January 28, 2018

Go Tell It: Image

We are looking at the Christmas Carol Go Tell it on the Mountain, an old song collected and saved through the efforts of John Wesley Work, Jr. (see Jan. 7). Today we return to the manger. A place we visited just over a month ago (where has the time gone?). The song says, “Down in a lowly manger/Our humble Christ was born/And God sent us salvation,/That blessed Christmas morn.”

Have we lost our awe at the Babe in the manger? We paused briefly in our day-to-day lives to acknowledge the Word made flesh as the Infant in the manger, then it was on to the next thing. The shepherds, as we’ve seen, had a vision of angels who spoke of the wonder and sent them to Bethlehem to see the Baby.
Jesus seemed like any other baby, iconographers and Renaissance painters may have added halos to their art, but the infant in the straw was just that, an infant who cried and suckled, who slept and fussed, who needed bathed and cared for.

The writers of the Epistles remind us that the Infant was more than that, though, “when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the Law…that we might receive our adoption as sons and daughters.” (Galatians 4:4-5). We are told that Christ “existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to cling to, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in human likeness.” (Philippians 2:6-7)

The lowly manger the shepherds visited held a human baby, but also held God. We should remember that when we visit the manger. We should also remember that each of us is made in the image of God. In Genesis, God says, “let us make humanity in our image, after our likeness”. (Genesis 1:26) Like the lowly manger, we hold a piece of God within our humanity. Each and every human being has the hint of God within them. Sometimes it is hard to see, and with others it shines through dramatically.

How does that image of God shine through you? Andrew Kellner, writing the January 23, 2018 meditation for d365.org says, “The fact of the matter is, if someone knows you are a person of faith, they will look at how you live and what you have to say. They will draw conclusions about your faith, your faith community, and even about God based on what they observe. We each act as prophets, people who share in speaking the message of God into the world. So what are your life, your actions, your words and language saying?”

Do you need to revisit the manger and greet anew the Infant there? Can you rediscover the awe of a child and of the shepherds who first came to the manger? Does it make you think differently about who, and Whose, you are?

Next time we consider what it means to be a Seeker. What do we seek? How do we know when we find it?

January 21, 2018

Go Tell It: Angel Wings

Last week we discovered that we are called to be on watch for God’s action in our lives and in the world. We are then to Go Tell it on the Mountain like the Christmas song says. Today, we continue with the shepherds’ experience with the announcement of Jesus’ birth.

The carol says, “The shepherds feared and trembled/When lo! above the earth/Rang out the angel chorus/That hailed our Savior's birth.” Sometimes when we are just doing what we do every day, God breaks in. We may not always hear angel choruses, but we can sense the touch of their wings.

There is another song that talks about angels among us. Surely the Presence by Lanny Wolfe  reminds us that we can see God’s glory “on each face”. There are times when we feel that “I've touched the hem of God's garment,/I can almost see God's face.
The words allude to the Gospel story (Mark 5: 25-34) of the woman who had been ill with hemorrhages for years. “If I can but touch the hem of his robe, I will be healed,” she thinks. Indeed when she touches Jesus’ clothing and is healed. Jesus knows that someone has touched him and been made whole even though, as the disciples say, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?” ’ Then the woman comes forward in fear and trembling. She is face to face with Jesus who assures her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’

The shepherds were confronted by the power and love of God announcing Christ’s birth. The woman was face to face with the One who makes whole. Both were changed. The shepherds left their flocks to see what the angels were talking about and the woman returned to her community, healed and no longer unclean and rejected. When we hear the angels and see God's face, we are transformed and are again part of the community. 

As the Lanny Wolfe song notes, “In the midst of His children/The Lord said He would be./It doesn't take very many/It can be just two or three./And I feel that same sweet spirit/That I felt oft times before./Surely I can say/I've been with My Lord.” Jesus promised “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” In the group of shepherds, in the crowd of people around Jesus, and in the community that the woman was reunited with, God was present.

In our own gatherings God is there. In the Beloved Community spoken of by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., God is present. With our friends and companions and strangers we can experience the ‘touch of angel wings’ and hear the ‘angel chorus’ proclaiming ‘peace on earth’. Then we can together ‘go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere’.

When have you felt the touch of angel’s wings or heard the whisper of an angelic chorus?

January 14, 2018

Go Tell It: Watching

This Epiphany we are looking at the carol Go Tell it on the Mountain, an old Spiritual. Last week we looked at the refrain and how mountains are important in our interaction with God and in spreading the Good News.

This week, we find the shepherds who “kept their watching/Over Wandering flocks by night/Behold throughout the heavens/There shone a holy light.”

The shepherds were going about their daily work of tending their flocks. They were not expecting anything unusual to happen. We can imagine them around their fires after the sheep have been herded safely into the night enclosure. Probably they were eating and talking about family. Perhaps they were sharing a concern about some sheep who was limping or had been caught in a bush during the day.

There are lots of things we might watch for. If company is coming, we watch for their arrival. Like the shepherds, we can watch over our children or families. We may watch over our co-workers or our own work to be sure it is done correctly. Perhaps we need to watch what we say or how we do something so we don’t make a mistake.

