The First Noël — Carols of Advent Love

Scripture Focus: 2 John 4-6
4 It has given me great joy to find some of your children walking in the truth, just as the Father commanded us. 5 And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. 6 And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.

John 3:16-17
16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

From John: We will be blessed this entire week with Jon Polk’s Advent contributions related to music from this time of year. Jon has always been a key source through whom I learned about unique music and artists worth discovering. Jon is a music connoisseur and collector with a massive collection of music, both on his shelves and in his heart. This week, please enjoy his exploration of the carols of Advent.

Reflection: The First Noël — Carols of Advent Love
By Jon Polk

English lawyer and member of the Society of Antiquaries of London, William Sandys was concerned that the celebration of Christmas, especially the singing of Christmas songs, was waning in the first half of the 19th century. He set about collecting and preserving Christmas carols from both England and France, publishing two volumes totaling over 100 songs.

His first collection in 1833, Christmas Carols Ancient and Modern, also contained a lengthy 136-page introduction examining the history of Christmas celebrations. In this collection was found the first printed appearances of many classic English carols, including “The First Noël.”

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

The origins of the song date back to medieval Europe, a time when dramatizations of biblical stories called Miracle Plays were popular (early origins of Passion Plays and Christmas Pageants). The lyrics plainly recount the nativity stories of the shepherds and Magi directly from scripture.

Sandys’ carol collections helped revitalize Christmas celebrations in England. At the time, carol singing was typically done by singers gathering at people’s homes and was generally not to be found in church worship. Soon many cathedrals began including carols in Christmas services.

In 1880, Bishop Benson in Cornwall developed the first “Nine Lessons and Carols” service. Benson was concerned that the celebration of Christmas had become characterized by excessive consumption of alcohol and he developed a service of Christmas music and Bible readings, hoping to attract partygoers out of the pubs and into church.

The Nine Lessons service gained popularity across England. Ultimately, its most famous incarnation began an annual tradition at King’s College, Cambridge in 1918. At that inaugural event, “The First Noël” was given pride of place as the final congregational hymn in the service.

The song, along with recounting the nativity story, is unashamedly evangelistic, proclaiming the love of God for humanity through Christ’s sacrifice.

Then let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our heavenly Lord
That hath made heaven and earth of naught
And with his blood mankind has bought

One could easily assert that in the modern day, the celebration of the true nature of Christmas has waned. The holiday has become characterized by excessive consumerism and commercialism. Christmas is widely celebrated in a mostly secular way, marked by Black Friday, holiday movies and time off from work and school for the annual family ski trip.

May the simple story found in “The First Noël,” describing the worship of the shepherds and the Magi, encourage us as Christians to re-examine even our own focus on Christmas, calling us back to the importance of proclaiming God’s love to those around us.

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel
Born is the King of Israel!

Listen: The First Noel by Phil Wickham
Read: Lyrics from Hymnary.org

*If you’d like some ideas for how you and your family can recenter your celebration of Christmas, check out the resources from The Advent Conspiracy.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Look upon your covenant; the dark places of the earth are haunts of violence. — Psalm 74.19

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.
Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 7 (Listen – 4:07)
1 John 5 (Listen – 1:50)

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Read more about Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabella — Carols of Advent Joy
…dear reader, to whom will you carry the light and joy of Christmas this year?

How Are You Waiting? :: Hope of Advent

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Scripture Focus: 1 John 5.1-3
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands.

Reflection: How Are You Waiting? :: Hope of Advent
By John Tillman

Especially during the holidays, we are familiar with the feelings of awaiting the arrival of loved ones. The way we wait often varies. On my mother’s side of the family, my Granny and family waited in a celebratory way.

When we were expected at my granny’s home, in the deep country of northern Mississippi, the sound of our tires on the gravel road would announce our coming perhaps a mile before we got there. At times, we rolled up to the house with our relatives’ dogs baying and running along beside us and cousins riding bikes in our wake of dust. We would barely have the car parked before a joyful command from my Granny’s throat would be shouted out the screen door to us, “Get in this house!” It was both an unmistakable command, shouted in the same voice that might say “don’t touch that stove,” and a celebratory description of what was about to happen. We would rush up to cross her threshold and be embraced tightly and enthusiastically. I can best describe it as “lovingly-aggressive anticipation.”

