For this reason I approve of the Lenten fast, although in the early church it was observed in Christian freedom, so that by fasting people might prepare themselves for more ardent and attentive prayer and for giving thanks in the Supper of the Lord, both for the most precious death of Christ by which we are redeemed from all evils in eternity, and for his most victorious resurrection that is the source of our justification and resurrection.
Andrew sang the opening stanza of “Once in Royal David’s City” for our Lessons & Carols on Christmas Eve. Here is a clip of him practicing.
This is the week that I listen to Bach’s Cantata 140 “Wachet auf” in preparation for the last Sunday in the church year. There are so many things that I love about this cantata and the hymn on which it is based. Here’s just one.
There are two soprano-bass arias. As Bach tends to do, the bass is the Vox Christi, the voice of Christ, and the soprano is the voice of the Christian soul (or perhaps the church). In the first of these, it is the bride who asks the bridegroom “when are you coming?” His response is “I’m coming.” Then she sings, “Come, Jesus.” Again, he replies, “I’m coming.”
Isn’t that just the way it is with Jesus and his bride? She keeps on asking, because life in this world—waiting for him—is hard, and she wants nothing more than to see him and be with him, and because she loves him.
His response is always the same. His word and promise never change. But it’s comforting to hear his promise from his voice.
And the amazing thing about this piece of music—it makes me cling to the voice of Christ all the more.
By the end of December, I will have prepared and delivered fifteen sermons or devotions for services during this month. These are for our Sunday Divine Service, as well as Matins and Vespers services for Advent and Christmas.
But in the midst of a month of near constant preparation to preach, a preacher needs a few sermons, too. I have been able to find those in the church cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach. I have become particularly attached to two cantatas for Advent, Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (Savior of the Nations, Come) BWV 61 and Bereitet die Wege, bereitet die Bahn! BWV 132. The librettos for these works, one by Erdmann Neumeister (God’s Own Child I Gladly Say it) and the other by Salomo Franck are just incredible.
Both cantatas are on volume 7 of the collection of church cantatas by the Bach Collegium Japan. I highly recommend these recordings of all of Bach’s cantatas. [If I can figure it out, I’ll add a widget to this post that will allow you to preview this album.]
I took this photo after getting to church on the morning of the first Sunday in Advent.
He comes to judge the nations,
A terror to his foes,
A light of consolations,
And blessed hope to those
Who love the Lord’s appearing.
O glorious Sun, now come,
Send forth your beams most cheering,
And guide us safely home.
(O Lord, How Shall I Meet You, CW 18, st 5)
The photo doesn’t capture the reds that colored the morning sky over El Paso. This is the other hymn that came to mind:
O’er the distant mountains breaking
Comes the redd’ning dawn of day.
Rise, my soul, from sleep awaking;
Rise and sing and watch and pray.
‘Tis your Savior, ‘Tis your Savior,
On his bright returning way.
(CW 220, st 1)
On my way home from church today I saw a Christmas tree in the window of one of the homes on our street. People who listen to the radio have told me that local stations have started playing Christmas music. Certainly, the marketing machine for the holiday shopping season is revved up and ready to move. The more patient among us wait until the Thanksgiving Turkey is carved to begin with all things Christmas—though December is not really Christmas. Neither, by the way, is Advent. Why is it that no one can wait for Christmas? Hermann Sasse once wrote:
The world cannot wait. It is in a hurry because its time is nearing its end. It must always immediately have it all, otherwise it is too late. The church can wait. She has learned to do so in the course of nineteen centuries (The Lonely Way I, p. 432).
Yes, perhaps that’s it.
One night a few years ago, my son Andrew (about 5 at the time) asked me to sing “God is Bigger than the Boogie Man.” Somewhere the kids must have seen that particular VeggieTales movie. I’m not a big fan of VeggieTales in general, but I wasn’t lying when I told him, “I don’t really know that one. Can we sing something else?”
That night I sang to him a hymn, which, I explained, basically has the same sentiment. But in my mind, it is far superior to the cute vegetable jingle. This is a song that my boys won’t grow out of, but a song they can grow into. They can sing this one for the rest of their lives, and it will never be cast off as “cute” or “kidsy.” The second thing, and probably even more important, is that this hymn approaches God, who is actually bigger than the boogie man, in his grace and mercy through Jesus Christ, rather than merely through his omniscience and omnipresence. Apart from Jesus, God is no less frightening than the worst of boogie-men.
Since then, this hymn has been the most-requested bedtime hymn in the boys’ room. Just tonight, Isaiah stumbled back out of bed, asking me to come and sing before he fell asleep. I thought it was a most appropriate selection for the eve of Rogate Sunday.
Before the ending of the day,
Creator of the world, we pray.
Your grace and peace to us allow
And guard and keep your people now.
From evil dreams defend our sight,
From all the terrors of the night,
From all deluding thoughts that creep
On heedless minds disarmed by sleep.
O Father, this we ask be done
Through Jesus Christ, your only Son,
Whom with the Spirit we adore
Forever and forevermore. Amen.
Christian Worship #595 Latin hymn c. 6th century
tr. John M. Neale, 1816–66, alt.
A couple years ago I posted an audio clip of the men of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary singing the Agnus Dei during Lent. This evening I added a few pictures to the audio and I post it here for your devotional use this holy week.
A couple notes about some of the photos in the video:
- The stained glass image of Christ as priest and king used to be in the Seminary chapel, before it was remodeled my senior year. The window was in the front and center of the chancel, so it was a place students’ eyes naturally focused during songs like this.
- The photos of the processional cross from the Seminary chapel were taken by Pr. Caleb Bassett.
- The altar with the bound lamb is in the new chapel at Martin Luther College.
- For more information about the Cranach painting of Christ, see Pr. Paul McCain’s blog.
- The final photo is our Paschal Candle here at Trinity, taken at Easter last year.