them to the Lord, is our participating in worshiping of the Father in Spirit and in Truth.

Lifting our hearts to the Lord in spiritual worship is what the Father desires from us. And this is not without a promise:

“Let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water,” urges the writer of Hebrews.

And even Psalm 134 has a two-way street with it. The Psalm says to bless the Lord that God may bless us out of Zion.

So therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, our Father beckons us to come forth lifting our hands in symbolic gesture of lifting our hearts, our all, our entire being, giving it ALL to Him.

In your worship, in your prayers, and in partaking of the Holy Eucharist, I urge you to pause and remember that we lift our hearts in worship of our Father.

Give the Father ALL you have.

WORSHIP!

SURRENDER!

COLLIDE!

BE CONSUMED!

MEET THE LORD THERE IN YOUR WORSHIP!

LIFT YOUR HEARTS UNTO TO THE LORD!

“Let us lift up our hearts as well as our hands to God in heaven.” -Lamentations 3:41

Amen.

Ἄνω σχῶμεν τὰς καρδίας

Behold the Lamb of God or (The Advent of Love)

“We stand at the head of the Christian year. I am not sure that there is anything quite like it in the world; this composite of sanctities, this interweaving of story and prayer, of song and color, by which Christ is portrayed and brought before us. It is a solemn pageantry which effects association with him whose life is being traced.”–Miles Lowell Yates

We have entered upon a very special and indeed a very magnificent part of the Church calendar. We have entered into the season of Advent. The season of the Church calendar that we take time to remember our Lord’s coming as a baby and to dwell upon what that means. And Mr. Yates description paints a beautiful portrait of the meaning behind Advent.

Over a year ago I joined a liturgical church community that practices the ancient Church calendar and the seasons therein, so I am still getting myself familiar with the reflections of Christ’s own life that the liturgical calendar presents. But Advent has always been a very special time of the year for me.

Oddly enough I am reminded of Exodus 12 in this Season of Advent. The Passover. I’m sure we all know the story quite well. Yahweh has sent plague after plague upon Egypt, but the Pharaoh would not soften his own heart. So God is going to send the Angel of Death to destroy the first born in all the land. He instructs his people to take the blood of a lamb and put it over their doors and that death will pass right over.

Andrew Peterson sings it like this in his beautiful song, Passover Us:
“But the Lord, He gave to Moses a word for the people. He said their firstborn sons could live to see another day ‘Put the blood of a lamb on the doorway and death will pass right over.’ That night all of the children of Israel prayed,
‘Lord, let your judgment passover us. Lord, let your love hover near. Don’t let your sweet mercy pass over us. Let this blood cover over us here'”

How does Passover have something to do with Advent? Death is a result of the Fall. Even though the first born sons of Israel escaped Death that night they would eventually go on to die. Our sins were more numerous than all the lambs we could slay. That’s the consequence of sin, death. Eternal separation from God because of our guilt and sin.

Our sin was so great that animal sacrifices and the blood of animals would not satisfy the holy wrath of God. His judgment was still needing justification. The Advent is the Great High Priest, God the Father, Himself, placing upon the Holy Altar the Body of a Spotless Lamb, Christ His own Son. He chose His very own son as the Perfect Sacrifice to bear the sins of the world and to remove them.

And how even more poetic that Christ’s blood destroyed death! Death has passed over us. We are no longer held by it’s power. We are no longer held by the power of sin.

And what is extremely poetic is that in Exodus God required the blood of a lamb to be spread on the doorway in order for the first born son to be spared, but in the Advent He sent His Firstborn of All Creation to be that very Spotless Lamb. Christ’s blood has been poured out for us.

The Advent is about God placing upon the Holy Altar His own Son in order that death and sin may be eternally defeated. The Advent is about the very love of God, the fullness of God coming to earth as a man.

Think about that for a moment. How vulnerable God made Himself. He made Himself a man. He submitted Himself to human care and nurturing. He submitted Himself to the feeding of Mary’s breast, the nurture of her precious motherly love, and the care of her heart. God made Himself dependent upon a human being for survival and care and love.
Does that not make a tingle go up your spine and draw a tear to your eye? That the Creator of All would subject Himself to such vulnerability? What a beautiful picture of the Advent of Love.

Love has indeed come. Love’s Advent was fulfilled in the Coming of Christ. The Lamb’s Blood has been put upon the doorways of the world and each of our hearts. Death has been defeated. Sin has been crushed. The Father’s wrath was satisfied.

In this season of Advent be grateful for the coming of Love. Reflect upon the Coming of Christ to be a sacrifice for our atonement. I want to share with you four prayers, one each for the four weeks of Advent. These prayers are found in The Book of Common Prayer. Pray them on Sunday and reflect upon the Advent.

First Sunday of Advent
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Second Sunday of Advent
Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Third Sunday of Advent
Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Fourth Sunday of Advent
Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

I wanted to share with you these thoughts on Advent. I hope that you have a great time in remembering this special time of the Church year while having a great expectation of the Second Advent, which is has yet to happen.

I’ll leave you with this quote by Edward Hays: “Advent is the perfect time to clear and prepare the Way. Advent is a winter training camp for those who desire peace. By reflection and prayer, by reading and meditation, we can make our hearts a place where a blessing of peace would desire to abide and where the birth of the Prince of Peace might take place.”

Behold the Lamb of God who comes to take away our sin! Come Lord Jesus, Ancient and Strong, gather us beneath Your wing tonight. Amen.