When I go to my parents’ home today, unless I drop by unannounced, the experience is similar. The drapes are open so they can see when we drive up. The door is unlocked and we just walk in. I am usually met at the door with a hug of greeting, or sometimes a shout from the kitchen, “Come on in!” or “Get in here!” Our arrival is not simply expected, but prepared for and anticipated with longing. We are not simply welcomed, but celebrated. This is how the Church waits in the time of Advent. 

Advent is a time in which we leave the front door unlocked for we know the time of Christ’s coming. It is a time in which, we open the front drapes to see down the driveway, we listen for the engine in the distance, the thunderous roll of tires on gravel roads. 

When we do the joyful work of anticipation and preparation for Christ’s Advent, we may find that it is actually we who are coming home. We are reflecting the anticipation of the Father. And it is actually the voice of Christ who will one day shout with lovingly-aggressive anticipation, “Get in this house!” as we cross the threshold of Heaven.

May we prepare and anticipate the coming of Christ.
May we say to him, “get in this house,” inviting him into our churches, our communities, our homes, and our hearts.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Hosanna, Lord, hosanna!…Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; we bless you from the house of the Lord. — Psalm 118.25-26

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Autumn and Wintertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 6:12-42 (Listen -7:17) 
1 John 5 (Listen -3:00)

This Weekend’s Readings
2 Chronicles 7 (Listen -4:07), 2 John (Listen -1:50)
2 Chronicles 7 (Listen -3:02), 3 John (Listen -1:51)

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Read more from A Prayer of Hope :: Hope of Advent
During Advent we trim our lamps and supply ourselves with oil that we may be ready when Christ comes.

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Realizing the Power of Love

Scripture: 1 John 4.7-8
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.

Reflection: Realizing the Power of Love
By John Tillman

It is not too often that the full text of a sermon will be printed in the New York Times. But at culturally significant moments sometimes the Good News is deemed news “fit to print.”

This past weekend’s sermon by Bishop Michael Curry at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle was one such moment. Among many scriptures on love which he referenced, Bishop Curry expanded on 1 John 4, which we read today.

The New Testament says it this way, “beloved, let us love one another because love is of God and those who love are born of God and know God, those who do not love do not know God.” Why? For God is love. There’s power in love. There’s power in love to help and heal when nothing else can. There’s power in love to lift up and liberate when nothing else will. There’s power in love to show us the way to live.

Bishop Curry, did not merely address the power of love for a young couple in marriage, but the power of love as a force for changing the world for the better:

Jesus began the most revolutionary movement in all of human history, a movement grounded in the unconditional love of God for the world. A movement mandating people to live that love. And in so doing, to change not only their lives but the very life of the world itself.

I’m talking about some power, real power. Power to change the world. If you don’t believe me, well, there were some old slaves in America’s antebellum south who explained the dynamic power of love and why it has the power to transform. They explained it this way. They sang a spiritual, even in the midst of their captivity, it’s one that says there’s a balm in Gilead. A healing balm, something that can makes things right.

There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole. There is a balm in Gilead to heal the sin-sick soul. One of the stanzas actually explains why: they said, If you cannot preach like Peter and you cannot pray like Paul, you just tell the love of Jesus how he died to save us all.

The Balm of Gilead and the healing it brings is not only across the Jordan. It’s here now. Available to us through the power of the Holy Spirit.

As John writes, “In this world, we are like Jesus.” The selflessness of God’s love in us, and the actions that should flourish from it have the power, with the Holy Spirit, to change our world.

Think and imagine a world where love is the way. Imagine our homes and families when love is the way. Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way. Imagine governments and nations where love is the way. Imagine business and commerce when love is the way. Imagine this tired old world when love is the way, unselfish, sacrificial redemptive.

Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
Blessed are they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. — Matthew 5.6

– Prayer from The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
Isaiah 26 (Listen – 2:58)
1 John 4 (Listen – 2:58)

This Weekend’s Readings
Isaiah 27 (Listen – 2:16) 1 John 5 (Listen – 3:00)
Isaiah 28 (Listen – 4:49) 2 John 1 (Listen – 1:50)

All Things New :: Advent’s Love

Reflection: All Things New :: Advent’s Love
The Park Forum

“Experiential purchases (money spent on doing) tend to provide more enduring happiness than material purchases (money spent on having),” observes Cornell University phycologist Thomas Gilovich. Research over the past decade has converted this reality from hypothesis to near-universal belief.

It is no coincidence that Google searches for spiritual experiences, while remaining exclusively a U.S. search term, have maintained a steady clip over the same decade. This, of course, isn’t a bad trend—God’s love is irresistibly wonderful.

