Crescent Hill Baptist Church
Advent Meditations - 2009
Nancy Howard -- "And We Shall Live Forevermore Because of Christmas Day"
Barry Creech -- O Little Town of Bethlehem
Adela Chipe -- A Charlie Brown Christmas
Debbie Brashear -- I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Debbie Williams -- Hark!
John Birkimer -- A Rose that Keeps on Blooming
Katherine Williams -- The Friendly Beasts
Sharleen Birkimer -- O Holy Night
Paul Debusman -- O Come, All Ye Faithful
Sara Jo Hooper -- Amahl and the Night Visitors
John Arnett -- Angels
Barbara Allen -- Bread of Heaven -- (Mary's Song)
Martha Lytle -- A Memorable Night of Music
Sarah Jo Hooper -- The Night Songs
Carolyn Arnett -- Medical Mission Sisters
John Arnett -- Bugler's Holiday
Louie Bailey -- Once in Royal David's City
Mary Neal Clarke -- Come Let Us Adore Him
John Arnett -- The Christmas Song
The theme for this Advent season is
At your leisure enjoy these devotionals from your church family which reflect on
their favorite Advent songs and memories associated with these songs. Take a few moments, relax, read and let the spirit of these words fill your soul.
“And We Shall Live Forevermore Because of Christmas Day”
In 1957 a lovely Christmas song was introduced by Harry Belafonte. Each Christmas I hope and long to hear this meaningful song. Here are the words that were sung with a bit of a Jamaican-Calypso sound:
Long time ago in Bethlehem, so the Holy Bible says,
Mary’s boy child Jesus Christ was born on Christmas day.
Hark now hear the angels sing, a new king born today
And we shall live for every more, because of Christmas day
Trumpets sound and angels sing, listen what they say
That we shall live for ever more, because of Christmas Day
While shepherds watched their flocks by night
Them see a bright new shining star
Them heard a choir sing, the music came from afar.
Now Joseph and his wife Mary, they came to Bethlehem that night,
Them find no place to born she child, not a single room in sight.
By and by they found a little nook in a stable all forlorn
And in a manger cold and dark, Mary’s little boy was born.
Of course I love the song for its message. I have also always appreciated the contributions of Harry Belafonte – an African American man who grew up in a time when he was not always welcome. We appreciate him in many ways today. We celebrate his lovely song with its special message to each of us – “we shall live for ever more because of Christmas Day.”
O Little Town of Bethlehem
This old hymn took on new meaning for me after visiting Bethlehem in 2005.
Bethlehem is an ancient, and modern, little town, nestled about six miles outside of Jerusalem. In Jesus' day, it would have been a sleepy, little, backwater town, off the main road, in the shadow of a military occupation.
Today, Bethlehem continues to be under military occupation, as one of the Palestinian towns of the West Bank. Its residents are separated from their agricultural lands, and from Jerusalem, by a twenty-five foot high concrete wall on three sides, with an open desert on the fourth. Under these conditions, the Christian community of Bethlehem, one of the oldest in the world, is dwindling.
For most of us, Bethlehem is a storybook town that we only read about during Advent. Without peace, its very real residents face a bleak, dreamless future. However, despite the darkness of despair, the Christians of Bethlehem continue the advent journey of waiting and hoping for peace.
For me, in this context, the hymn takes on a fuller meaning, and summarizes the hopes and fears of all the years:
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
During this season of hopeful anticipation, pray for the residents of Bethlehem. For more information, visit: www.openbethlehem.org.
A Charlie Brown Christmas
Christmas time is here
Families drawing near
Oh that we could always see
Such spirit through the year…
Music from the animated movie A Charlie Brown Christmas has always been my essential soundtrack for this time of year. I listen to it more than I watch it—it plays in my car CD player, at work, online on my Pandora station, and at home. If it comes on overhead at the mall, even better! I can listen to it over and over again.
You won’t find most of the songs in the film in any official advent songbook, but what the music captures has everything to do with the true meaning of Christmas and the happenstance miracle that was Christ’s birth.
