As part of the Special Worship Christmas Cantata, IGNITE performed Breath of Heaven….
I will lead the blind
by a road they do not know,
by paths they have not known
I will guide them.
I will turn the darkness before them into light,
the rough places into level ground.
These are the things I will do,
and I will not forsake them. (Isaiah 42:16)
Hebrew Scripture gets a bad rap among some Christians, who imagine the Old Testament of their Bibles is all about God’s law and wrath. There is a mistaken assumption that the truly good news of God’s loving favor and forgiveness starts with Jesus, who somehow changes everything—including God’s character.
The Old Testament God is thought to be angry … and the New Testament God is loving and tender.
But God’s character doesn’t change with Jesus. The loving passion and tenderness of God is there in Hebrew Scripture, proclaimed for all to hear and see.
In Christ, we see who God has been all along and always will be. The human face of Jesus reveals the Logos, the Loving Mystery who constantly labors to bring us and all creation home, to open the eyes of those who fail to see the wonder of God’s constant presence, to guide us back to places where we know again that we are beloved.
The Holy One comes to lead us from the darkness of our fears into the light of divine presence that we may know there is nothing to fear, for God will not let us be lost to the darkness of this world or to the shadows of our troubled lives and minds.
I will not forsake them. Not ever. This is God’s promise in the Old Testament, the New Testament, for forever … and a day. The promise is sealed by the appearance of Christ, God sharing our flesh, that we may know God is light, God is life, God is love, God is … always with and for us.
As Christmas comes, imagine again the child, Jesus, in Mary’s arms and know … here is the one who will never leave you. Love endures.
Pr. David L. Miller
I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
Words made flesh
Every year I find myself watching the Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. Yes it’s sweet. Yes it’s sentimental. And I love it. The scene I want to call to mind right now happens very early on in the movie. Young Mary Hatch is sitting at the drugstore counter next to her grade school crush George Bailey. When George isn’t paying attention, knowing he can’t hear out of his one ear she whispers to him, “Is this the ear you can’t hear on? George Bailey, I’ll love you till the day I die!”
This statement is a bond that connects the many scenes of the movie as George and Mary go their separate ways only to be reunited time and time again as they fall in love, get married, save the Old Building and Loan, start a family, and just plain get through life. Through it all, through thick and thin, as life ebbs and flows Mary’s love is constant.
When the prophet Jeremiah speaks these words in the third verse of his 31st chapter his message to the people is the same as Mary’s. While we the people might be hard of hearing, not hearing the message of everlasting love that God speaks to us, God’s love for us is the one constant in our lives and throughout the generations. Through it all, through thick and thin, as life ebbs and flows God’s love is a bond that connects the many scenes of our lives.
And this love and continued faithfulness are not just words either. They are words made flesh, incarnate, and shown most perfectly in our savior Jesus the Christ.
Pr. Daniel Joyner Miller
And you, O tower of the flock, hill of daughter Zion, to you it shall come, the former dominion shall come, the sovereignty of daughter Jerusalem. Now why do you cry aloud? Is there no king in you?
The newborn king
In ancient days the people of Israel cried out for God to anoint a king to lead them. The prophet Samuel first took up this call, appointing King Saul and then King David. Did these kings, sitting as they did on Zion’s hill, solve the people’s problems? They did not. And this did not come without lack of warning. Samuel warned the people that in their clamoring for an earthly king they were placing their lives in the hands of people. People like you and me, fallible and fallen.
The kings came and went. Prophets arose like Samuel before them, each trying to guide God’s people and offer faithful advice to rulers. Micah was one of these prophets, a part of this holy tradition of truth telling. The truths he told arose at a time when there was uncertainty in the land. Where would new direction come from? Could they put their faith in earthly kings again? Micah heard the cries of his people and foresaw the need for another type of guiding figure in our world.
What we find in Micah and all the prophets are whispers, images, flashes of a different type of leader—a new way to live. Christmas is full of shouts of a newborn king, in our liturgies, in our carols, from our lips. Micah asks, “Is there no king in you?” This Christmas let us say with confidence, yes. We do have a king, not anointed by a prophet at the behest of the people. We have a king who is God, God incarnate. This Christmas and every Christmas let Christ’s kingdom be once again reborn in our hearts and guide our lives, finally fulfilling the words of the ancient prophet Micah.
Pr. Daniel Joyner Miller
Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.
Hark! / Listen!
Other than Advent and Christmas there is no other time during the year when the word hark is a part of my daily listening and lexicon. Hark! The herald angels sing—Hark, the glad sound—Hark! A thrilling voice is sounding! These are all songs that we sing during this season, and they all have a similar message. Listen! A voice is calling to you. Holy messengers, from on high are grabbing your attention. Will you listen? Will you answer the call?
In the Christmas story we hear of those who do heed the call. Hark! The shepherds come. Hark! The Magi arrive. Over the course of his life and ministry many others will follow the heralds’ calls to follow Jesus too. When baby Jesus is presented in the temple shortly after his birth, the prophet Anna is there to greet him. The old man Simeon was called into the sanctuary where he praised the salvation that was before his eyes as well. Hark! The 12 disciples left their lives. Listen! The great crowds follow their Teacher. Even at his death the heavens rumbled, calling forth everyone to hear a different kind of calling.
At Christmas, in familiar melodies of old hymns, in appeals from the pages of scripture, in the flickering of beckoning candle lights, we too hear the familiar call. Hark! Listen! Will we listen for the salvation that has been sent to us, the salvation that lies in Mary’s arms? Will we answer the call and find our way as the shepherds, magi, and countless disciples have before us to the God who joins us here on earth.
Pr. Daniel Joyner Miller
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The true vine
Next time you are in St. Timothy’s sanctuary look up. Look up and to the right that is. Tucked away in the far corner, above the choir are four blue stained glass windows, our advent windows.
Among these four is in odd sight, a stump. It sits all alone, set upon a field of blue light. But this is no yule log, no husk of a Christmas tree; it is the “stump of Jesse.”
In ancient times before Jesus was born, before Rome was built on the banks of the Tiber, during the times of the royal kings of Israel, David sat on the throne in Jerusalem. It was God who promised King David that his family, his family tree that is, descended from his father Jesse, would rule forever. Years passed and the seat of David passed on to his son Solomon and from him to Rehoboam and so forth and through the years until the time of the prophet Isaiah. A funny thing happened along the way, however. The once mighty and faithful tree of David fell further and further from God. The kingdom weakened. Conquerors came and went. Until all that could be seen from the mighty glory of before was a poor measly stump of that royal family tree. Every hopeful, the prophet Isaiah proclaimed that one day God’s kingdom, promised through the line of Jesse, would once again return to glory.
And there the stump sat and waited as if in its own perpetual Advent. It was not until many centuries later that a shoot began to emerge. Jesus is born, descended from the house and lineage of David, and it is he, the true vine, who sends forth new branches, announces a new kingdom, and takes form in ways greater than any earthly king could ever imagine.
Back to the windows. Do not let your eyes remain on the blue. Let them travel. Follow the shoot that bursts forth from the stained glass stump. The green, full of vibrancy and life, travels all around our church. It snakes and weaves from one panel to the next surrounding all who are gathered in the reality of the all-encompassing love and mercy of our king, Jesus Christ, the true vine from the stump of Jesse.
Pr. Daniel Joyner Miller