“Away from the Manger (Refugee King)”

“Away from the Manger (Refugee King)” written by Liz Vice, Wen Reagan, Bruce Benedict, Greg Scheer, Lester Ruth. © 2018 Cardiphonia Music.

Performed by Clayton Faulkner and Annika Becker (oboe) for Lessons and Carols for Advent 2019 at Faith Lutheran Church, Bellaire, TX.

Download the original chord chart here.

Download my arrangement chord chart here.

Download the oboe/C instrument part I wrote here.

While we were planning for the Lessons and Carols service this year, there was a question as to what should be the carol sung between the last two readings (Luke 2:1-7 and John 1:1-14). It was very providential that I came across this song last week when trying to decide what that last carol should be. It turned out to be quite fitting not only for that spot of the service, but also for the larger season of Advent, and the situation of our world today. One attendee said, “the words were so very appropriate for us to hear with so many babies and young children being held in confinement centers at our borders.”

The connections this song subtly makes are jarring. Jesus was a refugee. His parents were terrified. They were running for their lives. The same is true for immigrants and refugees today. I’m aware of the story of Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez, a 16-year-old from Guatemala who crossed the border in Texas in May and died in U.S detention on May 20 from lack of adequate medical care. Carlos crossed the border because his brother has special needs, and he came to earn money to support his brother back in Guatemala. He is the seventh child that has been reported as dying while in detention near the southern border.

“Keep us from Herods and all of their lies,” is the lyric that sets this song apart. It has the bite of Canticle of the Turning’s “Let the king beware for your justice tears ev’ry tyrant from his throne” (Rory Cooney). One of the ways that empires maintain control is through an alternative narrative. Lies feed people the fear that allows for oppression to take place. We should take note when kings and emperors tell us to not treat everyone as a neighbor. They are the lies of empire, not God’s kin-dom.

Some backstory from one of the composers, Liz Vice: “Earlier this year I was invited to a conference at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI to have a conversation about Christmas carols and how most don’t give an accurate depiction of the scene of God coming to earth in the flesh. A group of us gather into a room and reprised “Away in A Manger”. Side note: Since I wasn’t there, you know, at the actual scene of the Christ’s birth, I can only use my imagination with the scripture I’ve read. Matthew 1:18-25 Joseph’s dream to flee/run/ escape to Egypt Matthew 2:13-14 “When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

Live video of Liz Vice singing:

Official audio version:

Lyrics:

Away from the manger they ran for their lives
The crying boy Jesus, a son they must hide
A dream came to Joseph, they fled in the night
And they ran and they ran and they ran

No stars in the sky but the Spirit of God
Led down into Egypt from Herod to hide
No place for his parents no country or tribe
And they ran and they ran and they ran

Stay near me LORD Jesus when danger is nigh
And keep us from Herods and all of their lies
I love the LORD Jesus, the Refugee King
And we sing and we sing and we sing
Alleluia

Weekly Worship Thought – Punishment

I have written about the song “Immanuel” by Stuart Townend before. I love using it during Advent because I think it provides a great narrative arc that compliments the story of the season.

Previously I’ve talked about altering the fourth stanza of text to deal with the “fear of hell.” In Jesus, there is no fear. The idea that God is looking to eternally punish anyone is suspect. “Perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.” (1 John 4:18)

As we sang the song recently, a new lyric jumped out to me. In the third stanza it says, “he was punished for a world’s transgressions.” As I have personally drifted away from a punitive, substitutionary atonement theory, lyrics like these stick out all the more. Violence begets violence. The idea that God violently punished the Son to make things even might be the source of many of our world’s problems.

I found this quote from Rene Girard helpful, I hope you do as well.

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Weekly Worship Thought – Kingdom Time

tereuy1vsfusu8lztop3_img_2538The ways of the kingdom of God, brought to fullness in Jesus Christ, are upside down when compared to the ways of the world. The last are first. The poor and hungry are blessed. When Jesus appears to be at his weakest, most vulnerable point, he is actually performing his most powerful action. As a reflection of the upside down nature of the kingdom of God, brought to fullness in Jesus Christ, the church marks its time in an upside down way. We count time in a different way than the world. We have reached the end of the church’s calendar. November 20 is Christ the King Sunday, a celebration of Jesus’ eternal reign. November 27 is the first Sunday of Advent, similar to New Year’s Day for the church’s calendar. While the world may already be putting up their Christmas trees and decorations, the church is marking time in a different way. We still have some waiting to do.