The film itself was produced on a shoestring budget and so trained choral singers were not used to perform the kids’ parts, but rather kids with no experience in voice work. And I would have it no other way. The movie captures perfectly the Charlie Brown-ness I’ve come to love—a boy who can get nothing right and yet still fights for the true non-commercialized meaning of Christmas. The audio is poorly edited and yet the singing remains pure, hopeful and peaceful. There were producers who thought Linus reciting the story of the birth of Christ from the chapter of Luke was going to ruin ratings. But in the end the movie was a huge success and has played every year since 1965.
To me, when I listen to the Christmas music in the film, I’m moved by the risk-taking and the trust placed in these children to carry the Story.
And so I am reminded of the child who came from a dirty barn, before hand sanitizers; who was laid inside a place where cows would feed – and how the world trusted him to carry our burdens, our worries and our faults, all our imperfections to God, to save us all from ourselves.
What a gift.
…Oh that we could always see
Such spirit through the year…
I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Christmas has always been a very special time to me. As I get older and circumstances change, it is becoming even more so. With both my sons living so far away, I cherish the time spent with family, and Christmas is certainly one of those times. There are so many carols that I love, but since my teens, the one that has meant the most to me is I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day. With peace on earth being my mantra, the song's words that express turning from despair to hope are words that I pray for each of us and for the world.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the words as a poem during the Civil War, after his son had been injured and two years after the death of his beloved wife. This fall I enjoyed being in a Social Justice Sunday School class. It reemphasized my wish for all of us to work to free our world from the despair of war, economic injustice, racism, and a lack of valuing all people, to the promise and commitment of a world filled with peace, economic justice, racial equality and the sanctity of life. As the song states “the world revolves from night to day”; we can change from hate, strife and war to peace on earth. Let us pray that each of us will not be just dreamers or hearers, but doers of this word for our future.
John 14:27: Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.
O God, teach us your peace, and may we listen for your infinite wisdom and discover a course of action that will lead to peace on earth. Amen
Almost a quarter of a century ago, we were the parents of two young preschoolers. Our inquisitive and precocious first born was forever asking us about Hark. We had no idea to whom he was referring and why he thought we should until the next Advent. What an “aha” moment we had when we sang Hark! the Herald Angels Sing. From then on, that carol always brings a chuckle and a smile. In fact, we hang several ornaments on our tree that have the word “Hark” written above, below, or across the angel in remembrance of Hark.
Lord, we are grateful that those of us who accept and welcome the Christ Child have Christmas eternally in our hearts. Thanks be to you, God, that Christianity is unique in being a singing faith and that Christmas carols belong in our praise of Christ Jesus. Let Christmas be forever in all of us; whether it be realized through the innocence of a child as Hark, the Herald’s angel or as it was actually written; Hark! the herald angels sing. Glory to the newborn King! Amen.
A Rose that Keeps on Blooming
The church was completely darkened save for a few candles on the altar and the candles each of us carried, as we processed slowly into St. Rose Church in New Lexington, Ohio at midnight on those Christmas Eves so long ago. “Lo how a rose e’er blooming, from tender stem hath sprung…” we sang, we older boys singing the harmony while the younger sang the main melody. Our families stood listening, as we proudly lifted our voices to this beautifully hymn. We did not know then that others had been singing the same hymn (in German, until near the turn of the last century) to the same melody since the early 1600’s, while others also listened over all those years. Scholars tell us the Gospel Christmas stories likely never happened, added by the two Gospel writers as previews and preludes to their narratives. And perhaps the scholars speak truth. None-the-less, we still sing this and other old carols, still surrounded by families and friends, in communion with all those others who have sung them, celebrating the coming of the one who taught us and teaches us to love God and to love our neighbor, and not to be afraid.
The Friendly Beasts
September. The school year is in full swing at Media Friends Elementary School. Soon it is November. Preparation for the annual Christmas pageant begins. Roles are cast: Mary, Joseph, Shepherds and Wise Men. Songs are learned.
One song: The Friendly Beasts – “Jesus our brother kind and good…”
Celebrating Jesus’ birth with voice and music in that quiet meeting room so full of God’s presence set the tone for Christmas in my childhood. A potent story; the safety and warmth of community; a special season of love and connection.
