Terry Gatwood: A Song Worth Singing

Sermon delivered on Advent 4C, Sunday, December 20, 2015 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of this sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Micah 5.2-5a; Psalm 80.1-7; Hebrews 5.5-10; Luke 1.39-55.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I’m very fond of listening to popular music and parsing the words to understand the meaning behind the lyrics. Music is solidly part of the liturgy of life inside and outside the Church. Music is important to people, and is quite often the topic of conversation in Christian and non-Christian circles, and sometimes becomes a point of contention within both. Being both united with Christ but still living in the world I take pleasure in breaking all kinds of music apart so that I may understand the language and belief of the people who sing it. It’s become so much a hobby of mine that it’s officially on the wife’s “things Terry does to annoy me” list. Isn’t married life, grand, Deanna?

We sing our stories. We tell the stories of our sadness, of our joy, of expectation and longing. We’re still very much a story-based culture. So much of what we do and how we understand comes from and through the storytelling medium. And the stories that we believe the most are the ones we sing out with the most vigor. It’s easy to do; some of us may have an aversion to singing in front of people by ourselves, but together with a group of likeminded people we can sing with our full voices. I think of the liturgies of life in the world, in the shower, in the car, at sporting events and concerts, or the liturgy in the Church with our singing together with one voice the faith that we have in our God.

I like to sing. I’m not quite concert quality, but I still will sing out randomly around the house, in the yard. Pretty much anywhere I am when my memory is jogged by something. It’s a response I’ve grown accustomed to giving for certain things in life. When I was a teen, probably around 13 or 14, I can remember taking a hymnal home from the church I grew up in. In the front of the hymnal were some instructions for singing written by John Wesley.

  1. Sing all. See that you join with the congregation as frequently as you can. Let not a slight degree of weakness or weariness hinder you. If it is a cross to you, take it up and you will find a blessing.
  2. Sing lustily, and with a good courage. Beware of singing as if you were half dead, or half asleep; but lift up your voice with strength. Be no more afraid of your voice now, nor more ashamed of it being heard, then when you sing the songs of Satan.
  3. Sing modestly. Do not bawl, as to be heard above, or distinct from, the rest of the congregation, that you may not destroy the harmony; but strive to unite your voices together, so as to make one clear melodious sound.
  4. Sing in time. Whatever time is sung, be sure to keep with it. Do not run before, not stay behind it; but attend closely to the leading voices, and move therewith as exactly as you can. And take care you sing not too slow. This drawling way naturally steals on all who are lazy; and it is high time to drive it out from among us, and sing all our tunes just as quick as we did at first.
  5. Above all, sing spiritually. Have an eye to God in every word you sing. Aim at pleasing Him more than yourself, or any other creature. In order to do this, attend strictly to the sense of what you sing, and see that your heart is not carried away with the sound, but offered to God continually; so shall your singing be such as the Lord will approve of here, and reward when he cometh in the clouds of heaven.

Elizabeth loudly proclaims the fulfillment of the Promises of God. She knew the story. Elizabeth was awaiting her Messiah, the promised one of God, who would be the one who brought peace. Jesus, the one who was now before her in the womb of Mary, and who caused her own son, John the Baptist, to leap with great joy in her womb as she was filled with the Holy Spirit is that promise coming to fruition. If anyone has any doubts that she believed or knew her own story, consider that her husband, Zachariah, was a priest; he certainly chatted with her, I have no doubts, talking about what he was learning with the other priests and from others, and what he was teaching people, and what insights he was having, etc, etc, etc. God’s people do these sorts of things together.

Elizabeth was prepared for this moment because she heard God’s word and promises, and understood that God had never been unfaithful before; so she faithfully sung out her song. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”
Elizabeth was well acquainted with her story, and thus she sung it out “lustily, and with a good courage.”

What is our story? What is our song?

  • A new and everlasting covenant with God; there is no end to it.
  • Jesus, the Messiah, is the King, High Priest, and Sacrifice forever; Jesus is the one who will feed his flock and bring shalom/peace into a world that is so fallen and unlike what it was created to be, or shall be again at the eschaton/the end.
  • God has promised to save his people from their sins, and this is exactly what he has done and is doing in Jesus Christ.
  • This is our hope and consolation: That Christ came among us, died for us, rose again, and is now seated at God’s right hand, interceding for us. Someday he will come again in great glory, and we will become like him. And our training for this begins now. We are called together to bring into the present the reality of the Kingdom of God: “Thy Kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

These promises are ours. This new life is ours. It has been given to us as a gift from the only truly and completely just and righteous one to walk the face of this earth. He was born to die for us, the unjust. This is our story and our song. Our God brings peace, as promised in Micah, to an unpeaceful world. He brings it into our hearts and transforms us to be God’s change agents in this world, bearing this Gospel of Jesus Christ, this good news, in what should be unsettling situations.

Does the coming of the Christ bring you peace, even in the midst of troubles? Does the advent of the Lord bring a song to your heart that you can sing along with the rest of the congregation? Do you rejoice in knowing that we can be free now to live for him in these overlapping Kingdoms? Are you expectantly awaiting his return at the second advent, when all things will be put to rights, and we shall see this Jesus?

Our story is being changed by God to make a difference for God. This is the mission statement of our church here. It is a truth that we sing together, proclaiming the favor the Lord has shown us, and the favor which he has intended to extend to all whom he has called; all who respond. And he calls us to sing this song, recounting God’s grace and favor towards us, just as Mary did when she sang out: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

What a beautiful song of the story of God’s redemption of us. It is a song that sings out what God has done, and does, and will do. At the heart of the Good News is that Jesus comes, and nothing again remains the same. He has come to change things. The unjust world will become topsy turvy as the Gospel is proclaimed and lived out. This is revolutionary stuff here. The Kingdom of God is beginning to become a reality in the here and now.

Peace will be its distinctive mark. Peace that surpasses all understanding. Do you have this peace? Do you know your story? Will you sing it out that others might hear it, and God be glorified? Our story is so simple that it can be put into just a few words:

Come, thou long expected Jesus,
born to set thy people free;
from our fears and sins release us,
let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
hope of all the earth thou art;
dear desire of every nation,
joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.

This is a good example of our story in song. Live it. Tell it. Worship the Lord your God with your full heart and voice because of it. Christ was born to die for you because of God’s great and infinite love towards us. He has chosen us. He continually makes us more than what we could ever hope to be. He gives us peace in our hearts in all times, and never forsakes or leaves us.

We, my friends, have been changed by God to make a difference for God. That is our mission statement. That is our theme for moving forward. This is the easiest thing to share with someone else: Jesus Christ is Lord, and he wants a relationship with you that will make you so joyful that even when you’re facing life’s trials and temptation you can sing out from that place of shalom:

Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
Let the earth hear His voice!
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
Let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father, through Jesus the Son,
And give Him the glory, great things He has done.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.