How to Use an Advent Wreath at Home

advent_wreath-1An Advent wreath is a great opportunity to ground yourself or your family in a spiritual practice throughout the hectic holiday season.

The tradition (which dates back to the early sixteenth century) involves placing four candles on a wreath and a fifth in the center of the wreath. One candle is then lighted each Sunday during the Advent season with the fifth candle being lit on Christmas Eve.

The symbolism of the Advent wreath is beautiful. You may choose to place additional decorations on the wreath. Various evergreens, signifying continuous life, can be placed around the circle of the wreath. Pinecones, nuts, or seedpods also symbolize new life and resurrection.

There are several interpretations of the specific meaning of each candle relating to Christ and the Advent season. Those meanings are further enhanced by the colors of the candles. The first, second and fourth candles are purple/lavender (symbolizing expectation and royalty), the third candle is rose/pink (symbolizing the joy of reaching the midpoint of the Advent season), and the last candle is white (symbolizing Christ, the Light of the World).

The Advent wreath can be placed in the center of the meal table or another prominent place in the home. On each Sunday of Advent, the candle can be lit at dinnertime after the blessing of the food. A brief devotion (provided below) can be a great introduction to each week’s candle. Allow your children to have an active role in reading, praying, and lighting the candles.

First Sunday of Advent – December 1 (Candle of Hope – purple)

  • Reading – Isaiah 9:2
  • Prayer – “Jesus, we welcome your presence now with the lighting of this candle, whose flame brings warmth to winter and fills this place with the glow of hope. Amen.”

Second Sunday of Advent – December 8 (Candle of Love – purple)

  • Reading – John 3:16
  • Prayer – “Jesus, we welcome your presence now with the lighting of these candles, whose flames bring warmth to winter and fill this place with the glow of hope and love. Amen.”

Third Sunday of Advent – December 15 (Candle of Joy – pink)

  • Reading – Luke 2:10
  • Prayer – “Jesus, we welcome your presence now with the lighting of these candles, whose flames bring warmth to winter and fill this place with the glow of hope, love, and joy. Amen.”

Fourth Sunday of Advent – December 22 (Candle of Peace – purple)

  • Reading – Luke 2:14
  • Prayer – “Jesus, we welcome your presence now with the lighting of these candles, whose flames bring warmth to winter and fill this place with the glow of hope, love, joy, and peace. Amen.”

Christmas Eve – December 24 (Christ Candle – white)

  • Reading – John 1:14
  • Prayer – “Jesus, we welcome your presence now with the lighting of these candles, whose flames bring warmth to winter and fill this place with the glow of you. Amen.”

Resources:

Fresh Waiting – Resources for Advent

Advent is that season of expectation and preparation that leads us into the incarnational reality of God tabernacle-ing among us. Or as Eugene Peterson put it, God “moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, The Message).

Advent is also the kick-off of the new liturgical year. Even though not every church follows the Christian calendar religiously, there is something about Advent in which even contemporary churches can find hope. The intentional pause and reflection is highly sought after in our breakneck society. Advent plays well in churches trying to craft fresh expressions of the faith. But how do you make waiting fresh?

Here are some of my favorite creative resources for the season of Advent. Explore the links to learn more:

  • Songs
    • Sing to the King, words and music by Billy Foote and based on an older hymn by Charles Silvester Horne. This song captures the eschatological themes of Advent well. I actually include an additional original stanza that is left out of Foote’s version: “Souls will be saved from the burden of sin, doubt will not darken his witness within. Hell has no terrors, and death has no sting; love is victorious when Jesus is King.”
    • Immanuel, or as I like to call it, “From the Squalor of a Borrowed Stable” (taken from the first stanza). Words and music by Stuart Townend, who has had some controversy lately stemming from the new Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) hymnal. The four stanzas of this song give you a great narrative sweep of Christ’s birth, life, death, and return. I exclusively bring this song out every Advent. However, I do feel that the theology in this song needs a little tweaking to fit in our context. In the final stanza I change “hope of heaven or the fear of hell,” to “heav’n joins earth where God will dwell.”
  • Videos
  • Message Series/Small Group Resourcesadvent conspiracy
    • Advent Conspiracy is a campaign designed to help us all slow  own and experience aChristmas worth remembering. There are lots of resources: messages, videos, a book, and small group curriculum.
    • Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “God is in the Manger” is a devotional book with daily readings for the season of Advent. Last year we developed it into a four week message series with accompanying small group discussion questions.
  • Environment
    • Advent Wreath You can be pretty creative with how you advent wreathrepresent the Advent wreath. Consider how lighting can be used to create the effect of candles. This wreath was constructed out of corrugated plastic (the same stuff they make yard signs out of).
    • Advent banners can be cool. Don’t sell them short. They can add color and depth of meaning through the use of symbol and metaphor. Just search for “Advent banners” advent banneron Pinterest and put your creative people to work.

Advent Iconography

Who do you see in this image?

Slide1

 

This one may be easier:


Slide2

Both of these images show Jesus (center), Mary the mother of Jesus (left), and John the Baptizer (right).

Orthodox churches have an iconostasis: a wall of icons and religious paintings that links together the nave from the sanctuary in a church. The door (called the Beautiful Gates) that the priest uses to move between the sanctuary and the nave is flanked by icons.

Slide3

The bottom tier of icons is called the Sovereign. On the right side of the Beautiful Gates is an icon of Christ (often called Pantocrator –which means Almighty, Omnipotent, Lord of the Hosts). This image of Jesus symbolizes his Second Coming. On the left side is an icon of Mary the mother of Jesus, symbolizing Christ’s incarnation and entrance into this world. There is a theology behind these images. One side is Christ’s first incarnation, the other side is Christ’s second coming. All movement that takes place in the sanctuary during worship happens between Christ’s first and second coming.

John the Baptizer and Mary the mother of Jesus take their places beside Jesus as the primary examples of proclaiming and bearing the presence of Christ in the world. How do John and Mary strengthen our faith? One said, “I am not worthy to untie his sandals.” The other said, “I am the servant of the Lord, use me.” They model for us humility and service to the Messiah.

Advent is the season when we reflect on living between the first incarnation of Christ and his second coming. We remember his first coming into the world as a baby. And as we prepare for the coming of the infant Jesus, we are actually preparing for his second coming as the Ruler for all eternity.

Scared as hell

If you’re a worship/liturgy leader, you probably know the name Stuart Townend.

If you’re not a worship/liturgy leader, let me explain…

From his bio at http://www.stuarttownend.co.uk:

Stuart is known and respected around the world as one of the leading worship songwriters of his generation. The depth of lyrical and theological content in songs such as In Christ alone, How deep the Father’s love, The power of the cross and Beautiful Saviour have caused some to draw comparisons with the greats of previous generations such as Watts and Wesley; while the marriage of great lyrics with wonderfully accessible melodies (largely through his successful writing partnership with Keith Getty) means his songs bridge different musical and cultural genres, and reach into every corner of the globe.

In other words, he’s a worship music stud. Two of those songs mentioned in the bio are in the top 50 songs of CCLI currently. He is obviously blessed with some wonderful gifts, and millions of people sing his songs across the world.

But I had a problem with one line of his, in one song, and I changed it, and I think its a better song now.

Now let me say that song writing is hard. I consider myself an amateur at best. Songs are rarely perfected. They often have to be revised repeatedly, and even the final product sometimes needs more work. I respect Stuart. My songs stink compared to his. I’m not trying to be overly critical. But I do care about the words that churches sing. I think it’s extremely important to give congregation’s the best texts possible (both theologically and artistically). What we sing in church is as important as what is preached in church, if not more important.