In the Book of Habakkuk in the Bible, he says, “I will stand on my guard post and station myself on the rampart; And I will keep watch to see what He will speak to me, and how I may reply when I am reproved.” (Habakkuk 2:1) Proverbs 16:17 notes, “The highway of the upright is to depart from evil; he who watches his way preserves his life.

In Hebrews, we are told, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:17) Jesus warns "Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming. But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what time of the night the thief was coming, he would have been on the alert and would not have allowed his house to be broken into. For this reason you also must be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour when you do not think He will.” (Matthew 24:42-44)  

It seems then, that one very important thing to watch for is the will of God. We should keep watch over our own and one another’s souls, and be alert for the coming of the Son of Man. We are admonished to keep watch for what God will say and be watchful on the highway of life. Sounds like a tall order, doesn’t it? Luckily, we don’t have to do it alone. God is right there beside us, via the Holy Spirit, to help us keep watch.

Jesus himself promises that he will be there to guide and protect. “I am the gate for the sheep…I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture…I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me." (John 10:7, 9, 14)
Like the cat in the image (by John Henley) sometimes we have a very limited scope of vision. That is when we need to be most alert, and also the time when we can most fully depend on God’s guidance and protection.

The Shepherds in the carol, while going about their nightly duty of watching their flocks saw “throughout the heavens there shone a holy light”. We don’t know what we might see as we keep watch for God’s action in our lives and in the world. That is part of the adventure. Let’s keep watching! Then when we see what God is doing we can ‘Go tell it on the mountain”!

January 7, 2018

Go Tell It-On the Mountains

One of my favorite Christmas carols is Go Tell it on the Mountain. It was first published by John Wesley Work, Jr. in 1907. Work, born in 1871 in Nashville, TN attended Fisk University where he developed an interest in collecting Negro spirituals while studying Latin and history as well as singing in the Mozart society. Fisk University was founded in 1866 by the American Missionary Association to provide schooling for Black freedmen. Music was an important part of the curriculum from the beginning including the Fisk Jubilee Singers.

Work later studied for a year at Harvard and received his Masters from Fisk University in 1898. He then began teaching Latin and Greek at Fisk University. With his brother he collected, harmonized, and published collections of slave songs and spirituals. He continued his work gathering the old songs even after leaving Fisk University in 1923. He served as president of Roger Williams University until his death in 1925.

Throughout Epiphany we’ll be looking at a verse of this song each week. The theme of the carol is to Go, Tell, which is the message of Epiphany. The refrain inspires us to

Go, Tell It On The Mountain,
Over the hills and everywhere;
Go, Tell It On The Mountain
That Jesus Christ is born.

Mountains can be intimidating to climb and awe-inspiring to look at. Some people spend great amounts of time, and money, getting to the top of Mt. Everest or being the first to summit some other high peak. In Colorado there are a series of peaks that are over 14,000 feet high known as Fourteeners. Many hikers strive to climb one or more of these mountains. (Others of us prefer to take the road to the top for the view, like this one from Cottonwood Pass, CO, which is only a little over 12,000 feet in elevation.)

When you are on the top of a mountain, you can see for long distances. From the top of Sandia Crest in Albuquerque, you can see to Mount Taylor (over 100 miles to the west) and sometimes even further. It is no wonder that in all cultures, mountains have been regarded as the home of the gods.

There are lots of verses about Mountains in the Bible. God often meets someone on a mountain. Think of Noah, who landed on Mt. Ararat and Moses who met with God on Sinai and Horeb. Abraham was going to sacrifice Isaac on a mountain until restrained by God. There was Elijah who fled to the mountain of God and was there consoled and encouraged by the ‘still small voice’.

Mountains are also compared to God’s steadfast love.For the mountains may be removed and the hills may shake, But My lovingkindness will not be removed from you, And My covenant of peace will not be shaken," Says the LORD who has compassion on you.” (Isaiah 54:10) Psalm 95 reminds us “In [God’s] hand are the depths of the earth, the peaks of the mountains are His also.”

Jesus is tempted on a ‘high place’ to worship Satan (Luke 4:5-7). Jesus preaches on mountainsides and is transfigured on a mountain while talking to Elijah and Moses. Later, he compares mountains to faith. In Matthew 17:20 he says, “if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.”

The refrain of our song says we should ‘go, tell it on the mountain, that Jesus Christ is born’. This is an echo of Isaiah 40:9 “You who bring good news to Zion, go up on a high mountain. You who bring good news to Jerusalem, lift up your voice with a shout, lift it up, do not be afraid; say to the towns of Judah, ‘Here is your God!’” This verse may remind you of Handel’s Messiah in which the solo uses these same words.  

We are encouraged to get out of the day-to-day valleys of life to proclaim this good news. From the heights we can see further and be heard for greater distances. We are invited to meet God in the hills, like the ancient prophets did. The song says that the Good News is to be told over the hills and everywhere.’ Sometimes it is necessary to get away from the distractions of the everyday life in order to be found by God.

How can you escape from the day-to-day valleys to find a mountain and tell the Good News?

Are there mountains you need to surmount to tell the Good News?

What does the Good News that “Jesus Christ is born” mean for you in this New Year?
Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll look at the Shepherds response to the announcement.