Carol of the Bells — Carols of Advent Hope

Scripture Focus: Hebrews 13:15-16
15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Luke 2:10-11
10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Psalm 150:3-6
3 Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
    praise him with the harp and lyre,
4 praise him with timbrel and dancing,
    praise him with the strings and pipe,
5 praise him with the clash of cymbals,
    praise him with resounding cymbals.
6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord.

Image: Today’s image is a picture of Blagoveshchensky Cathedral in Kharkiv, Ukraine.

Reflection: Carol of the Bells — Carols of Advent Hope
By Jon Polk

Perhaps recognized less for its lyrics and more for its chime-like melody in three-quarter time, the rhythmic “Carol of the Bells” provides the perfect accompaniment for the holiday season.

Hark how the bells,
sweet silver bells,
all seem to say,
throw cares away
Christmas is here,
bringing good cheer,
to young and old,
meek and the bold.

While now indelibly connected with Christmas, the origins of this carol trace back to a Ukrainian folk song written for New Year celebrations.

The conductor of the Ukrainian Republic Choir commissioned Mykola Leontovych to write a new piece based on traditional folk songs. Leontovych was a composer, conductor and music teacher, but he was also educated as a priest in a Ukrainian seminary and composed the first liturgy in the modern Ukrainian language.

Leontovych wrote “Shchedryk” (“Bountiful Evening”) in 1914 and it was first performed in 1916 by students from Kyiv University. The song, also known by the English title “The Little Swallow,” tells the tale of a swallow who flies into a home, singing a prediction of a bountiful and wonderful year ahead for the family inside.

Bountiful evening, bountiful evening, a New Year’s carol;
A little swallow flew into the household
and started to twitter,
to summon the master:
“Come out, come out, O master,

Your goods [livestock] are great,
you will have a lot of money, by selling them.
If not money, then chaff from all the grain you will harvest
you have a dark-eyebrowed beautiful wife.”

As you can tell, although “Shchedryk” and “Carol of the Bells” may share the same melody, their lyrics are not at all the same.

Leontovych’s song was written during a time of intense political and social turmoil in Ukraine during World War I. In fact, Leontovych himself was killed by a Russian agent in 1921 and he is considered a martyr by the Eastern Orthodox Church in Ukraine. The sparrow was a herald of springtime and its presence in the song would have given listeners hope for better days ahead in the New Year. 

When “Shchedryk” was performed by the Ukrainian National Choir in the United States in 1919, American choir conductor Peter Wilhousky, himself of Ukrainian descent, thought the song sounded like handbells ringing. Wilhousky eventually wrote new lyrics and performed his version, focused on Christmas, with the NBC radio orchestra during the Great Depression. Once again, the carol lifted the spirits of listeners during a challenging and difficult time.

Advent calls us, for this moment, to set our cares aside and remember the hope we have in Christ, who carries us through difficult seasons in life. May our hearts be stirred to worship the One who truly brings us hope.

Listen: Carol of the Bells by Fleming & John
Listen: Shchedryk (Ukrainian and English Translation) by Eileen
Read: English Lyrics from LyricsForChristmas.com
Read: Ukrainian Lyrics (with translation) from Wikipedia.org

From John: As the conflict in Ukraine enters its tenth month, please continue to pray. A fellow seminarian Jon and I served with was in Ukraine just before war broke out. Although she is back in the states, the ministry team she served continues their work from Poland, doing what they can to spare and save lives, to provide for refugees, and to spread the gospel as they minister. Pray for their safety as they frequently enter the country to assist those evacuating or to deliver supplies. Pray for the end of the conflict and that people can return to rebuild their lives, cities, and churches.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Show me your marvelous loving-kindness, O Savior of those who take refuge at your right hand from those who rise up against them.
Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me under the shadow of your wings. — Psalm 17.7-8

Today’s Readings
Esther 3 (Listen 3:12)
Hebrews 13 (Listen 3:31)

Read more about Supporting Our Work
Give to support biblical literacy, rhythmic Bible reading and prayer, and gospel-centered discipleship.

Read more about Facts and Harsh Realities
The pastors and churches they support in Eastern Ukraine are in real, tangible danger…harsh realities surround them.

Daughters of Saul and Sons of Moses—Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice Month:
This September, The Park Forum is looking back on readers’ selections of our most meaningful and helpful devotionals from the past 12 months. Thank you for your readership. This month is all about hearing from you. Submit a Readers’ Choice post today.

Today’s post was originally published, on April 11, 2022, based on Psalm 145.1-4, 1 Chronicles 15.29, and Luke 19.39-40
It was selected by reader, MT.