The song in question is called Immanuel (or as I call it, “From the Squalor of a Borrowed Stable”). It’s one of my favorite songs. I have put it into regular rotation every Advent for years. The lyric in question comes from stanza 4, the original quoted here:

Now He’s standing in the place of honor,
Crowned with glory on the highest throne,
Interceding for His own beloved
Till His Father calls to bring them home!
Then the skies will part as the trumpet sounds
Hope of heaven or the fear of hell,
But the Bride will run to her Lover’s arms,
Giving glory to Immanuel!

Here is the part I changed:

Then the skies will part as the trumpet sounds.
Heav’n joins earth where God will dwell,
And the Bride will run to her Lover’s arms,
Giving glory to Immanuel!

Here are some reasons why I changed it:

  • Fear is never a good motivating factor. Just ask any person who has lived under a dictatorship throughout history.
  • I don’t feel like God ever intended for a fear of hell to be the driving factor in His relationship to humanity. I vaguely remember Jesus saying some stuff about love.
  • A more biblical picture of the consummation of history is the collision of heaven and earth and the establishment of a New Jerusalem where God is present with us forever.
  • It’s also interesting that this “fear of hell” seems to be contradicted in another lyric from a different song by Stuart – the 4th stanza from “In Christ Alone:”

No power of hell, no scheme of man,
Can ever pluck me from His hand;

Romans 8:1 – “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” and the rest of the chapter is pretty good too.

Sermon on Luke 3:7-18 (Advent 3 C)

Zephaniah 3:14-20:

14Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;

shout, O Israel!

Rejoice and exult with all your heart,

O daughter Jerusalem!

15The LORD has taken away the judgments against you,

he has turned away your enemies.

The king of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst;

you shall fear disaster no more.

16On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:

Do not fear, O Zion;

do not let your hands grow weak.

17The LORD, your God, is in your midst,

a warrior who gives victory;

he will rejoice over you with gladness,

he will renew you in his love;

he will exult over you with loud singing

18as on a day of festival.

I will remove disaster from you,

so that you will not bear reproach for it.

19I will deal with all your oppressors

at that time.

And I will save the lame

and gather the outcast,

and I will change their shame into praise

and renown in all the earth.

20At that time I will bring you home,

at the time when I gather you;

for I will make you renowned and praised

among all the peoples of the earth,

when I restore your fortunes

before your eyes, says the LORD.

Luke 3:7-18:

7John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”
10And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” 11In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” 12Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” 13He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” 14Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”
15As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
18So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Introduction – Already but not yet

Advent is the season of waiting. It is rich with symbolism. The season is marked by the color blue, which represents the color of the sky, just before the hopeful light of dawn breaks. The paraments on the altar table depict a crown and an olive branch, which reminds us that the One for whom we wait is the “Prince of Peace.” There is also the Advent wreath, its circular nature, with no beginning and no end, is reminiscent of God’s infinite nature and the eternal life found through faith in Christ. The branches of the evergreen are symbolic of the promise of new life that comes with the spring. The color of each of the candles holds special meaning as well. Purple symbolizes expectation, royalty, and penitence. Today we light the pink candle, which symbolizes joy. White symbolizes the purity of Christ’s light to the world.

This is also the season of “already, but not yet.” Call it a paradox, or an oxymoron, or whatever, but Advent tells us simultaneously that we are both “there” and “not quite there.” We experience the “already” because Bethlehem happened; Jesus has already been born. But we simultaneously experience the “not yet” because we await His coming again and the consummation of history. Through faith in Christ we experience the “already” because we are saved and made holy. But we simultaneously experience the “not yet” because we are still bound by our sinful flesh. We experience the “already” because Christ established His kingdom with His first advent. But we wait in the “not yet” for Christ to return to complete His promise and make all Believers co-reigners in His real, eternal kingdom.

C.S. Lewis quote

“When the author walks onto the stage, the play is over. God is going to invade all right. But what is the good of saying you are on His side then, when you see the whole natural universe, melting away like a dream, and something else, something it never entered your head to conceive comes crashing in. Something so beautiful to some of us and so terrible to others that none of us will have any choice left. For this time it will be God without disguise. Something so overwhelming, that it will strike either irresistible love or irresistible horror into every creature. It will be too late then to choose your side. There is no use saying you could choose to lie down when it is become impossible to stand up. That will not be the time for choosing. It will be the time when we discover which side we really have chosen. Whether we realized it before or not. Now, today, this moment is our chance to choose the right side.
God is holding back to give us that chance. It will not last forever. We must take it or leave it.” (Mere Christianity)

The Gospel

Cutting down trees, and sweeping out the chaff, and being thrown in the fire, and name-calling: where is the good news? Today’s Gospel from Luke ends a bit abruptly: “So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.” Being referred to as a “snake” by John the Baptizer doesn’t sound like good news to me.

