“Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”

Wait, isn’t that a Christmas carol? Why are we going to sing it on Easter Sunday morning?

Yes, the song appears in our hymnal in the Christmas carol section (which is named “Jesus Christ: Advent and Nativity”). Before it is “We Three Kings,” and after it is “The First Noel.” I keep track of the days on which we sing songs in worship, and in my years as pastor at Mt. Haley, we have only ever sung “Joy to the World” in the month of December – or, occasionally, in late November. There is no question that this song is a Christmas-time song.

But we’re going to sing it on Easter Sunday, and I’m excited about that. :)

“Joy to the World” is based on Psalm 98. Isaac Watts wrote these lyrics as part of his quest to point all of the Psalms specifically to Jesus. Take a few minutes right now to read Psalm 98 – which, by the way, will be our responsive reading on Easter Sunday, as well.

Joy to the world! The Lord is come. Let earth receive her King. Let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing.

If there were ever a day for us to celebrate the arrival of Jesus as King, it is Easter Sunday. After all hope seemed to have been lost on Good Friday, and after a quiet day of somber reflection on Holy Saturday, Christians around the world will celebrate with great wonder the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Who else would we claim as our King?

Joy to the world! The Savior reigns. Let men their songs employ, while fields and flocks, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy.

All creation joins in celebration of the new life found in Jesus Christ. Remember that Easter coincides with the early days of springtime. Take a look around you: fields, flocks, rocks, hills, and plains are all bursting at the seams with new life. (Well, ok, maybe the rocks are a little stoic. But maybe not: see Luke 19:37-40.)

No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground. He comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.

This is what the Easter season is all about: through his death and resurrection, Jesus has made atonement for our sins. The sorrow of Good Friday has been turned into Easter celebrations. The thorns on Jesus’s crown are exchanged for a royal crown that will never be taken away from him.

He rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove the glories of his righteousness and wonders of his love.

Jesus came into this world full of grace and truth (John 1:14). His resurrection from the dead proves that the world’s greatest powers – religious and secular alike – are no match for his righteousness and love.

We live in an in-between time, between Jesus’s resurrection and his return at the end of the age. During this in-between time, we remember and celebrate the past: Jesus died, was buried, and rose from the grave. But we also remember and celebrate the future: Jesus will come again in glory, and the kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ (Revelation 11:15). Rightly understood, “Joy to the World” is a song about the second coming of Christ. Won’t it be grand to remember Jesus’s future arrival on the day that we remember his victory over the grave?

Come and worship with us at Mt. Haley on Easter Sunday, April 16, at 10am. We will have a sunrise service at 7am and a hot breakfast at 8am as well.

Happy Christmas Eve! Soon we will gather to celebrate the birth of Jesus, our Savior. Here is a preview of our Sunday morning service, so you can prepare yourself for this encounter with the living Messiah.

  • Welcome/Announcements: We take care of the business of the church.
  • Prayer: We acknowledge God’s presence among us and invite him to be attentive to our worship.
  • “Angels We Have Heard on High”: We celebrate the birth of Jesus with this carol: Glory to God in the highest!
  • “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing”: We continue in praise of our newborn King.
  • Christ’s Birthday Observance Offering: We give a special offering to honor the birth of Jesus. This offering supports national and international ministries of the Church of God.
  • “This Little Light of Mine”: We join in singing this spiritual as we give our special offering.
  • Responsive Reading (Psalm 148): We praise the Lord by reading a psalm of praise together.
  • “Jesus Messiah”: In song we adore Jesus, the one who became our righteousness: love so amazing!
  • Scripture Reading (Isaiah 61:10-62:3): We hear an ancient text that inspires us to sing praise to God in our souls.
  • Scripture Reading (Luke 2:22-40): The sermon text calls us to center our thoughts on an encounter with the newborn Jesus.
  • Message (“Give Thanks to God”): Mary and Joseph brought young Jesus to the Temple, where he was greeted by Simeon and Anna. We reflect together on this marvelous story.
  • “Come, Share the Lord”: We sing this song to prepare ourselves to meet Jesus face to face.
  • The Lord’s Supper: This is the highlight of the service. In the bread and cup, we meet our crucified and risen Savior. This is a mystery – but it’s one that we share with each other with eyes wide open.
  • Offering: We give our regular tithes and offerings to the Lord, in response to the gift he has given us: life with him.
  • “You Have Been Given”: We sing this chorus to prepare ourselves for prayer.
  • Prayer: We lift up our praises and petitions before the Lord.
  • Special: We hear a story from one of our dear, elderly saints.
  • “Good Christians, Now Rejoice”: We sing this carol to remind ourselves of our call to rejoice in the Lord always.
  • Benediction: We receive a blessing as we depart, changed forever by this encounter with the living Jesus.

Our worship services are planned carefully and thoughtfully. I (Pastor David) take a couple of hours each Monday morning to plan the next Sunday’s worship service. Each week I have a theme or an idea in mind, and my hope is that the theme or idea is conveyed and experienced by everyone in the worship service. But I am realizing that may not always be the case.

So each week I hope to give you a little description of the structure of our upcoming worship service, in order that you might have an idea of what to expect and how to prepare yourself spiritually for our weekly encounter with the ever-living God. Continue reading

Advent: Celebrating What’s Coming

photo by Per Ola Wiberg ~ Powi

Take a few moments today to read Luke 1:5-25, and pay special attention to the character named Zechariah, a priest belonging to a specific division of priests.  Luke gives him the honor of being the first person in this gospel to receive a visit from God – specifically, from Gabriel, an angel of the Lord.  What a tremendous interruption to an otherwise normal worship service!

