O Come, All Ye Faithful- a Christmas devotional for Dec. 26, 2017

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During the Twelve Days of Christmas, just as in the Advent season, I am going to reflect on a hymn or carol daily as part of my spiritual practices. I am not sure where all these reflections will take me, but in conversation with my spiritual director, I am going to leave room for both “the head stuff” and “the heart stuff.” Some days might be more of one or another. I invite you to join me, as together we make space to listen, and be present, to sense what God might be up to. 

Merry Second Day of Christmas! I hope that the Twelve Days are off to a wonderful start for you, and that you are able to enjoy them, even if it might be back to work for you today. I am grateful for a few days off, as the office is closed this week, allowing the synod staff to spend with family and loved ones.

On this second day, I am thinking about one of my favorite processional hymns and carols for the Christmas season, “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” It was so much fun to play it this year as a sort of accompanied duet with Anita, our congregation’s organist. It’s always one of my favorites, because no matter where you are, the congregation or group singing it, always sings it boldly and fully.

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant!
O come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem;
come and behold him, born the king of angels. 
O come, let us adore him, O come let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord!

One of my favorite memories of singing this carol, is from college. If you are in music of any kind at Pacific Lutheran University, it means you will be involved with at least one Christmas concert. If you were in the choirs like I was, it usually meant a series of 4-6 (or more) concerts each year. We often would use carols for times of transition in the concert between groups, but also as a chance for the audience to join in the fun.

I remember it vividly, during senior year at PLU. We were singing “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” and the orchestra was accompanying the singing beautifully. It just so happened it was also a point at which the Choir of the West was coming on stage, and as I was singing I walked right past a wonderful cellist. You guessed it, it was Allison. And as we were singing, and she was playing, she just had tears coming down her face because of the beauty of the song. If you watch her now, you can almost always see her tear up a bit when singing this carol. I think that speaks to the emotional power of music, but especially of a hymn, melody, and text like this, that stands the test of time.

The highest, most holy, light of light eternal,
born of a virgin, a mortal he comes;
Son of the Father now in flesh appearing!
O come, let us adore him, O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord!

For those of you who worship on Christmas Day, this is a verse that fits perfectly with the usual gospel passage which is assigned, John 1:1-14. “Son of the Father now in flesh appearing!” God became flesh and incarnate, for us. What a gift. What a mystery. All we really can do in light of this is “O come, let us adore him.”

Sing, choirs of angels, sing in exultation,
sing, all ye citizens of heaven above!
Glory to God, in the highest:
O come, let us adore him, O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord!

If you are not singing strong now, it’s either because you are crying from the beauty of the music, or you really aren’t singing at all. This is a verse of pure joy for me. In a stewardship sense, this is the joyful response to the Good News of God for you, for us, for all. “Glory to God, in the highest,” we join with the angels in singing praise. “Glory to God, in the highest,” we too join with the saints of all times and places in singing praise.

Yea, Lord, we greet thee, born this happy morning;
Jesus, to thee be glory given!
Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing:
O come, let us adore him, O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him, Christ the Lord!

This is the other obvious Christmas Day verse, “born this happy morning.” Thinking about worship from the past few days, the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day, were all times where the people of God gathered to worship, praise, ponder, and hear again and perhaps with new ears, questions, and ideas, the story of God “in flesh appearing.”

silent night salem
Like congregations across the world who come together as the faithful, here’s Salem Lutheran singing “Silent Night,” as led by the confirmands by candlelight on Christmas Eve. (Photo credit to Angie, and the Salem Lutheran Facebook page)

At Salem Lutheran, I saw and experienced people gather with joy, some with heartache for the loss of loved ones, and in hope. I saw people embrace one another. At Christmas Eve especially I saw people sit closer together than ever for worship, filling every pew and then some. But it’s not the worship or the people who were there which is really sitting with me. It’s the way I saw and experienced God, gathered with others. I saw God at work through the comforting of the mourning. I saw God at work in the excitement and joy of the youth as they sang in their debut as a new Youth Choir. I saw God at work through creation, and the beautiful snowfall that started early on Christmas Eve in the morning.

As we continue to rejoice during these great Twelve Days, I hope that you take time to celebrate Christmas each day. If possible, I encourage you to leave up all your Christmas decorations and trees through this whole season to Epiphany. Celebrate. Ponder. And Rejoice, for Christ the Lord.

_________________________

Credit/Reference: John Francis Wade, “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” tr. Frederick Oakeley, found in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), 283.

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