Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Comfort and Joy

Last Friday, a horrific tragedy took place in Newtown, Connecticut, and our country has been grieving the loss of those 27 lives. On Saturday night, our church held the first of two nights of Christmas Worship, two identical services dedicated to celebrating Christ's birth and remembering that He came as a little baby to grow up and be our Suffering Servant.

I know that the service was planned well before the tragedy in Connecticut, but the songs and the readings and the theme of the whole evening spoke into our need for comfort during sorrowful times. Even if we hadn't had that tragic occurence last week, there is much suffering in our world and many people have heavy hearts, even when they feel like they should be joyful and happy and celebrating during this time of year.

The first song was a solo and from the first line, I knew that it was providential that the song was included. Here are the lyrics to this centuries-old hymn (Words by Johannes Olearius (1671), Music by Louis Bourgeois (1551)):

Comfort, Comfort Ye My People

Comfort, comfort ye my people, speak ye peace, thus saith our God;
Comfort those who sit in darkness, mourning ‘neath their sorrow’s load.
Speak ye to Jerusalem of the peace that waits for them;
Tell her that her sins I cover, and her warfare now is over.

Yea, her sins our God will pardon, blotting out each dark misdeed;
All that well deserved His anger He no more will see or heed.
She hath suffered many a day, now her griefs have passed away;
God will change her pining sadness into ever-springing gladness.

For the herald’s voice is crying in the desert far and near,
Bidding all men to repentance, since the kingdom now is here.
O that warning cry obey! Now prepare for God a way;
Let the valleys rise to meet Him, and the hills bow down to greet Him.

Make ye straight what long was crooked, make the rougher places plain;
Let your hearts be true and humble, as befits His holy reign.
For the glory of the Lord now o’er earth is shed abroad;
And all flesh shall see the token, that His word is never broken.

On Sunday night, I went to my mother's church to attend the Carol Candlelight service, which included a full choir and an orchestra, along with a handbell choir. I was glad to be there to see my mom sing in the choir and to have an opportunity to participate in a candlelight service. Toward the end of the service when the minister came forward to begin the candle lighting portion, he explained that in response to the shootings in Connecticut, we would be taking time to remember the victims by name and light a candle in their memory.

As the names were spoken, along with the ages, I began to pray for the families and friends who had lost such dear loved ones. I also began to cry and allowed myself to grieve the loss of innocent lives. In talking about the events with some friends at different times over the weekend, it seemed so evident that we all felt helpless and unsure of what to do in response to the tragedy, especially at what is supposed to be such a joyful time of year. One friend said that sometimes we just have to grieve and not fight it or suppress it. That night while hearing the names of the victims being read, I chose to grieve and to allow myself to experience the feelings that were inside of me.

Both worship services last weekend also spoke of much hope and I am thankful that because of Christ, I don't have to grieve without hope. And I don't have to suffer minor and major things on this earth without hope.

One of my favorite Christmas hymns, "Joy to the World" tells us that Jesus came to "make His blessings flow, far as the curse is found." And "He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove the glories of His righteousness and the wonders of His love."

As the sanctuary filled with light from the candles being shared from pew to pew, person to person, we sang:

Silent Night

Silent night, holy night!
Son of God, love’s pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face,
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.

Silent night, holy night,
Wondrous star, lend thy light;
With the angels let us sing
Alleluia to our King;
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born.
The hope that we have is in the fact that God did not leave us in darkness. He sent us His Son, the Light of the World, and in Christ, we can find comfort, joy, hope and peace. Thank you, Lord!

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