Angels We Have Heard on High- a Christmas devotional for Jan. 4, 2018

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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 Eleventh Day of Christmas! Do you ever have one of those days where you feel like your mind is going in a million different directions? I think that might describe my day today. That’s not to say that I haven’t gotten anything done, but rather that it has just felt a bit scattered.

I suppose working on a sermon for Sunday connecting Baptism of Our Lord Sunday and stewardship might do that, especially when you add in the emails, replies, and all the other stuff of daily work life that might get in the way. Part of my mind today has been focused too on figuring out what to do to make sense of the news of changes in policy related to coastal drilling. I suppose there are stewardship arguments to be made on both sides. But as a former Washington state resident, and a current Nebraskan, I am a bit perplexed at the wisdom of the potential policy change. Increased drilling seems fool hardy and strongly against my sense of the importance of stewarding and caring for creation.

When I start feeling like this though, I usually find it helps to sing a favorite hymn or carol. It helps me pause and take stock of my day. So, since I haven’t reflected on “Angels We Have Heard on High,” one of my absolute favorites because of the Tenor harmony on the “Glo-o-o-o-ria,” today for this Eleventh Day of Christmas, I’ll use these words to pause and to ponder.

Angels we have heard on high, sweetly singing o’er the plains,
and the mountains in reply, echoing their joyous strains.
Gloria inexcelsis Deo; gloria inexcelsis Deo.

If you have ever seen the movie version of “The Sound of Music” (and if you haven’t, how could that even be possible?), it’s hard not to imagine the beginning and closing scenes of the film when you sing this second line. “And the mountains in reply…” Imagine singing on a beautiful mountainside or in the valley, and having that beautiful line bounce back at you, echoing off the mountain. It’s just glorious! The beauty of a melody and harmony like in this carol just make that scene richer in my mind at least. Or, if life is starting to spin, like it might be today as you dig back into some of the work that might have been put aside for Christmas and New Year’s, singing “Angels We Have Heard on High,” and then “Do-Re-Mi” or “My Favorite Things,” from “The Sound of Music,” might just be the best thing you do today.

Shepherds, why this jubilee? Why your joyous strains prolong? 
What the gladsome tidings be which inspire your heavenly song?
Gloria inexcelsis Deo; gloria inexcelsis Deo.

20180104_185701
A nativity from Kenya.

Now that you have settled down and breathed, or at least I have, a smile has returned. You can ponder the questions anew, “Why this jubilee? Why your joyous strains prolong? What the gladsome tidings be which inspire your heavenly song?” We know the story. We know the why- the why we rejoice, the why we sing, the why we give our praise. On this Eleventh Day of Christmas, maybe just maybe we should say that why aloud, not for others to hear it, although that would be good. Maybe today, we need to hear it again for ourselves?

We rejoice, we sing, we give our praise because of what God has done, continues to do, and promises to do for us. I basically wrote this in a draft of a sermon this morning. That’s not that unusual. I like to say this a lot. But I believe it’s true. It’s at the heart of what I think is stewardship- our joyful response and living response to all that God has done and will do, for us. The decisions we make, the way we go about our lives, it doesn’t matter for salvation; but it certainly matters for our neighbor whom God has called us to be in relationship with. That’s partly why this decision today about drilling, drives me a little crazy. Because that decision seems devoid of thinking about how it might impact local communities, the environment, our water supplies, etc.

Come to Bethlehem and see him whose birth the angels sing;
come, adore on bended knee Christ the Lord, the newborn king.
Gloria inexcelsis Deo; gloria inexcelsis Deo.

Then I remember, Bethlehem and the world at large had some pretty questionable leaders when Jesus was born too. I mean, a fear of children that would lead someone to  order mass murder, that’s a sign of a repressive authoritarian regime, not to mention immoral, sinful, corrupted, evil… Long story short, our world has always had leaders, decision makers, people in politics, government, business, and every corner of society, who have made questionable decisions. It always will, as long as we are enslaved to sin. This isn’t to give anyone a free pass, or to say, “there’s nothing we can do.” This is just an acknowledgement of our human condition.

But at the same time, just as was the case in Jesus’ world, and is the case now, I deeply believe that we can do better. I believe we must do better. God entrusts us with all that we have- our intellect, our dreams, our skills, vocations, ability to listen and be in relationship with each other… When God entrusts us with this and so much more, it’s for the sake of meeting the needs of our neighbors. We’re a part of God’s work, however small or seemingly insignificant, to build up God’s kingdom. It’s humbling. It’s frightening. But together, we are a part of it.

Together as we “adore on bended knee Christ the Lord, the newborn king,” we come together. We remember that we are sisters and brothers to one another. We certainly won’t always agree with one another, but we are together as God’s children, with all of our differences of perspectives, ideas, and experiences, with our shared identity as Children of God, people whom God has created each and every one uniquely and beloved with different gifts, passions, and strengths.

When we recognize this, I believe there is hope for collaboration and positive change. Sometimes the hardest part is just coming back together to remember that it is God in Christ who calls us together. From there, though we might be sent out to the furthest reaches of all creation, we are not sent out alone. God is with us. And so are our sisters and brothers near and far.

Boy, it seems like I got on my soapbox today. Oh well. If you read all the way through, I think you got a pretty good picture of where my heart and mind are. Wherever you might be, I hope you are having a Merry Eleventh Day of Christmas!

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Credit/Reference: “Angels We Have Heard on High,” French carol; tr. H. F. Hemy, The Crown of Jesus Music, arr. Edward S. Barnes; found in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), 289.

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