Years later, on a Christmas CD, Darrell Adam’s clear voice sings “Jesus our brother kind and good/…” It all floods back; the silence full of God’s presence in that Quaker meeting room; memories of childhood and a deeper connection with the larger family of faith that had for centuries celebrated together in pageant and song the coming of God into His creation.
The Friendly Beasts
Jesus our brother, kind and good was humbly born in a stable rude,
And the friendly beasts around him stood. Jesus our brother, kind and good.
I said the donkey all shaggy and brown I carried his mother uphill and down
I carried her safely to Bethlehem town. I said the donkey all shaggy and brown.
I said the cow all white and red I gave him my manger for his bed
I gave him my hay to cradle his head I said the cow all white and red.
I said the sheep with curly horn I gave him my fur for a blanket warm
I gave him my coat on Christmas morn. I said the sheep with curly horn.
I said the dove from the rafters high. I cooed him to sleep my mate and I
We cooed him to sleep so he did not cry I said the dove from the rafters high.
Thus every beast by some good spell In the stable rude was glad to tell
Of the gift they gave Emmanuel, the gift that they gave Emmanuel.
O Holy Night
O Holy Night is the Christmas carol that echoes in my mind more than most other carols. The first time I remember hearing it was when I was at in second grade. Lois, one of my high school cousins, sang this carol at the end of a school Christmas program. Lois was one of the “big girls” in the school and so I was impressed that someone I was related to could sing in a program. I loved the music and the words, and I sang it to myself for the rest of the season.
A decade ago, Molly (John’s granddaughter) who was about 3 years old at the time, was at the Christmas Eve program at Crescent Hill Baptist Church and heard Ian Hooper sing O Holy Night toward the end of the service. Molly was transfigured by Ian’s voice and the music. Her face registered surprise and pleasure as he sang. For the rest of the Christmas season she would see a man about Ian’s age and would ask us “Is that the big boy who sang?” To the extent a three year old can fall in love with a singer and with a hymn, that was a holy night for Molly.
O Come, All Ye Faithful
One of the most familiar Christmas carols is “O Come, All Ye Faithful “. Often used as a processional hymn during Advent, the story of the carol is a bit complicated. There are several versions to the story, but there is general agreement that the carol was first identified as an anonymous Latin hymn, and the hymn tune has the Latin title “Adeste Fidelis.” Later the names of individuals became associated with the words and music. Our present hymnal states that the words come from a Latin hymn attributed to John Wade in 1751, translated by Frederick Oakeley in 1841, and “others”. A collection of carols called “100 Carols For Choirs” adds the name of W. T. Brooke to the list of “others”. Our hymnal notes that the music comes from John Wade’s “Cantus Diversi”, another Latin title, in 1751. This hymnal has a separate entry for the chorus, called “O Come, Let Us Adore Him”.
There are also many variations in the number of stanzas and the words of those stanzas. Most hymnals have 3 or 4 stanzas, but our church’s “Hanging of the Greens” booklet for 1987 has 6 stanzas. The collection of carols, already mentioned, adds a seventh stanza.
These questions of authorship, variations in the number of stanzas and wording, may be of interest, but these matters should not detract from the beauty and meaning of the carol. In hymnals with four stanzas, the first and third stanzas go together, also the second and fourth stanzas. The first stanza contains the invitation: “O come all ye faithful—come ye to Bethlehem”. The third stanza involves “choirs of angels” and “all the citizens of heaven” (“bright hosts of heaven” in some versions) singing to the glory of God. These two stanzas are active and inclusive—the word “all” appears in both stanzas. The second and fourth stanzas are meditative and theological in nature. Phrases in these two stanzas allude to some of the great questions the early church pondered, such as the nature of God and the relation of Jesus to God. Scripture passages are evident in the carol, and the fourth stanza concludes with the glorious phrase “Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing”, a direct reference to John 1:14, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us”.
