December 25, 2018

Joy to the World!

United Methodist Hymnal – #246

let every heart prepare him room,

and heaven and nature sing!

 

Well – I’ve made it for 24 days without a huge push for music. I guess it’s time. Hans Christian Anderson wrote, “Where words fail, music speaks.” It’s true. I’ve become aware that even in the most profoundly moving scenes in a motion picture or television show, the music underscoring it has more to do with my instinctive reaction than the scene itself. The hymn lyricists and even the authors of the Bible realized the same things. Why else would something as significant as Jesus’s birth be accompanied by singing? In the movie, The Shawshank Redemption, Morgan Freeman speaks of music, “I’d like to think they were singing about something so beautiful, it can’t expressed in words, and it makes your heart ache because of it. I tell you, those voices soared higher and farther than anybody in a great place dares to dream.  And for the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.” Music has the power to transport us to another place and time. Music can help us celebrate, or comfort us when nothing else can. Music is the ultimate gift from God. Why else would angels sing at the birth of Jesus? And it continues today. The carols we sing elevate our celebration of this season far beyond what it might be otherwise. “Joy to the world! The Lord has come!” Today, tomorrow, next year, and all the years after, may music fill your life with hope, joy, peace and love, that you might always hear the angels’ song.   Merry Christmas!

 

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,

and on earth peace among those

whom he favors!”

LUKE 2: 14

      

Gracious and loving God, like a choir of angels, we gather to sing praises at the arrival of your Son. We thank you for the gift of love, and the example set by the newborn King. But we also thank you for music, giving us the most beautiful way to praise you for all you have done.  Bless our song, that we might join the angels again in welcoming the Christ Child.  Amen.


December 24, 2018

Silent Night, Holy Night

United Methodist Hymnal – #239

. . . While earth’s peoples, with one voice,

Jesus their brother proclaim!

 

There is so much lore about the origins of this most beloved of all Christmas carols. Rumors of a failing organ in the church at Oberndorf, Austria, may not be true. No wheezing pipes, no mice chewing through the leather trackers. The organ, in fact, was in use for several years after. Rather, the composition of such songs for Midnight Mass was a common practice. What we do know is that the curate, Joseph Mohr, gave the poem to organist, Franz Gruber, who set it to music. It was performed for the first time, accompanied by guitar, at Midnight Mass, Christmas Eve 1818, exactly 200 years ago. My selection of a lyric actually is translated from the original German. The original lyric concerns itself far more with salvation, and God’s incarnation as human, than does the “sleep in heavenly peace” version we are familiar with. But it might also be noted, that the original piece was much more of a folk song than a lullaby. Still, something about the lilting melody has maintained its popularity for 200 years. Today, we to envision the Virgin Mary, supported by Joseph, rocking her infant son to sleep, surrounded by a magical glow, with heavenly beams shining into the stable, illuminating the tiny king’s face. It’s our story, our history. The birth we have celebrated and re-imagined for nearly two thousand years. In the stillness of that holy night, the world changed for all time. Love was born that night, and that is what we should be celebrating.

 

And she brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger;

because there was no room for them in the inn.

LUKE 2: 7

      

God of peace, on this holiest of nights, we pray that you would again come into our lives like you did so many years ago. Make yourself known in the faces of our loved ones, and all those we encounter. May the love born that night soften our hearts, as we put others before ourselves. And finally, help us to discern your will, that we might bring about your kingdom here and now.  Amen.


December 23, 2018

In the Bleak Mid-Winter

United Methodist Hymnal – #221

. . . but his mother only, in her maiden bliss,

worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

 

At this point, we have examined nearly every aspect of the Advent/Christmas season. On the four Sundays of Advent we have lit (or will light) candles representing hope, joy, peace, and love. Those, by the way, should be year round practices, not just things we think about during Advent. So much of the story is bigger than life; Angels, Wise Men, Shepherds. But amidst all the celebration, we often look right past the more intimate side of the story. A baby was born. Mary had been visited by an angel and told that she was chosen to birth God’s Son. She very well could have dealt with morning sickness, decreased energy, swollen ankles, odd cravings, and all the other things that can accompany pregnancy. And then there’s the pain involved with giving birth (that you forget? Really?) And giving birth in a stable? Today that would be akin to giving birth in a taxi. And the only person to help is the hapless father? Well, I might paint a negative picture, but I think it’s important to keep this miracle at a human level. That was the point, wasn’t it? God incarnate, Emmanuel. So what could be more human than a mother and child. And amidst all the activity, a mother gently kisses her baby. It’s really a call to rethink our own celebrations. Big parties and special events can be fun, but as Christmas Day approaches, let’s focus on the more intimate side. Hold tight to those you love. Celebrate your relationships and treasure your loved ones.

 

And all that heard it wondered at those things

told them by the shepherds.

But Mary kept these things and pondered them in her heart.

LUKE 2:18-19

      

Loving God, return our hearts to Bethlehem. Let us experience again the young mother and her infant son. We hush, in awe at the humble surroundings, cradling a King. Let us remember, Lord, our loved ones. May we embrace each other as a mother cradles her baby. Fill our hearts with love and appreciation that no one might feel unloved or taken for granted.  Amen.


December 22, 2018

Angels We Have Heard on High

United Methodist Hymnal – #238

What the gladsome tidings be

which inspire your heavenly song.

 

“Tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.” Those familiar words from the Nativity story as told by St. Luke, are committed to so many of our hearts, that we could recite it in total, much like the Lord’s Prayer, or the 23rd Psalm. A host of angels appears above the Galilean countryside, resplendent, announcing the birth of Jesus. (I have a recording of a Welsh carol, sung by a Welsh women’s choir, that I’ve decided must be what the angels sounded like.) We’re told the shepherds were “sore afraid”, but I wonder if today we would even notice. Our world has become so inundated with noise/music that we are pretty much oblivious. Everywhere from McDonalds to Costco to the gas station blares out the latest tunes. There’s even a science that determines what kind of music can actually make people more apt to spend money, or eat faster. In a Washington D.C. subway station, renowned violinist Joshua Bell, posing as a busker, played his violin for a couple hours at rush hour. Actually playing the repertoire he had played in concert the night before (with tickets costing several hundred dollars each), and yet no one stopped to listen. In fact only a couple people, one of them a child, bothered to drop a coin into his open case. We have become immune to beauty. In this amazing world, how much do we miss every day? We should make a resolution, right now, to heighten our senses and fully experience the amazing beauty all around us!

 

And God saw everything that he had made,

and, behold, it was very good.

GENESIS 1: 31

 

Creator God, we marvel at your world, the beauty of your creation. But so often, God, our schedules and commitments blind us to our surroundings. During this season, make us more aware, more open to the magnificence around us. Help us recognize your hand in the art we see, the music we hear, and the world we experience. Fill our hearts with the desire for beauty.  Amen.


December 21, 2018

Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light

United Methodist Hymnal – #223

Break forth , O beauteous heavenly light,

and usher in the morning;

 

December 21, the shortest day of the year. Often referred to as “The Longest Night”, it is not unusual to find many churches, Dayspring included, offering services of varying types. We have held Healing Services, Taizé Services, musical Evensong Services, even Blue Christmas Services for those for whom the holidays are not a time of joy. In fact, the date for Christmas was probably originally chosen for its proximity to the winter solstice. The poet  beautifully describes the breaking of the dawn, ushering in the morning. But I’m thinking that today, December 21st, the shortest day/longest night, should be a day/night when we consider that time before the dawn breaks, the hours that can be the longest, darkest, and loneliest. Personal loss, financial stresses, loneliness, all work to create a barrier to what we might know as Christmas Spirit. Everyone should experience to the joys of the season. So . . . what can we, the lucky ones, do for those who might be suffering at this time of year? Lending a hand, or a shoulder could be a start. Opening your home to someone who has experienced loss. Secret Santa, Angel Trees, and Family Promise are all ways we can help. Still . . . one of the easiest, and most meaningful things we can do is just be present with someone else. Listen, Help with a task. Maybe provide a meal. Be someone else’s beauteous light, and usher in their morning. After all . . . joy comes in the morning!

 

…just as you did it to one of the least of these

who are members of my family,

you did it to me.

MATTHEW 25: 40

      

Comforting God, we acknowledge that this time of year can be challenging. So many people are dealing with loss, stress, despair, and hopelessness. We thank you for your ever-present love that surrounds us today and always. Guide our steps, Lord, that we might find ways to help, to befriend, to comfort and to support our brothers and sisters in their distress.  Amen.


December 20, 2018

Away in a Manger

United Methodist Hymnal – #217

. . . I ask you to stay close by me forever,

and love me, I pray;

Good byes can be difficult. Of course, there’s always a house guest that has overstayed their welcome, but for the most part, it’s hard to say “good bye”. Could it be that it’s about maintaining the status quo? We get comfortable with things the way they are. Certainly our modern lives, and our tendency to keep way too many balls in the air, contribute to the feeling of personal chaos. Remember the guy that would spin all those plates on really long sticks. As he got more and more of them going, he would have to go back to keep the first ones spinning (young people – this was “entertainment” back in the day.) So we pray for the baby Jesus to stay close. Maybe its about acceptance . . . being loved and cared for. Those among us with big families have it easy. Even when conflicts arise, you still know that someone “has your back”. I recently attended a memorial service for a woman, 95 years old with 138 children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. A blessing for sure. But for others like me, with a small – extremely small – family, we need to look elsewhere, developing our own families, if you will, from our friends and colleagues. I am so very grateful for my Dayspring family, and my choir families. They have been there to support and care for me and my loved ones. But that is what church should be all about. Those who are searching for a loving community should be able to find it at 1365 E. Elliot Road. Don’t you agree?

 

I was glad when they said to me,

“Let us go to the house of the Lord!”

For the sake of my friends, I will say, “Peace be within you.”

PSALM 122: 1, 8

      

God of love, we talk of open heart, open minds, and open doors. But do we really live it? We pray that you would imbue us with your radical hospitality. Help us to open our hearts, minds, and then our doors. To all those feeling unloved or disenfranchised, may we be a beacon of love and hope, embracing all who come to us for community, belonging and grace.  Amen.


December 19, 2018

Sing We Now of Christmas

United Methodist Hymnal – #237

Angels called to shepherds, “Leave your

flocks at rest, journey forth to Bethlehem”

 

For many people, a good old fashioned road trip is the ultimate vacation. We have glamorized that convertible top down, wind blown hair, no real schedule, and the feeling of complete freedom thing. For people glued to a clock 24 hours a day, this must sound like heaven. Even when the ultimate destination is known, the journey is still the best part of any trip. But what about a journey into the unknown? What kind of faith does it take to make that kind of a leap, either literally or figuratively? In our lives, we find ourselves faced with countless journeys, some we embrace, some we don’t. Like a fork in the road, Robert Frost referenced it in his poem The Road Not Taken: “Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” We often know the outcome, or destination of the journeys we face, and yet, find we have no choice but to take them. A common leap of faith might be a marriage, a new home, or a new job. Standing by and caring for a failing loved one at the end of their journey, or a new-born at the start of theirs. But I believe that there are choices to be made regarding our journeys each and every morning. We decide what kind of person we will be. We decide how we will relate to our fellow travelers on this life journey. We even make a decision, conscious or un-, of whether or not to be happy. It seems too simplistic, but let’s not forget, we are not on this journey alone.

 

 . . . neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers,

nor things present, nor things to come, will be able

to separate us from the love of God . . .

ROMANS 8: 38-39

      

Gracious God, you are steadfast and merciful. You don’t punish your children for their folly, but rather, gently nudge us toward your will, for us and our world. We pray that we may more fully discern your way, as we chart our courses. You, who set the stars in the skies, guide us, that we might better journey, straying less from your path of compassion, generosity, and grace.  Amen.

 


December 18, 2018

What Child Is This?

United Methodist Hymnal – #219

So bring him incense, gold, and myrrh, come,

peasant, king, to own him; . . .

 

“You give me a book, I give you a tie. Aunt Martha has always wanted an orange squeezer and Uncle Henry can do with a new pipe. All the stockings are filled, all that is, except one. And we have even forgotten to hang it up. The stocking for the child born in a manger. Its his birthday we’re celebrating.” So goes the ending sermon in the final scene of The Bishop’s Wife. It follows the decision by a wealthy woman to donate her millions to help the poor, rather than build a grand cathedral. It ends with the plea for “loving kindness, warm hearts, and the outstretched hand of tolerance.” Words as appropriate today as they were 71 years ago. The giving of gifts has become a huge part of our Christmas celebrations. Now understand, I’m not knocking gifts. Time spent finding just the right gift is time allowing us to focus fully on our colleagues, friends, and families. The perfect gift shows that someone else gave real thought to our likes and needs. There is a school of thought that the giving of gifts began with the Magi. But it’s the “peasant, king” part that truly reveals the meaning of Christmas. Peasant, kings, and everyone in between, coming to the manger to worship the baby. No one is excluded, no one is turned away. The stable is a welcoming place where all can kneel, and pay homage, regardless of their station. I could print Dayspring’s Welcome statement here. How nice to think of Dayspring as open and welcoming as that stable.

