On Ascension Day, the church celebrates Christ’s going up and returning to his Father in glory as a resurrected human being, the firstfruits of the new creation. Ten days later, we celebrate God coming down again, this time not in human form in a particular time and place—as we celebrate at Christmas—but now as Spirit, a gift to each believer in every time and place. The Christian church has also traditionally followed Pentecost Sunday with Trinity Sunday, our praise and adoration ascending to our triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Discovering fresh worship music for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphanycan certainly be a challenge. In no other season is the pressure to singfamiliar songs so evident. And yet, in this season we are surrounded bywhat we already know. We hear the old Christmas strains on our commute,at Starbucks, and in the mall.
To help my faith community stay spiritually awake in December, I usetwo methods: creatively arranging old favorites and introducing newworld and modern songs. Here are a few suggestions for doing both.
Imagine a piece of art that you would like to hang or install in your home. If it’s a painting, you’d want to frame it and then find the right spot in the right room for it, so that your viewing of the painting would be enriched by its placement. If it’s a sculpture, you’d want to find the spot that best honors the piece and allows you to enjoy it fully.
None of these songs can be called traditional hymns. Three of them are very short—just right for inviting churches (and schools!) to introduce them to children and for repeated use by the congregation during Lent or Eastertide. The other two songs are longer; they’re directly tied to Scripture passages scheduled for Year C in the Revised Common Lectionary that begins with Advent 2009.
The Advent/Christmas/Epiphany cycle is a time of newness: a new liturgical year begins with the first Sunday of Advent. A new year on the secular calendar begins before the cycle is done. And let’s not forget the new babies in the stories!
This column is the oldest continuing column in Reformed Worship. From the first issue (RW 1, Advent 1986, then named “Hymn of the Month”), the column guidelines set a goal that “one (or more) should be a psalm or a setting of Scripture.” That guideline has been followed more or less over the years, but in this issue, we’re happy to offer all psalm-based songs as a way of celebrating the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin (1509-1564).
I’ll never forget my visit to see the famous leaning tower in Pisa, Italy. I had not realized that the tower was a bell tower at the east end of the church in Pisa, a separate building with bells that would peal when someone died. I actually became more interested in the building at the other end of the church—the round baptistery, a separate building dating from the thirteenth century built just for baptisms, with fantastic acoustics.