This carol may mean different things to different people. Because of the many truths contained in it, I appreciate it as a call to worship the God who is fully revealed in the face of Jesus. “O come all ye faithful—O come let us adore Christ the Lord.”
Amahl and the Night Visitors
When Ian was a toddler, the church mounted a beautiful production of Amahl and the Night Visitors. Hoop and I brought Ian, prepared to take him out if he disturbed people around us. We all loved music so it was too good to miss. The operetta had hardly begun before Ian was standing in the pew, straining against his father’s arm, pointing and “singing” his own chorus of “Ahs.” As it wasn’t an audience-participation event, I gathered him up and started out of the sanctuary. A loving storm of protests from everyone around us – “Let that baby enjoy this music.” “This makes this performance for me.” “Don’t dare take him out of here” – pulled us back into our place, where we lost ourselves in the production, toddler accompaniment and all.
When Ian was an eighth grader, the church produced Amahl again. This time Ian sang the role of the Page. If you saw the daytime performance you were part of the collective gasp as June Bailey hit the floor during the skirmish when the Page accused the Mother of stealing.
Now Ian sings here again; and every time I see him in the choir, I say a prayer of thanksgiving for all the people here who have brought his love for music full circle. The Amahl music symbolizes this journey for me in a very special way; I love to listen to it and sing along with every role (in private, of course).
Sara Jo Hooper
“At the resurrection…men and women are like angels.” Matthew 22:30
Angels get much attention during the Christmas season and top many a decorated tree. Many of our favorite carols tell of the messages and songs of angels; they visit Mary and Elizabeth, and are the first to tell the good news (Noel) to the shepherds. The Scot poet John Montgomery wrote about Angels from the Realms of Glory and penned another stanza not found in our hymnal:
Sinners, wrung with true repentance,
Doomed for guilt to endless pains,
Justice now revokes the sentence,
Mercy calls you; break your chains.
We don’t know much about what happens to us after we die, but I believe Jesus’ words that we become angels. Like Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life we are given the opportunity to be guardians of those still here. As I write this on the eve before All Saints’ Day, I’m reminded of those saints of Crescent Hill Baptist Church and our family who serve as guardian angels for us not only during the Advent season but throughout the year. Amy Grant sings of these guardians, and even Bob Dylan sings of his “Precious Angel.”
Though I readily admit I don’t understand where the guardian angels were when Laua Lue, Grady, Amy, Chauncey, Jenny, Sam and others died, nevertheless, I strongly feel the mystical reality of these angels in our midst. “Further along we’ll know more about it,” is about all we can say. In the meantime, let’s celebrate with the various carols the presence of angels in our lives and the record of their deeds as agents of God in the pages of the Bible.
Bread of Heaven – (Mary’s Song)
A young woman in her prime; at a most exciting time of her life, engaged and planning to marry with blessings from all the families involved.
Mary accepted a Holy request, a favor, which now threatens her relationship with Joseph, her relationship with both of their families, her life plans and whole future. And what’s more, her whole community thinks she’s delusional.
Just as Christ would later do in the Garden of Gethsemane, Mary questions if she really should have been the one to do this for god. Isn’t there someone else smarter, much braver, more self-assured, who would’ve been a better mother for God’s child? She questions, “What have I done?”
Then her prayer for God to sustain her through this ordeal … to give her comfort and help her not feel so alone. “Breath of Heaven, hold me together!” How many times have I breathed and cried that prayer request?
And as she is comforted by remembering who God is and God’s power and holiness, she then submits to continue and carry out God’s Holy plan, “Thy will be done.” Mary doesn’t just offer her gifts, her talents, her money. Her offering is of her physical self … to nurture and give life to God’s son. She offers her whole future, her relationships with family, Joseph, potential in-laws and friends. She offers her sanity. With God’s help, Mary offers herself as a living sacrifice, not having a clue of what the future moments or days or years will bring.
Do I trust God enough to e able to give the life God has given me entirely to the mercy of God’s plan?