 

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer

slave or free, there is no longer male and female;

for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

GALATIANS 3:28

      

Compassionate God, you see us all as your beloved children, equal in love and privilege. Yet even with your example, we are still tempted to draw lines, separating and excluding many of our brothers and sisters for weak and selfish reasons. As you see us all  the same, help us to put aside our petty prejudice and bias, and create one world, grounded in love and respect.  Amen.

 


December 17, 2018

Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming

United Methodist Hymnal – #216

. . . It came a floweret bright,

amid the cold of winter . . .

 

We live in the desert . . . we don’t understand winter. Well, we understand that it’s dark in the morning until 7, or 7:30. We understand that traffic increases, and golf courses raise their greens fees. We may even know that maybe two nights a year, we have to cover all of our plants to keep them from freezing back. But for shoveling snow, scraping our windshields, salting our sidewalks, we’re clueless. Most everywhere else, however, winter is understood, along with fall, spring and summer. It’s all part of a cycle. Like the Paschal Mystery we celebrate on Easter, the seasons echo Life – Death – Resurrection. And during the winter, one longs for renewal. I have friends that publish pictures of the first crocus of spring on their Facebook page. So living here, where things bloom year round, we would not be surprised to see a vibrant, beautiful flower in the middle of winter. But a beautiful purple crocus poking its head out of the snow must be a shocking sight. A blooming flower in the midst of winter, a sign that life is renewing, and the cycle is beginning again. Throughout time, the rose has often represented The Virgin Mary or Christ. So the image of a vibrant rose, abloom in the snow should evoke the same startling image as a King born in a stable. Today, would anything be startling? I believe it should. As we enjoy our abundance, we should be startled by those with so little. Could we be that blooming flower for someone else’s winter?

 

Brother, sister, let me serve you,

let me be as Christ to you.

 THE SERVANT SONG

RICHARD GILLARD

 

      

Loving and generous God, like the lilies of the field, we should want for nothing. We sing that all we have needed your hand has provided. Yet the voices of the world tell us that we need more and more. Help us to learn the concept of “enough”. And then, show us how our surplus can better our community and our world. Help us to reflect Christ through our generosity.  Amen.


December 16, 2018 -ADVENT III

To a Maid Engaged to Joseph

United Methodist Hymnal – #215

“So be it; I am ready

according to your word.”

 

I have never been visited by an angel. At least not one that I was aware of. Yet in the Christmas story, it seems that people are having visits from angels all the time! How would one know? In Renaissance paintings angels usually have flowing white gowns and big wings (except for Botticelli’s The Mystical Nativity, where the angels are dressed in white, brown, and pink, and always look more like Neapolitan ice cream – but I digress). But what if they looked just like us? Who could forget Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life? Except for some outdated clothes, he looked pretty much like everyone else. And my personal favorite, Dudley in The Bishop’s Wife. Cary Grant looked just like . . . well, Cary Grant. The Hallmark Channels have angels everywhere, and there’s no way to tell them from anyone else. So how do we know that we have not been visited by angels? And for that matter, what really qualifies someone as an angel? With a small change of my understanding of what an angel actually is, I can guarantee that I have been visited by any number of angels. From the doctor who discovered my heart murmur, to the person who introduced me to my wife, to the people who just wouldn’t give up on me, to the person who loved me when I was at my most unlovable. The search for angels in our midst is not that different than the vision of Christ in someone else’s face, or the God sightings we have in the most mundane experiences. Be aware!!!

 

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers,

for by doing that some have entertained

angels without knowing it.

HEBREWS 13:2

      

Gracious and loving God, open our eyes to your presence. Let us not look beyond those we encounter, but rather into the souls of your children, our brothers and sisters. You do not deny your children. We, therefore, should be loving and accepting, opening our arms as well. As we love you, and you have loved us, guide us to show that same love to all your children.  Amen.

 

~Rev. L. Michael Kelley