John the Baptizer has earned his reputation for fiery and provocative preaching, partly because of his startling message to those who came to be baptized: “YOU BROOD OF VIPERS!” Comparing one’s own congregation—the same people who came to hear him preach and be baptized! — to a hissing and writhing mess of poisonous snakes probably doesn’t earn too many fans. John continues to antagonize the people by dismissing their claims to entitlement from having been born into a faith community. “Being a child of Abraham is neither here nor there—children of Abraham are a dime a dozen. God can make children from stones if he wants.”

And so we ask with the crowds that day, “What then should we do?” This is the same question that the crowd asked on Pentecost after Peter’s sermon.

Here is the good news. Here is the heart of the Gospel today: we are all snakes, we are all children of Abraham, and our lives are both wheat and chaff. And then we hear John tell the crowd about the coming kingdom. We get a glimpse of what the rules will be in the kingdom of the One who is on His way. God’s new kingdom is available to them where they are, requiring only enough faith to perceive the sacred in the midst of the ordinary.  It is entirely within their reach. It’s doable: “Share. Be generous. Be fair.  Be honest. Don’t bully. Strive for simplicity.”

The God Who Sings

We’re familiar with the image of God described in today’s Gospel. We’re familiar with the God who throws in the fire those who don’t produce good fruit. But there is another image of God. A powerful image comes from the first reading in Zephaniah. On this Sunday devoted to joy, we hear the words that depict God as the one who bursts into song with joy over God’s beloved: “He will rejoice over you with gladness, he will renew you in his love; he will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival” (3:17-18).

Such joy is not subdued; it is not quiet or dignified. The Hebrew words used in verse 17 are used elsewhere in the Bible to describe great jubilation – leaping for JOY! The Lord rejoices over his beloved, over Judah and Jerusalem, as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride (Isaiah 62:5). As David danced in front of the Ark of the Covenant, in exultation, so God rejoices over God’s people (2 Samuel 6). As the morning stars sang at the creation of the world, so God sings with elation over God’s beloved (Job 38:7).

We’re familiar with images of God as judge. But how often do we imagine God as one who rejoices? One who sings? Yet here, in Zephaniah, God and God’s people alike are caught up in a joy that overflows into song, a joy that springs from love renewed, and relationship restored.

This joy is not one-sided. It is not only God’s people who rejoice because of the forgiveness and restoration that God provides. That is an understandable reaction to God’s redemption. But God’s people aren’t the only ones rejoicing. God also sings and shouts with joy over this love restored. The divine heart overflows with jubilation!

So when you picture God, and you see the angry parent, finger on the zap button, ready to pound us for our sins, then look again.  Or if your image of God is that of a distant and remote creator, who sets everything in motion and forgets to check in or intervene, then look again.

No, the God mentioned in Zephaniah is moved, is deeply affected, by human attitudes and actions. This God does not watch from a distance, but enters into the life of the world. This God “moved into the neighborhood,” in that mysterious and wonderful event we call the Incarnation. Because of the Incarnation, we experience redemption and reconciliation with God both now and in the world to come. And now we, the rescued ones, get to live our entire lives as an expression of God’s redemption. We get to spread this joy of recreation to all people. What then should we do? We who have two get to share one. We who have been healed can help the sick. We who have been provided for get to welcome the outsiders. We get to bear fruit worthy of repentance. It’s about your life. God cares about how you live your life.

Conclusion

Today is about joy, the joy of a people redeemed and restored, but also the joy of a God who is deeply invested in setting the world back in order. God sings. God shouts. God rejoices. And we, we who are gloriously and inexplicably chosen as God’s beloved, join in the celebration.

Resources: