Sunday, December 20, 2015

O Come Emmanuel (Special Advent Service)

O Come Emmanuel
An Advent Service with Christmas Juxtaposed
Written by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
For Gordonsville Presbyterian Church
December 20, 2015

What follows is a pattern where Old Testament Scripture is read, a verse from “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” is sung, a brief poetic meditation written by Rev. Atkinson is read, and then a Christmas Carol is sung by the congregation or musical solos and groups (We used Christmas Lullabies when we first held the service, which are shown here). The Christmas Carols work as a celebratory and faith filled juxtaposition from the cynicism of the poetic meditations, showing the contrast between Advent and Christmas

First Old Testament reading
Lamentations 3: 49-58

O come, O come, Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here
until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

We mourn because we are in exile.
We are in exile because of Sin.
We mourn because we are captive.
We are made captive by Sin.
We mourn because we are still waiting.
We, though we wait, have lost all hope.
We have lost hope because we do not  believe anymore.
Waiting is as good as any other pastime
When sin has stolen your faith from you.
Exile, Captive, Waiting, Sin.
We have seen too much.
How much is the ransom anyway?
What do such things cost anyway?
Our payments have bounced,
Marked insufficient.
How can someone in such a state rejoice?

Christmas Carol
"What Child is This?"

Second Old Testament Reading
Psalm 19

O come, thou Wisdom from on high,
who orderest all things mightily;
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go. Refrain
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Do we see order in the chaos,
When the only constant
Is conflict, the only truth
Is owned, wielded, and created by the strong?
The strong push the weak along those ancient paths.
We know such things, and all there is to know
Is such things.
We look at what our world teaches,
And we internalize the knowledge
Of such things.
If two trees grow side by side,
And one tree begins to grow taller,
Leaving the other behind, below,
In its shade,
Tangled in its roots,
Strangled apart from the resources needed for growth,
That tree doesn't think of the other,
Why should it?
Its point of view is to grow, period,
Regardless of the other
Puny weak meek shell of tree.
Why should we be any different?
How could wisdom be any else?
On high?
There is always high and low,
And those caught in the middle.

Christmas Carol
"Away in a Manger"

Third Old Testament Reading
Exodus 20: 1-20

O come, O come, thou Lord of might, 
Who to your tribes on Sinai's height 
In ancient times gave holy law, 
In cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

We know laws, we love laws,
Those measurements of minimums,
Those requirements of enough.
We love the fence that laws build.
In and out, sinner and saint,
Jew and Gentile,
The more laws the better,
For then transgression becomes the norm,
And then we can pick and choose,
Focusing on the other,
What they do,
No mirrors are necessary.
I've done enough now to point my finger,
And can go to sleep in peace,
Judging myself done.
All awe is lost because now we know.

Christmas Carol
"Still, Still, Still"

Fourth Old Testament Reading
Isaiah 11: 1-10
O come, thou Rod of Jesse, free
thine own from Satan's tyranny;
from depths of hell thy people save,
and give them victory over the grave. Refrain
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Assyrians showed us from the North,
The Babylonians from the South,
But they were nothing compared to the Persians,
Who proved to be less great than Alexander,
And he died way out in India somewhere,
But then came the best, Rome.
Surely their power is complete.
Surely their power is absolute.
Surely their power is all there is.
They'll kill you, you know,
And when they do, those Centurions,
They are effective, efficient,
And so you surely will die,
And when you do you'll stay dead.
They are good at such things.
They've learned from the best
Of all that has been so far.
What is, is all there is,
And all there is, is all there ever will be,
All there ever can be,
All there ever must be,
So let it be written,
So let it be done.

Christmas Carol

Fifth Old Testament Reading
Psalm 89: 29-37
O come, thou Key of David, come,
and open wide our heavenly home;
make safe the way that leads on high,
and close the path to misery. Refrain
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

God said he would never forsake us.
God said he would never leave us.
God said that David's reign would never end.
There was a covenant, and a promise.
What good are such things?
The snake told us years ago that God
Runs free and loose with the truth.
Let there be light, all I see is darkness,
For there may have been a path through the sea,
Through desert,
Into the land,
And it may have flowed with Milk and Honey, once,
But no more.
The throne is empty.
The temple is gone.
David? Forever? Hmmm,
Forever's time ran out long ago.

Christmas Carol
"O Little Town of Bethlehem"

Sixth Old Testament Reading
Psalm 139: 1-12

O come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
our spirits by thine advent here;
disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
and death's dark shadows put to flight. Refrain
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Sure the sun rises every morning,
But each day ends
Just like the rest in darkness.
All lives end the same.
Even in midday we know the darkness is coming,
And in midlife,
Already the dread,
The worry,
The fear,
Our doom dwells fully in our minds,
The bell, that final bell, it tolls for us all.
It just is, it just must be, it just is
Eventually the sun's cease comes,
And darkness falls
In eternity,
To eternity,
Forever, darkness, forever.

Christmas Carol
"Cradle in Bethlehem"

Seventh Old Testament Reading
Haggai 2: 4-9

O come, Desire of nations, bind
in one the hearts of all mankind;
bid thou our sad divisions cease,
and be thyself our King of Peace. Refrain
Rejoice! Rejoice!
Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

I do not wish to be bound.
No bind them,
Leave me free to be
As I choose to be.
There is freedom in division,
What good is one?
No, no, no, no, no, no, no,
What about me?
That is the sum desire of the nations,
What about me?
How could there ever be one,
And all be fulfilled?
How could there ever be one,
And all be free?
How could there ever be one,
And all be full in identity?
Such things can never be,
Such things will never be,

Christmas Carol
"Silent Night"


Closing Meditation

And then you came,
No trumpets, no fanfare,
No army, just you,
The true creator of all that is
In the middle of the night,
In the fullness of darkness,
In the middle of the winter,
In the frigid fullness of the cold,
In the middle of the Roman Peace,
Held tightly by an iron might,
Strong soldiers,
And the perfectly practical efficiency
Of all the knowledge of true worldly wisdom,
Ironic to say the least,
Certainly humble,
Stable, shepherds, and all,
Somehow you flipped it all upside down.
If such things are, though,
There is hope
because if such things are,
There is transcendence,
Truth can't be owned, wielded, or used,
But must be sought,
With the thirst of the desert,
We must seek constantly
Into the very mystery of things,
The mystery of this world,
And just what binds it together really.
And if such things are,
We can rest from our weary rebellion
Because it has gained us nothing
But misery
And ignorance
And division
And brokenness
And oppression.
Love is what is born in that stable,
And love flips everything
Inside out
Last to first
Me to you
Darkness to Light
Death to Life
The cynical songs of knowing
To heartfelt hymns of seeking,
Resounding infinite
Like Love must be
Echoing free
Like Love has always been
Repeating eternal
Like Love is,
The chorus again, still, and anew:
Rejoice, Rejoice, Immanuel,
Has come to thee O Israel.
In the fullness of time,
God's promises prove true,
As it was in the beginning,
Is now and ever shall be.

Hallelujah. Amen.