In his book God’s Love, David Powlison explores the glory:

God’s love actively does you good. His love is full of blood, sweat, tears, and cries. He suffered for you. He fights for you, defending the afflicted. He fights with you, pursuing you in powerful tenderness.

The experience of God’s love draws us into relationship with him. This is where we have to fight our cultural instincts. Experiential purchases are transactional—we pay to receive a benefit which outlasts material purchases. If all we want is an experience with God we’ll miss the depth of his relationship with us.

Advent draws our hearts away from a commodified experience with Christ. Timothy Keller gets at the heart of the season when he says, “The religious person finds God useful, but the Christian finds God beautiful.”

How are we to rest in the beauty of God’s love? Advent reminds us it’s by setting the tune of our heart toward God’s return. Dr. Gilovich’s research came to the conclusion that, “Waiting for experiences tends to be more positive than waiting for possessions.” No wonder the language of Heaven, which lacks details of material inheritance, is dominated by our relationship and proximity to the Father.

Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. — Revelation 21.3-4

Listen: The First Noel by Lady Antebellum (3:23)

The Call to Prayer
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; let the whole earth tremble before him. — Psalm 96.9

– From 
Christmastide: Prayers for Advent Through Epiphany from The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
2 Chronicles 7 (Listen – 4:07)
2 John (Listen – 1:50)

Idols of the Heart :: Weekend Reading List

Modern Christianity speaks often of “idolatry.” In once sense the term is outdated—harkening an era of statues and animism. Yet in another it is radically seasonable. Psychiatrist David Powlison explains:

What happens to the Gospel when idolatry themes are not grasped? “God loves you” typically becomes a tool to meet a need for self-esteem in people who feel like failures. The particular content of the Gospel of Jesus Christ—”grace for sinners and deliverance for the sinned-against”—is down-played or even twisted into “unconditional acceptance for the victims of others’ lack of acceptance.”

Where “the Gospel” is shared, it comes across something like this: “God accepts you just as you are. God has unconditional love for you.” That is not the biblical Gospel, however. God’s love is not Rogerian unconditional positive regard writ large.

Dr. Powilson’s masterful work, Idols of the Heart and “Vanity Fair” explores the immense power idols have on modern life:

Idols define good and evil in ways contrary to God’s definitions. They establish a locus of control that is earth-bound: either in objects (e.g., lust for money), other people (“I need to please my critical father”), or myself (e.g., self-trusting pursuit of my personal agenda). Such false gods create false laws, false definitions of success and failure, of value and stigma. Idols promise blessing and warn of curses for those who succeed or fail against the law.

A culture’s idols are not simply its statues, but the things it pours the most energy and resources into worshiping. Ancient cultures built structures that survived millennia; U.S. investment portfolios designed around the 7 deadly sins outperform the S&P 500 every quarter. Startup investing Motif Investing explains:

Some luxuries see reduced demand during tough times. But smokers could keep smoking, drinkers keep drinking, and the lustful keep…lusting. Bad habits are hard to break. And when times are rough, who wants to even try? Nobody can predict the markets, but consumers are only human. And economic conditions may not be able to defeat their appetites for sinful stuff.

Christianity challenges the faithful to sacrifice their life of idolatry—not in a misguided attempt at moralism, but because the gospel offers something infinitely more valuable. Powilson concludes:

The Gospel is better than unconditional love. The Gospel says, “God accepts you just as Christ is. God has ‘contra-conditional’ love for you.” Christ bears the curse you deserve. Christ is fully pleasing to the Father and gives you His own perfect goodness. Christ reigns in power, making you the Father’s child and coming close to you to begin to change what is unacceptable to God about you. God never accepts me “as I am.” He accepts me “as I am in Jesus Christ.” The center of gravity is different. The true Gospel does not allow God’s love to be sucked into the vortex of the soul’s lust for acceptability and worth in and of itself. Rather, it radically de-centers people—what the Bible calls “fear of the Lord” and “faith”—to look outside themselves.

Weekend Reading List

Today’s Reading
Isaiah 28 (Listen – 4:49)
2 John (Listen – 1:50)

This Weekend’s Readings
Isaiah 29 (Listen – 3:55) 3 John (Listen – 1:51)
Isaiah 30 (Listen – 5:52) Jude (Listen – 4:12)

Monday’s Reading
Isaiah 31 (Listen – 1:49)
Revelation 1 (Listen – 3:43)