Song by Amy Grant and Chris Eaton
A Memorable Night of Music
Our shoes made a clacking noise on the stone pavement in the Old City of Jerusalem as we wound our way through ancient arches and walkways, passing shuttered shops and churches in the evening shadows. Soon we reached the Church of the Redeemer which is a stone’s throw from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, excited and ready to practice for our concert. I was part of the Singers of Praise, a choir made up of Messianic believers, Arab Christians, British friends and others from a variety of backgrounds led my missionary Marty Murphey. There was an excitement among us as we prepared to sing The Messiah in this place where a year before we had experienced the Six Day War – a war which united old and new Jerusalem. Visitors began to enter the cold stone church, filling every chair and standing place – Jewish and Arab citizens of this city and internationals came. As we sang those wonderful, comforting and inspiring words of promise I too was a part of the audience as well as a singer. Sharing the message of The Messiah in that place where Christ walked in His time filled and deeply blessed my spirit. It was an unforgettable night of music.
The Night Songs
I am four years old. Mother looks up from the biscuit board to announce, “Old Lil found her calf last night.” For days I puzzled: How did this wobbly calf come up through the ground? What did Lil think when it appeared – and wanting breakfast too?
Now I am five. Daddy comes in to wake us one November morning. “Come see your sister,” he says and takes the three of us to the bedroom where Mother is lying in bed, cradling our beautiful new baby. And not a sound or a hint that this night was different from any other.
Year after year, nighttime brought surprises, excitement, and wonder into my life: Daddy’s return home after working far away; moonlit walks highlighted by the sight of deer or a brooding owl; the hypnotic dance of the Perseid meteor showers on August nights; constellations whirling across the dark sky, reminding me that creation is ever on the move. Night is mysterious, worthy of awe – a time when spectacular events occur – events that could be missed if one doesn’t keep watch.
Little wonder then, that my favorite Advent hymns are the “night” songs – Silent Night, O Holy Night, O Little Town of Bethlehem. But the hymn that captures all the mystery and awe for me is the haunting, somber Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence. It commands us: “Something wonderful is about to happen. Be quiet. Be still. Watch.”
Scripture: Habakkuk 2:20 “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him!”
Sara Jo Hooper
Medical Mission Sisters
My favorite Christmas music is sung by the Medical Mission Sisters, a group of a few hundred Catholic medical Sisters who minister to the poor of numerous countries. I knew nothing of them or their mission when I first heard the music more than 30 years ago as I served coffee in the Potter’s House, a coffee house in Washington D.C. which offered coffee, conversation and music. I was quickly taken with their music and when our second child was born with colic, he and I had a lot of time to listen to music.
To ease my pain with a crying baby, John bought Gold, Incense and Myrrh. David and I walked and walked enjoying the music of these wonderful women. Silent the Night is my favorite, as one nun sings softly of a silent night, strange people, chasing a star and God coming to earth in a quiet birth. A single soloist with a piano and a few instruments sings of doubt surrounding us, but a new day coming after the storm, and regardless of your skin, you will find room at the inn. Come what may, Christmas morn will dawn.
The silence of night matters whether you have a baby with colic or are dealing with your daily problems or our country’s problems or contemplating the world’s problems. We listen silently as we seek to find that quiet room in the Christmas Inn.
Last December the bass clarinet playing son of one of our office nurses invited me to play trombone with their symphonic band in the Male Traditional High School Christmas program. This is apparently a tradition where members of the band ask relatives and friends to play along on one of the Christmas numbers. While listening to the other members of the band practice, I was treated to a performance of Bugler’s Holiday by a group of twelve student and community trumpet players. The song by Leroy Anderson, who also wrote Sleigh Ride, has become one of my favorites on the iPod. It’s a great song to get one’s juices flowing to accomplish whatever task is at hand. Although there’s nothing specifically religious or seasonal about it, the song is often played this time of year and embodies the joy of the holidays.
The disciples tried to stop a many from driving out devils because he was “not one of us,” and Jesus rebuked them saying that “anyone who is not against us is for us.” (Mark 9:40) Even so, we need to give thanks for all of the “secular” entertainments of this season that uplift our spirits and drive devils out of our lives.