Who could blame Zechariah for doubting that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a child in their old age?  After all, his ancestors Abraham and Sarah had just as much trouble believing God’s same promise to them.  Yet in order to emphasize the message and the truth of God’s promise, the angel told Zechariah that he would not be able to speak for the duration of Elizabeth’s pregnancy.

Can you imagine what the next several months might have been like for Zechariah?  This goes against what we normally experience in the season of Advent!  At this time of year, people are usually filled with excitement, expectation, hope, and other positive emotions – whether it’s about opening presents, visiting family, eating a good Christmas dinner, participating in a Christmas Eve candlelight service, or another of the blessings of this season.  But Zechariah had to spend significant time – more than a month! – silently waiting the fulfillment of God’s promise: that his son would soon “make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (vs. 17 NIV).

Can you imagine Zechariah’s growing excitement as he watched Elizabeth grow more and more pregnant in the months that followed?

Culturally speaking (and within the church), we have only one month to celebrate Advent, the coming of our Lord.  We may not be struck silent by an angel of God for this entire season, but our challenge is the same.  We are called to wait eagerly, with anticipation, for the coming of the Christ child.  The greatest event in human history – God himself being born as a human baby – is an event that changed the world.  What better way to celebrate Christmas than to spend the preceding month as Zechariah did his wife’s pregnancy:  with ever increasing joy, hope, excitement, and anticipation of this long-awaited birth of our Savior!

–Pastor David

All Hallows’ Eve

Today, of course, is Halloween – the time when many people put candles inside pumpkins, wear elaborate costumes, and go from house to house collecting candy from neighbors.  (We do some pretty strange things sometimes, don’t we?)  This is a festive time of year; it’s the last outdoor celebration we will have before the weather turns cold for the season.  It’s a time for neighbors to talk, laugh, share, and enjoy each other’s company.  It’s a time for children to put more sugar into their bodies than their parents usually allow.  All in all, everyone has a good time!

The name “Halloween” reminds me that this is also a time for spiritual reflection.  Halloween certainly isn’t a religious holiday, but it does have ties to a religious theme.  “Halloween” is thought to be a contraction of the name “All Hallows’ Eve,” which is the night before “All Hallows’ Day” or “All Saints’ Day.”  On November 1 (or, for some Christians, another day in the year), the vast majority of Christians around the world pause to remember those believers who have died in the past year and are now entrusted fully to the Lord’s care.  The night before All Saints’ Day is, in a sense, a time of preparation for the remembrance to occur on the following day.

Several years ago, I was worshiping with a United Methodist congregation while I was in graduate school.  On All Saints’ Day (or the nearest Sunday to it), we gathered for a regular worship service.  During the course of this service, there came a time when the pastor read the names of church members who had died in the previous year.  After each name was read, someone rang the large bell in the church tower.  Although I didn’t know any of these individuals because I had just moved to their town, I felt grateful to be part of a worship experience in which believers gathered to give thanks for the lives of their loved ones.

On this year’s All Saints’ Day – and today, on All Hallows’ Eve – I hope you can take a few moments to pause and give thanks for the gift of life, the ability to buy candy, the opportunity to wear costumes, the enjoyment of neighborly company.  And I hope you take a moment or two to reflect on the mystery of life and death:  that those who die in the Lord are entrusted to his care and will be raised to new life when Christ returns.  We as a congregation are well aware of those to whom we have said goodbye in the past few months.  Remember them as well, and give thanks that they are among the millions throughout history who have finished this earthly race in the faith.

Then be sure to enjoy this secular holiday and all its festivities, too!  For what it’s worth, my favorite part of Halloween is how the price of Halloween candy plummets on the next day.  Enjoy this introspective yet joyous season, church!

–Pastor David

The Joy of a Wedding

I have the privilege of performing the wedding ceremony for a couple at their home in our neighborhood later today.  These two aren’t part of a church family, but they wanted to be married in a religious ceremony rather than at the courthouse.  They called our church a few months ago and asked me to marry them, and I agreed:  they seem well matched for each other, and I am honored to play this important role in their lives.

Over the past few months, I have met with them on several occasions to get to know them better and to help them understand the Christian approach to marriage.  I’ve seen some of the difficult life situations they face, and I’ve learned their perspective on their relationship and what marriage means to them.  Last night, we had the official wedding rehearsal – which was followed by my first experience eating a deep-fried turkey! – and I was struck by the joy and excitement of all who were in attendance.

Weddings are (usually) such enjoyable occasions.  If all goes well, the uniting of husband and wife is a reason for everyone to celebrate.  All the stress and tension that goes into planning a wedding seems to disappear once the ceremony begins.  And certainly once the ceremony is over, the participants can look back on all the preparatory work and (hopefully) say, “All that work was worth it!”

We as believers in Christ are constantly preparing ourselves for a great wedding that will take place when Christ returns.  As Revelation 19:6-8 (NIV) says:

Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)

Brothers and sisters, we are in that season of preparation for our wedding day.  Let us continually work on clothing ourselves with appropriate wedding attire, so that when the Lamb comes and the wedding begins, we will be ready – and so that we will be able to say, “All this preparation was worth it!”  What a day that will be!

–Pastor David