Scripture Focus: Psalm 145.1-4
1 I will exalt you, my God the King; 
I will praise your name for ever and ever. 
2 Every day I will praise you 
and extol your name for ever and ever. 
3 Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; 
his greatness no one can fathom. 
4 One generation commends your works to another; 
they tell of your mighty acts.

1 Chronicles 15.29
29 As the ark of the covenant of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David dancing and celebrating, she despised him in her heart.

Luke 19.39-40
39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

Reflection: Daughters of Saul and Sons of Moses—Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

Yesterday, Palm Sunday, we celebrated Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem and the week leading to the crucifixion and resurrection. (Matthew 21.1–11; Mark 11.1–11; Luke 19.28–44; John 12.12–19)

Like David’s procession of the Ark of the Covenant entering Jerusalem, Jesus’ processional was met by a joyous crowd. In both cases, there were those who wanted to steal the joy of the moment.

Michal, daughter of Saul and wife of David, critiqued the celebration. (1 Chronicles 15.29) She claimed to be concerned about propriety and modesty, but David’s response implied that her moralizing concealed a concern about power. (2 Samuel 6.20-23) The daughter of Saul despised this lowly king.

Likewise, religious leaders objected to crowds singing about Jesus “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Psalm 118:25,26) They publicly voiced concerns about blasphemy but privately they were concerned about power. They didn’t want to upset Rome. (John 11.48) The sons of Moses despised this lowly teacher.

Psalm 105
is the Psalm listed in Chronicles as one David (or Asaph at David’s direction) sang on the occasion of the Ark’s entry. (1 Chronicles 16.7-11) However, despite Psalm 145 not having a date or event attached, one could certainly imagine its celebratory tone going well with the procession David led or the procession of Jesus the Son of David.

Those traveling up to Jerusalem would sing psalms on their ascent, preparing for and celebrating being in the presence of God. We can pray and sing these psalms with the same sense of anticipation. Jesus comes to us as he came to Jerusalem, humble and lowly. We can welcome him with shouts, cries, and joyous abandon that some will not understand.

Welcome him this week and every week as the only rightful king of our hearts. We must depose our affection for other Saul-like kings. We must abandon vestiges of religion which grasp at power rather than righteousness.

Do not let daughters of Saul or sons of Moses steal your joy in the lowly king, the humble teacher. Let us exalt him with pure praise and abandon. Let us ensure the next generation joins in with us.

“I will exalt you, my God the King; 
I will praise your name for ever and ever. 
Every day I will praise you 
and extol your name for ever and ever. 
Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; 
his greatness no one can fathom. 
One generation commends your works to another; 
they tell of your mighty acts.”


Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Search for the Lord and his strength; continually seek his face. — Psalm 105.4

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 42(Listen 3:44)
2 Corinthians 2 (Listen 2:13)

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 43(Listen 2:34)2 Corinthians 3 (Listen 1- 2:25)
Jeremiah 44(Listen 6:10)2 Corinthians 4 (Listen 1- 3:02)

Read more

Read more about A Way Back for Strivers
If we wrestle with you God, you will bless…If we will return to you, God, you will heal

Readers’ Choice is Here!
We want to know about your favorite post from the last 12 months! Tell us about it and we will repost it in September.

Prayer When None are Faithful—Readers’ Choice

Readers’ Choice Month:
This September, The Park Forum is looking back on readers’ selections of our most meaningful and helpful devotionals from the past 12 months. Thank you for your readership. This month is all about hearing from you. Submit a Readers’ Choice post today.

Today’s post was originally published, on January 7th, 2022, based on Psalm 12.
It was selected by reader, cjs: 

“This devotional is how I feel almost daily. Where has truth gone in our world? I especially liked the prayer, which I have saved to use in the future. I shared this post with friends that are struggling with the same issue. All of them said they saved the prayer for their personal use in the future as they too, struggle to find truth in our broken world. Come quickly, Lord Jesus. Fill us with the living water that heals us from the inside out. Fill us, so we may serve You in truth and faith.”

Scripture Focus: Psalm 12
1 Help, Lord, for no one is faithful anymore; 
those who are loyal have vanished from the human race. 
2 Everyone lies to their neighbor; 
they flatter with their lips 
but harbor deception in their hearts. 
3 May the Lord silence all flattering lips 
and every boastful tongue— 
4 those who say, 
“By our tongues we will prevail; 
our own lips will defend us—who is lord over us?” 
5 “Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan, 
I will now arise,” says the Lord. 
“I will protect them from those who malign them.” 
6 And the words of the Lord are flawless, 
like silver purified in a crucible, 
like gold refined seven times. 
7 You, Lord, will keep the needy safe 
and will protect us forever from the wicked, 
8 who freely strut about 
when what is vile is honored by the human race. 