When the Male High School and friends trumpet ensemble was practicing Bugler’s Holiday during the rehearsal last December they played once, and then the orchestra director, Nan Moore, herself a trumpet player, said ok, let’s take it faster. I was amazed with the virtuosity of the triple tonguing performers and their ability to play together as a cohesive unit. As we listen to all performers of Christmas songs this season, may we give thanks for the artistry people develop to bring this season’s music to our ears and souls.
Once in Royal David’s City
A favorite Christmas hymn that that is very dear to me is “Once in Royal David’s City.” I first learned it in Junior Choir when I was nine years old. From the first time I heard it, I have always been touched by the beauty of the text and the tune. I think the words of the first stanza grasped my nine-year old heart when I thought about Jesus being born in very poor and humble circumstances.
The Kings College, Cambridge, Service of Lessons and Carols that is broadcast every Christmas Eve at 10 AM on WUOL (90.5) begins with this carol each year. One boy soprano is chosen to sing the first stanza a cappella just before the service. Until that day, no one knows who will do the solo. Then the procession begins with the plaintive, “Once in royal David’s city stood a lowly cattle shed….” At Crescent Hill, we have sometimes employed the tradition of using a boy soprano to sing the first stanza. Some of the boys who sang it in the past were Michael Seiffertt, Scott Tomerlin, and lately, Joshua Steinbach and Matthew Zolla, students at the Highlands Latin School.
The fourth stanza brings the meaning of Advent home to us as we sing, “And our eyes at last shall see him…For that child so dear and gentle is our Lord in heaven above; and he leads his children on to the place where he is gone. When I am teaching this song to children, they invariably ask, “Why does it say ‘he IS gone’instead of ‘he HAS gone’?” It is a wonderful teaching moment when they discover out that it is written in the present tense because Christ’s love is an ongoing thing, for us to “enjoy God and love God forever” (Westminster Catechism).
Come Let Us Adore Him
Scripture: Luke 2:1-14
Christmas songs, like Scripture verses, came alive for me when I heard them for the first time in Japanese. I had heard the Christmas story many times since childhood, and memorized much of it, so the words somehow entered my ears or came out of my mouth without settling for long in my brain. However, when I read in Luke chapter two, verse ten, that the message of great joy will be for subete no hito, it became very clear to me that this story of the coming of Christ is for all the people of the world and we must share it with all of them.
During my first Christmas in Japan in 1950, just five years after world War II ended, I attended a Christmas program at Keisen Baptist Church meeting in a small, prefab building. As I watched those men and women still dressed in their dark blue and brown wartime clothes, I knew they had suffered for Christ during the war. Many had lost their homes or family members and others were forced into labor for the war effort, but on that Christmas morning their faces were radiant with joy as they stood and opened their hymnals. My heart, too, rejoiced, and the song suddenly meant more to me than ever before as I heard them sing, “Oh come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant. Come let us adore Him?
Prayer: Dear God, This Christmas help us to really hear the Scriptures and songs of Christmas, that they might sink deep into our hearts and minds so that we might experience the presence of the living Savior as never before. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Mary Neal Clarke
The Christmas Song
One of my favorite Christmas songs to sing and play on the trombone is The Christmas Song which begins with the lyrics, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire….” The song was written by Mel Torme and Bob Wells and first recorded in 1946 by Nat King Cole. I’m thankful that Leila is able this year to be one of those mentioned in the line:
And so I’m offering this simple phrase,
To kids from one to ninety-two,
Although it’s been said many times, many ways,
Merry Christmas to you.
In addition to Leila we celebrate the fact that these other members of our congregation ninety two (or older) can also sing these lyrics with added gusto:
Kay Bennett, Rachel Bennett Warren, Markie Dobbins, Ann Ford, Elizabeth Grawemeyer, Elizabeth Hardesty, Linda Jennings, Evelyn Stagg, Ruby Tabor, Gaga Woodward
Advent 2009© 2009 by Crescent Hill Baptist Church, 2800 Frankfort Avenue, Louisville, KY 40206. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the publisher.
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CRESCENT HILL BAPTIST CHURCH
2800 Frankfort Avenue
Louisville, Kentucky 40206
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