The choir sang a “call to worship” from our December 9 Christmas Celebration—a medley of songs on the theme of angels. It started with sleigh bells introducing “Angels We Have Heard on High.” The second stanza mixed the meters making the song feel like the jig that this true carol is. Then the choir shifted gears a bit and sang a new, sparkling tune to the Wesley text “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” And the medley ended with the congregation joining in on “The First Nowell.” Evidently, I scandalized the congregation earlier by using the English spelling of “Nowell” instead of the French “Noel.” So for this week, I changed it back to “Noel.” And all God’s people said, “Amen.”
Then we sang the hymn “Angels from the Realms of Glory.” I pointed out the structure of the hymn: each stanza is addressed to a character in the Christmas story. And each stanza gives us application on what to do with the good news of Christ’s birth. The first stanza addresses angels and reminds us to “proclaim Messiah’s birth.” The second stanza reminds us to marvel at “God with man is now residing.” The third stanza tells us to leave our contemplation (the cares and distractions of life) and follow His will by seeking the Great Desire of Nations. And the final stanza reminds us that the Lord will come again. But the climax of each stanza is “Come and worship”! It’s a wonderful hymn to sing at the beginning of a church service, reminding us of why we are there—to worship Him.
After Pastor Mike’s pastoral prayer, a father baptized his daughter. What a wonderful testimony that she gave to the entire congregation that she has accepted the Lord as her Savior! And what a privilege it is for her father to introduce her as his daughter and his sister in Christ!
After the baptism, the choir assisted the congregation in singing “Joy to the World.” I made the point that God’s people participate in worship, not merely watch others worship by telling a story. A friend invited my wife and me to a professional choir concert two weeks ago. The concert was lovely. And for the finale, the conductor had the audience sing along to Willcocks’ setting of “O Come, All Ye Faithful.” After the applause died down, a women in front of us turned around and said to my friend, “I heard you singing. You have a marvelous voice.” (Which is true.) Then she said to my wife, “And I heard you, too. Lovely.” (Also true.) Then she turned to me and said, “Hello.” I did not anticipate my congregation’s response. They laughed long and loud. I was actually worried that they would lose the point of the story in the humor! We are not performers who show off so that the laity can marvel at our talent. We are all “ministers—every member” (as our bulletin says!) who serve and worship together.
And then we sang a song that Pastor Mike wants his sheep to know: “Born to Die.” We old timers know it, of course. But there are always folks in our services for whom that song is brand new. So we review it several times over the Christmas season.
Acadia Caupp sang an unusual song as a vocal solo. The music is by Dan Forrest with a poem by Howard Thruman (1899-1981) called “The Work of Christmas.” It is unusual for our church because it is an art song, and because it puns on the word “work.” We always think of the work of Christmas as what God did for us in sending His Son as a Savior and of the work that Christ completed on the cross when He died for our sins. All that is very true. And it is the emphasis of most of our Christmas music. But this unusual song uses “work” to remind us of what James tells us: “Faith without works is dead”— indeed, that “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). It is a provocative text that made us Fundamentalists stop and consider. When all the decorations and busyness of the season are over, the basic message of the song is this: we still have Holy Spirit-inspired work to do for the Lord.
Pastor Mike preached a gospel message using the phrases of John 3:16 as his main points. It was a crystal clear presentation of the good news of Christmas.
Stephen Ramsey played an energetic piano solo for the offertory, mixing “Sing We Now of Christmas” with echoes of “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.”
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