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.
Dear Friends in Christ,
Not long ago I received a package from my sister who, while going through some of my mother’s things came across an envelope marked “Rick” in which she had saved a number of mementos from my growing up years – programs from concerts in which I sang and plays in which I acted, graduation programs, etc., and a report card from when I was in the 5th grade.
In the section reserved for comments made by the teacher Mrs. Cooper, a lovely, North Carolinian school teacher who called everyone “honey-child” wrote “Richard is a very social young man but his conversations need to be brought into line with what is occurring in the classroom.” This was Mrs. Cooper’s southernly gracious way of saying “Richard never shuts up!” In the section reserved for comments in response by parents my mother wrote “We have spoken to Richard and he will do better about his socializing in class.” This was my mother’s Bronx-bomber way of saying “We have told Ricky to ZIP IT!”
It’s no surprise to anyone who knows me, even casually, that silence is not my strong suit. I can defend myself by saying that I make my living talking and writing and that I enjoy words and conversation. I suppose I could even develop some self-justifying theology about the importance of words to God Who, after all, revealed Himself in Jesus Christ, the WORD or point to how my conversation with others is reflective of the reconciliation that Christ’s redemption has purchased for us. But, at the end of the day, my bias is toward words and talking and communicating. Generally, this has kept me in good stead but, admittedly, not always.
During the season of Advent all ministries of the Beverly Heights Church seize the opportunity to talk about the coming of Jesus Christ – His first coming and His promised return. The themes are gloriously rich and the realities are stunningly wonderful! One cannot help but speak about them, write about them, celebrate them. After all, the focus is on the eternal Son of God, taking on human flesh and coming to earth for the purpose of giving His life so that we, who demonstrate our hatred of God and our desire for a life/world without Him, might be forgiven and brought into eternal fellowship with Him. In the words of one contemporary worship song: “What can I do but praise Him…?!”
This year marks my 33rd Advent celebration with the dear folks at Beverly Heights. That’s 132 weeks of opportunities to preach about, teach about and write about the wonder of God, taking on human flesh – the incarnation. And yet, there is so much more that astonishes one, so much more to talk about. Obviously, a lifetime of pastoral ministry does not afford enough opportunity to exhaust the meaning of God’s amazing act.
And therein lies the truth found in the advent chant quoted above, found in our Trinity Hymnal (193) and taken from a 5th century Christian liturgy called the Liturgy of St. James. When considering the wonder of the incarnation the hymn suggests that an appropriate response is to “keep silence.” The grandeur (See, I’m already running out of adjectives and adverbs!) of that which occurred on that first Christmas is so wonderful, so mind-blowing (a term so beneath the glory of what we’re discussing) that what one must do is stand in silent wonder and awe.
The notion of God coming to earth in Jesus Christ stops the mouth, steals the breath and should cause one to think, if not say, “This is too great for me – I have no words to describe it…I am speechless!” Surely I am not advocating a mindless letting go of all cognitive interaction with this divine blessing of Emmanuel. However, I think the Liturgy of St. James as adapted by the French poet Gerard Moultrie in 1864 and founded upon Habakkuk 2. 20 (The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him!) challenges us (ME!) to be slow to speak and quick to luxuriate in the divine mystery, to let the mystery be mysterious to us, knowing that, though there is much that we can know about God because He delights in revealing Himself to us, we cannot know everything and faith involves trusting in and experiencing the mystery for what it is.
Until we join with them someday, gathered ‘round the eternal throne of God let’s let “the six-winged seraph and cherubim with sleepless eye” do the speaking and from our hearts sing with them “Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, Lord Most High!”
Here are some things worth knowing as we move through the Advent season:
• This coming Sunday we will continue the single Adult Christian Education class taught by Scott Moore and Kevin Tan entitled Spiritually Stuck? Renewing Your Spirit This Advent.
• This Sunday evening we will hold our annual Advent Family Celebration. We are anticipating the largest attendance for dinner that we have ever served at Beverly Heights…well over 225 people. Dinner is at 4:30 PM, the program begins at 5:45 PM (invite your family and friends) and we are outside gathered around the living nativity at 6:15 PM with live animals (available for viewing 4-7 PM). Join us for this great time of celebration
• Next Sunday, December 17th, we will return to a practice of former years and hold the Advent Vespers service. This is a quiet, contemplative service of music, scripture and prayer which is designed around three themes of significance in the coming of Jesus Christ – His humility, His lordship and His grace. There is a 15 minute pre-Vespers concert that begins at 3:45 PM and the Vespers Service begins at 4 PM. Refreshments following the service will be provided by the One Mind Chinese Cell group that meets at Beverly Heights on Friday evenings. Those who have enjoyed this feast of Chinese delicacies will know that this is something not to be missed!
Faithfully in Him,
Posted on Fri, December 8, 2017
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