Posts Tagged Christmas

Song for Advent: Come Again Lord Jesus

“Advent” is the time of the church calendar when we look for the coming of the Lord Jesus. It has elements of past, present, and future longing for the coming of the Messiah. We read the Messianic passages from the prophets that long for a suffering servant to come, a child who will bring light from darkness. Then we celebrate that Jesus did come as a baby in the time of Caesar Augustus.

In the present, we look for the Messiah to come now in the present into the hearts and lives of broken people, structures, and communities. We cry to the Lord for his Spirit to fill us and to be present in all our thoughts and give us purpose and vision. Then we celebrate that his promise is fulfilled over and over to be the living and ever-present Emmanuel, God with us.

For the future, we look to the coming of the Lord in the full consummation of the story of redemption. All the saints from the past, present, and future, along with the whole universe of creation groans with anticipation that the Lord Jesus will be forever present as the King of Kings in the glorious New City of God. We celebration in Advent that he has always been faithful to his promises and he will not fail to come again.

I wrote this song for Advent that doesn’t have any stable, shepherds, angels, star, or even mention sweet little baby Jesus. However, it does get to the heart of the longing for the Lord Jesus to come again and be our King in the past, present and future.

Come Again Lord Jesus

Come again Lord Jesus
All creation join and sing
Come again Lord Jesus
Come again and be our King
Come again and be our King

To the poor and the forsaken
brokenhearted and alone
Come again and bring us hope
The one true Son of David
Worthy Lamb upon the throne
Come again and bring us peace

As you came before, Jesus come again
Oh, we need you Lord, please come again

To the victim and the prisoner
with no power and no name
Come again and bring us joy
Be the one true Righteous Shepherd
Calling lost sheep to reclaim
Come again and bring us love

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NCF Christmas Concert Highlights by Neil Das

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Too many services!

So, I’m a little too busy to be posting. I have 6 (maybe 7) services to prepare and 5 more work days in which to get it done. At the same time, our army of volunteer musicians is getting depleted by the shear number of roles that have to be played in all these celebrations. We’re having fun, but sometimes you need a break from fun to hang with your family and use your vacation time for vacationing. 

Is it too much? I ask myself the question every Christmas. Why do we have parties, concerts, worship services, programs, and more all December long? Can’t we just be at home, sipping egg nog and watching “It’s a Wonderful Life”?

Of course, as disciples of Jesus, it’s kind of a big deal to celebrate his birthday. Not only that, but it’s also a celebration of how, through Jesus, we have become one family, a royal priesthood offering acceptable sacrifices of worship. When I think of it that way, it seems more like we should plan a few more celebrations, eat a few more cookies, and dance together with our whole family in Christ. Individualistic American culture has put the emphasis on the exalted ME, and what “the ME” wants “the Me” gets (read that in a Cookie Monster voice for better effect). The influence of this cultural value on my heart makes it so hard to get into the idea of celebrating so much. As a leader of musicians, I need to have the freedom in the Spirit to set aside the both my personal agenda, and set aside the pull to be a kind of mall-Santa of worship services whose job it is to fulfill all the selfish desires of all the selfish ME’s in the church. That’s what makes my job exhausting at this time of year, not the celebrations. 

Our concert is on Saturday night at 6:30. It’s going to involve close to 50 people. Each person in the concert is working together to come before the Lord in worship and to invite the congregation to come and behold him, too. May our worship in celebration of Christmas over the next two weeks, be an expression of our individual joy and our corporate joy as well. 

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The night I wept

I had the strange and embarrassing experience a few months ago of becoming emotionally overwhelmed in the midst of reading a bedtime story to my daughter. Most evenings, one of us reads aloud to our kids as they settle down for bed and on this particular evening, without any warning, I lost my composure, forced my way through to the end of the chapter, then quickly ran into the bathroom and then I began, what can only be described as sobbing. I’m pretty sure that my six year old daughter, snuggled up against my side, methodically brushing her freshly washed hair, was oblivious to my pregnant pauses, tightened jaw and voice cracking. “Dad,” she said impatiently, “keep reading.”

We had a hard year of loss and disappointment and on this particular evening, I had some specific situations on my mind. Our friend, Nate, was in the ICU with a grim prognosis. Just the previous weekend, he had been on the schedule at church to play the trumpet and now, desperate prayers were offered in our church community, interceding for a miraculous recovery. I was also thinking of a child in Fort Wayne, IN, who is my first-cousin-once-removed. Silas Ward was the second adopted child of my cousin, Sam and his wife Sara. When they brought him home he was a normal baby, but after the first year, they noticed a delay in some of his development. Problems eating and weak muscles pointed to a mysterious problem that had doctors baffled. Eventually, they determined that Silas was born with an extremely rare neurological disorder called “Leigh’s Disease” which was slowly destroying his brain cells. This fall, my cousin said goodbye to Silas who only lived to be 2 years old.

The night I wept, our bedtime reading was from “Prince Caspian” from the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. The stories are an allegory for the Kingdom and the gospel of Jesus, who is portrayed symbolically by an enormous and powerful lion named, Aslan. In “Prince Caspian”, the wondrous and magical creatures of Narnia had long been forgotten and been replaced by drab, empirical and secular humans known as the Telmarians. The chapter I was reading that night was the story of the incarnation of Aslan back into Narnia. The giant lion, with an almost kitten-like joy, bounds through the streets of a small village leading a teaming crowd of magic creatures as the dumbfounded Telmarians stand in amazement. Much like the life of Jesus we find in the gospels, this savior goes through the town healing, delivering, and redeeming. My favorite example is when Aslan finds a boy being beaten by a man with a stick. Aslan turns the stick into a bundle of flowers, then he turns the man into a tree rooted into place as the boy begins laughing and dancing. The chapter ends with the discovery of an elderly woman who is about to die when Aslan speaks and the disease leaves her. She sits up, healed and filled with joy and wonder at seeing Aslan.

As I’m reading this, I feel the presence of Christ in the room with us. As amazing as Aslan is, he is only a copycat of the actual glory of the incarnation of Jesus.  I saw in the story, the deep brokenness of my own heart in such tragedy and loss juxtaposed with the unmeasured joy that comes in the wake of the eternal life and healing of Jesus.  In wonder and adoration like Mary Magdalene after the resurrection of her brother Lazarus, I wept at the feet of Jesus. There with my daughter in the dim light of her bedroom, my eyes and my heart were opened to come and behold Him, born the king of Angels.

O come, let us  adore Him, Christ the Lord.

 

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A Child Is Born

A Child Is Born

The people walking in darkness
Have seen a dawning light
Behold a star is rising
That will break the endless night
For the voice that sang creations song,
The Word for which the nations long
Has come to us in flesh and bone
To bring his ransomed captives home
For to us a child, for to us a child,
A child is born

He comes to make his blessings known
Forever He will reign on David’s throne
His government and peace will grow and grow

We’ll call him
Wonderful counselor, Mighty God
Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace

For the voice that sang creations song,
The Word for which the nations long
Has come to us in flesh and bone
To bring his ransomed captives home
For to us a child, for to us a child,
A child is born

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O Come Let Us Adore Him – A Concert In Celebration of Advent Season

Saturday, December 15, 2012 6:30 PM

Artwork by Julie Carvalho (Thank you, Julie!!)

Sign in that you are coming at the Facebook event here.

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Why were there no angels in the stable?

Something occurred to me this weekend for the first time about the Nativity. There’s no angel at the stable. The angels, God’s appointed messengers or “heralds” of his kingdom breaking out were not at the stable, but out in the fields. I’ve never thought about it. Sunday, Tony Myles sermon brought up the fact that as the shepherds came to the stable bringing news of their run-in with a heavenly host, Mary pondered and treasured this message in her heart.

The angel, Gabriel, was there 9 months earlier to announce to Mary God’s plan. However, at the moment when Mary was going into labor and there was no home or inn available, God’s messengers were absent. If you were Mary and Joseph, wouldn’t it have been nice to get a little update from God, to touch base with the leadership, to make sure that this apparent set-back was not going to be a problem. Instead, Mary and Joseph had to trust in the messages they had previously received that despite the circumstances, they were still walking in the way of the kingdom.

How many times have I been super-excited about God’s kingdom, a feeling of direct confirmation from the Holy Spirit that I know what to do and where to be, and then 9 months later (or 9 minutes) I’m feeling lost and confused? I’d love to get a message from Gabriel right about then, “Yes, Jesus is on the throne, and you are in the right place!” Instead, I cry out for confirmation and the I’m met with “Sorry, there’s no room in the inn, but we’ve got a stable where you can have that baby.”