Reflection: Prayer When None are Faithful—Readers’ Choice
By John Tillman

In Psalm 12 we see a cry and a response. The psalmist cries out about lies, deception, and boastful leaders. God responds, saying, “I will now arise…” God’s response also gives us a clue about who the lies targeted and who suffered under the deceptive and false leaders: the poor.

God says the “poor are plundered” and the “needy groan.” He says they have been “maligned” but that he will keep them safe and protect them from the wicked.

When we look around at our society, we can easily relate to the psalmist’s cries from Psalm 12. The costs of lies are all around us. Violence. Confusion. Desperation. Loss of life. They fill our news programs, newsfeeds, and memories. Over this weekend, reflect on Psalm 12 and pray this prayer based on its themes.

Prayer When None Are Faithful
Help, Lord, for no one is faithful!
Kings promise help but only help themselves.
Leaders demand loyalty while planning betrayals
Braggarts call themselves “saviors” to boost their influence.

Boasting and flattering people rise up
They weaponize their words and destroy
They threaten and pretend to be joking
They cause death and deny responsibility

We are dismayed, Lord…
We are sheep among wicked shepherds…

Will only braggarts lead?
Will only the boastful hold sway?
Will deception take root and blossom?
Will disdain and derision take bows to applause?
Will people believe anything so long as it insults their enemy?
Will people deny any authority other than their own desires and their own words? 
Is there any loyalty left to the truth?
Is there anyone faithful?

Rise up, Lord, and protect the poor from the powerful
Sweep down, Lord, and shield those being crushed, defending truth
Speak up, Lord, and drown out boastful lies designed to deceive the elect
Step down, Lord, and make those that strut pridefully stumble into their own traps.

Come, Lord Jesus, the Way. Lead us away from wicked shepherds.
Come, Lord Jesus, the Truth. Cut down idolatrous liars with the sword of your mouth.
Come, Lord Jesus, the Life. Fill us with living water that heals us from the inside out.

Come quickly, Lord Jesus.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; knit my heart to you that I may fear your Name. — Psalm 86.11


– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Jeremiah 26(Listen -4:04)
1 Corinthians 3(Listen – 3:05)

Read more about The Floodlight of Epiphany
Today, we will pray that the light of Christ would dawn, exposing darkness.

Readers’ Choice is Here!
There’s still room for your favorite post from the last 12 months. Tell us about it and we will repost it in September.

All That Has Breath

Scripture Focus: Psalm 150.1-6
1 Praise the Lord.
Praise God in his sanctuary; 
praise him in his mighty heavens. 
2 Praise him for his acts of power; 
praise him for his surpassing greatness. 
3 Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, 
praise him with the harp and lyre, 
4 praise him with timbrel and dancing, 
praise him with the strings and pipe, 
5 praise him with the clash of cymbals, 
praise him with resounding cymbals. 
6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. 
Praise the Lord.

Reflection: All That Has Breath
By John Tillman

Jesus referred to the scripture as, “the law, the prophets, and the psalms” (Luke 24.44) and taught that all scripture was centered on him. Psalms contains many prophecies about Christ and it closes with praise that is due to him in a repetitive, poetic crescendo. 

R.E.O. White (in the Evangelical Commentary) compares Psalm 150’s repetition to the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Messiah, by George Frideric Handel. It is an apt comparison. The chorus repeats, on one note, “King of Kings…and Lord of Lords.” Then answering voices call back energetically, “Hallelujah” and “forever and ever.” This repetition rises, note after note, chord after chord, higher and higher until it seems it can go no farther.

In Psalm 150, more and more instruments and individuals are commanded to join in praise. Imagine the building sound as you read…First trumpets of ram’s horn. Then plucked instruments such as lyres and harps. Next, drums and percussive instruments accompanied by dancers, perhaps stomping out the same rhythm. Next are more stringed instruments as well as flutes or pipes. Then, finally, clashing and resounding cymbals make their entrance.

“Hallelujah” concludes the second of three sections of Messiah. Charles Jennens, who wrote the libretto, titled the section “God’s Triumph.” Jennens specifically wrote Messiah to confront a rising trend of deism that denied Jesus’ divinity. The actual conclusion of Messiah is a section with text from Revelation, titled “Worthy is the Lamb that was Slain.”

