Worship for Sunday, December 19, 2021

Micah 5:2-5

But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah,
who are one of the little clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to rule in Israel,
whose origin is from of old,
from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
when she who is in labor has brought forth;
then the rest of his kindred shall return
to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord,
in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great
to the ends of the earth;
and he shall be the one of peace.

The Word of the Lord.

Luke 1:46b-55

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for you, Lord, have looked with favor on your lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
you, the Almighty, have done great things for me
and holy is your name.
       You have mercy on those who fear you,
from generation to generation. 
You have shown strength with your arm
and scattered the proud in their conceit,
casting down the mighty from their thrones
and lifting up the lowly.
You have filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.
You have come to the aid of your servant Israel,
to remember the promise of mercy,
the promise made to our forebears,
to Abraham and his children forever. 

Hebrews 10:5-10

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.”

Then I said, ‘See, God, I have come to do your will, O God’ (in the scroll of the book it is written of me).”

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “See, I have come to do your will.” He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

The Word of the Lord.

The Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke 1:39-44

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, “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.

The Gospel of our Lord.

“Oh Come, All Ye Faithful”

John Wade was a Roman Catholic priest caught in the middle of a war over religion. In 1745 strife between the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church was horrible.   Catholics and Protestants were literally killing one another in God’s name -forcing John Wade to flee to France to avoid persecution by the British government and King George II.

Once Wade arrived in France – he was given the task of researching and identifying historical church music so it could be preserved for future generations to enjoy. Wade worked tirelessly to save as much music as possible. During his lifetime Wade discovered and reclaimed many old – sacred works of music.

Wade’s work also inspired him to write new hymns himself. In 1750, Wade finished writing his most famous tune, “Adeste Fideles” which translates to – “Oh Come, All Ye Faithful.”

Because Wade spent most of his life uncovering lost music – people simply assumed this hymn too had an older origin. It was not until the 1940’s that Wade received credit for writing “Oh Come, All Ye Faithful.”

“Good Christian Men (Friends), Rejoice”

Heinrich Suso was born in 1295 – the son of a prosperous German noble family. This was a truly difficult time in world history – but his family’s wealth sheltered young Suso from a world filled with poverty – disease – and despair. And thanks to his parents’ wealth – Suso received a wonderful education.

Eventually Suso felt called to serve God as a Dominican monk.

If Suso had behaved himself and quietly served our Lord as a parish priest he might never have been heard from again. But in 1326 Suso wrote the “Little Book of Truth.”   Suso’s book upset some very important people. In his book – Suso encouraged folks to interpret the Good News of Jesus Christ in a way that would bring hope and compassion to regular folks (like us).

Rather than lauding him as a man who truly understood the radical message of the Gospel – Suso was tried for heresy. In 1329 the Pope branded Suso a heretic and condemned him to death.   Eventually the German king spared Suso’s life and exiled him to Switzerland.

One night, Suso had a vivid dream filled with dancing – singing angels. When Suso awoke he quickly recorded “Good Christian Men, Rejoice.”

At the time it was written “Good Christian Men, Rejoice” was considered to be a radical hymn.   And it was years before it was widely accepted. Even then it wasn’t accepted by the Catholic church itself. But the German people eventually embraced this hymn with great enthusiasm. In fact – it is said to have been one of Martin Luther’s favorites.

“Silent Night”

In December 1818 a young priest named Joseph Mohr was making the final preparations for the Christmas Eve worship he had been planning for months.   Everything from the music to the sermon was ready. But as he made his final preparations, Mohr encountered a serious problem. The church organ was broken!

Realizing there was nothing he could do – Mohr prayed and asked God to show him a way to bring music to his congregation on this very special night.

Almost as soon as he finished his prayer – Mohr remembered a Christmas poem he had written two years before after a winter’s walk from his grandparents’ farm to the church. His poem was called – “Silent Night! Holy Night!”

That same evening a young schoolteacher named Franz Gruber was home in his drafty apartment over the local school when his friend Joseph Mohr hurried in. After a quick “Merry Christmas” – Mohr quickly explained his problem and then shared his poem with his friend.   “Franz,” he begged, “can you write music to these words that can be easily learned by a choir and played on a guitar?”

A few hours later the two friends met at the church. There in a candlelit sanctuary, Gruber shared his new music with Mohr. The young priest was thrilled with his friend’s inspired work. And they quickly shared the music with the waiting church choir.

Just after midnight – these two friends introduced their simple – yet beautiful song to their congregation. They could never have guessed that “Silent Night” would be sung by millions of Christians each Christmas season.

“Joy to the World!”

Two songwriters – who never met – created one of Christmas’s most beloved carols.

Isaac Watts was born in 1674, in Southampton, England. His father (also named Isaac) was a revolutionary Protestant church leader. At the time of his son’s birth the elder Watts was in prison. He had been convicted of teaching radical ideas that were not approved by the Church of England. At a very early age it was clear that the son was a lot like his free-thinking father.

Like lots of young people – Watts complained that the church music of his day was uninspired – monotonous and boring. So – his father challenged him to stop complaining and come up with something better. This challenge resulted in Isaac Watts composing more that 600 hymns!

For a while – most of his work was met with contempt and disdain.   Some even viewed young Isaac Watts as a heretic and as the tool of the devil. But Watts refused to give up.

Eventually through his hymns and theological writings – Watts became one of the best-known clergymen in England. Some loved him and some hated him – but most people living in England at the time had an opinion about him!

While studying Psalm 98 Watts was inspired to write his most famous hymn – “Joy to the World.” But it never caught on during his lifetime. And in 1748 when Watts died – few people had heard of the carol “Joy to the World.”

In 1792 Lowell Mason was born in New Jersey. Even though it was clear he was musically gifted from a young age – Mason did not see a way to make a living as a musician. So – in 1812 – he moved to Savannah, Georgia to become a banker. But he loved music and continued to study music in his spare time.

Eventually he wrote a book of music that had been inspired by the classical composer Handel and sent it to a Boston publisher. But his hard work was quickly rejected because people didn’t want classical music anymore. They wanted something new and different.

Mason decided to focus his talents on his work as a Sunday school teacher and organist. So – you can imagine his surprise when in – 1827 – he learned that his music had finally found a publisher, and that the Handel Society of Massachusetts had ordered 50,000 copies of his songbook.

He soon moved to Boston. For the next 20 years Mason was a trend setter in the world of music who was constantly battling the establishment with his revolutionary ideas.

In his 1839 songbook entitled Modern Psalmist, Mason finally linked Watt’s psalm-inspired lyrics to his own tune. And Americans quickly embraced “Joy to the World!” as a Christmas carol. Soon Christians all over the world were singing this joyful song as a part of their Christmas celebrations too.

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