Still,  despite the absence of angels at the stable, God did deliver a message of confirmation to Mary and Joseph through the shepherds. They come to the stable looking for the sign of a baby lying in a manger. Upon finding the sign, the share with the new parents the announcement of the angels – a second hand confirmation of the kingdom. Often, the Lord uses a second hand confirmation through a fellow member of the kingdom who can see what you are doing and who shares with you their honest appreciation for how the kingdom is expressed in your life. I can often disregard these encouragements as platitudes or flattery. “If you could see things from my perspective, then you would know that this is not as ‘righteous’ as it looks” I think to myself.

The point is, I’m encourage to think of Mary and Joseph in a place of crisis in their “ministry” where they can’t see God’s kingdom at all. Then God sends encouragement in the form of fellow believers. So, maybe I need to look for more opportunities to encourage my friends with how clearly I can see the kingdom being expressed in them.

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Advent songs from the Black Gospel Tradition

As a cross-cultural church, we are always looking for good resources for music from outside the mainstream. When I go to the usual websites, hymnals or whatever it can be difficult to locate unique gospel music resources for Christmas. Here’s a few that I’ve come across that you might enjoy:

 

The Classics

Go Tell It On The Mountain (we’ve been using the Norman Hutchins Arrangement)

Jesus Oh What A Wonderful Child (Mississippi Choir – more changes than we play, but an excellent groove)

Rise Up Shepherd and Follow (We do this a lot more R&Bish, but I’m loving this churchy sound on the clip)

Mary Had A Baby (this clip is brilliant)

Deeper Cuts

Poor Little Jesus (I prefer the Goldgate Quartet’s version of this tune, but I couldn’t find a youtube clip. This version is pretty sweat as well.)

Behold The Star (here’s a Morehouse/Spelman clip for my friend, Darwin)

Contemporary Choir Tunes

Rejoice – Richard Smallwood (Smallwood is the king of cool changes, polyphony, and scripture-based text)

Emmanuel – Norman Hutchins (This is a song inviting adoration – simple and effective)

O Come – Israel Houghton (this is basically a “Thriller” groove for Advent)

Now Behold The Lamb – Kirk Franklin (Deeply meaningful song)

Great Joy – Broadway Inspirational Voices (We’re singing the arrangement of Hark The Herald that is on this recording, but the whole octavo is nice)

O Holy Night – Richard Smallwood (from the same recording as “Rejoice”)

Originals written by James Ward

These songs come from my dad’s choir at New City Fellowship in Chattanooga, Tennessee. You can purchase music for them at his website jameswardmusic.com

Bring Your Praise To The King

Christ Is Born

Angel Carol

 Joyful News

 

 

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How to survive the torture of Christmas season

Now that we’re on the other side of “Black Friday”, we will be overexposed to enough Christmas music to choke a reindeer.  After a trip to the mall yesterday, I’ve heard enough renditions of “Sleigh ride” and “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” by auto-tuned pop tarts to make me lose my appetite for egg nog. Much like egg nog, Christmas can be tasty at first, and then if you over-indulge, it can make you a little nauseous. How does one retain one’s sanity whilst being subjected to this Kubrickian regiment of marketing yule? Here’s a few pointers that might help you stomach the next 27 days.

Go classy

You might have to listen to Brittney Spears sing “Santa Baby” when you are out, but you don’t have to subject yourself to that kind of experience at home. Give yourself the gift of good music that retains a semblance of the sacred. A few years ago, a friend gave us tickets to see Handel’s “Messiah” and it was a wonderfully refreshing evening of worship. I give my wife a new Christmas recording every year for her birthday at the end of November so that we will be able to control at least some of the music that we have to listen to. I like to give our collection a wide variety of styles and moods. But what if you are feeling ready to get a little risky?

Go ironic

One way to beat the holiday blues is to do what comes naturally to folks from my generation: fight kitsch-fire with kitsch-fire. I like to get out the super sappy music and give myself a good dosing somewhere at the beginning of the season. Some folks will have the “Christmas Sweater” parties or something like that to play up the absurdity of Xmas. These ventures into PoMo can sometimes become overly cynical and self-destructive so after you let your inner hipster out for a few days, it’s best to bring it back to the gospels.

Go to the cross

Of course this is “the true meaning of Christmas”, right? A divine act of intervention on our behalf in order to redeem the lost. Advent is the thrill of hope in a weary world. Advent is all creation bursting into a glorious song for the triumphant Redeemer entering into the darkness. The manger is not sentimental kitsch. It is the first place of suffering and sacrifice that Jesus experience which placed him on a trajectory toward the cross of Calvary. Take time to listen to the hymns, listen to spirituals, even listen in the malls as the saccharine sentimental music is unintentionally  prophesying that the kingdom of this world is become  the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.

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Emmanuel

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