Messiah is often performed at Christmas, but its message suits Easter better. It takes pains to present what Christ taught the Emmaus-bound disciples, “Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Luke 24.26)

Let us celebrate Jesus’ triumph through his crucifixion and resurrection. Like the Emmaus disciples, Jesus is revealed to us in scripture. Are not our hearts burning within us? (Luke 24.32

Let everything that has breath praise the one who surrendered his breath on the cross, yet lives and breathes again. May he breathe on us. (John 20.22) May his Holy Spirit lift us to our feet in praise to dance, sing, play, and serve our communities and our world.

Let there be praise.
In the sanctuary, in the heavens, let there be praise. 
For his power, for his greatness, let there be praise. 
With every instrument of word, deed, music, art, dancing, speech, writing, and labor, let there be praise.

Music: Handel’s ‘Hallelujah!’ Chorus live at the Sydney Opera House; Full performance of Messiah: Handel’s Messiah Live from the Sydney Opera House

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Remember your word to your servant, because you have given me hope.
This is my comfort in my trouble, that your promise gives me life. — Psalm 119.49-50

Today’s Readings

Joel 1Listen – 1:39)
Psalm 149-150(Listen -1:36)

Read more about Jesus Concealed and Revealed
Disciples don’t always seem to recognize the resurrected Jesus. Do we?

Read more about Unprecedented
In response to unprecedented times, Joel encourages…unprecedented prayer and repentance

The Broken Power of Death

Scripture Focus: Hosea 13.14
14 “I will deliver this people from the power of the grave; 
I will redeem them from death. 
Where, O death, are your plagues? 
Where, O grave, is your destruction? 

Psalm 146.3-5
3 Do not put your trust in princes, 
in human beings, who cannot save. 
4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; 
on that very day their plans come to nothing. 
5 Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, 
whose hope is in the Lord their God. 

Isaiah 25.8
8 he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth. The LORD has spoken. 

1 Corinthians 15.54-56
54 When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” 

     55 “Where, O death, is your victory?
         Where, O death, is your sting?” 

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Reflection: The Broken Power of Death

By John Tillman

Hosea and Isaiah’s ministries overlapped and their writing echoes each other. Paul paraphrases their promises of resurrection into one of his brightest, most hopeful refrains. This chorus of hope comes most directly from one of the darkest chapters of Hosea.Rather than rely upon God, Israel and Judah had turned to political alliances and the gods those allies worshiped. But these “princes” would soon commit atrocities. These sound eerily familiar to ones committed by today’s powerful countries who bomb maternity wards and civilian evacuation corridors.

Death is not only dispensed at the whim of greedy empires but is carried on the wings of disease and aging. What hope can we have against death? This question is common to the people of Israel and Judah in Isaiah and Hosea’s day, to downtrodden outcasts under Rome’s rule, and to those targeted by empires and dictators today.

The poor and the powerless are overrun by death. They have no defenses and little strength to resist or slow its advance. They are helpless.

Wealth and power do much to extend life. The wealthy can easily flee conflict and the powerful are welcomed to new countries rather than crammed into inhumane camps. Experimental and expensive life-saving and life-extending medical treatments are common among the powerful. Absent these extreme examples, even simple, quality of life differences add years to the lives of the wealthy. However, in the end, the rich, the powerful, and the poor all die. The teacher of Ecclesiastes would call these efforts meaningless or absurd. (Ecclesiastes 3:19)

To the unbelieving world, for whom mortal life is all there is, death is ultimate. It is the worst thing that can happen to a person and there is no remedy.

Death is not the worst thing that can happen to us and it does not have the final word in our lives but that does not mean we should not grieve it. Lazarus was only four days in the grave, yet Jesus wept. (John 11.35) We weep and mourn death, but not without hope. (1 Thessalonians 4.13)

While we flee or delay death, scripture describes death’s defeat. God promises the grave will not be our final destination. We will only pass through and when we leave, we will be led by Christ himself. For those in Christ, death is a toothless predator, a limbless wrestler, who cannot hold us down for long.

Death which swallows all, will be swallowed up.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Short Verse
“I am the Alpha and the Omega” says the Lord God, “who is, who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” — Revelation 1.8

Today’s Readings
Hosea 13  Listen – 2:26)
Psalm 146-147  (Listen -3:09)

Read more about Too Much to Hold
In Christ, we’re made to be like him
Too much for Death to hold
Grasped by him for a moment
But he cannot hold our souls

Read more about Stealing Death’s Sting
Untie our grave clothes and strip us of the trappings of this world.
Let us walk into the light and follow your loving voice.