A highlight of the year for many, the Lessons and Carols services at Tenth Church have been a beloved tradition for many years. Many times this past year while I was interviewing for the position of Director of Music, I was told by several different people that these services had become one of the top 50 things to do in Philadelphia according to a well known news magazine! The typical follow up…with a smile…was, “no pressure, Colin!” Those two words, tradition and pressure, sum up the Christmas season for many people. Christmas is the time for traditions, things which are practiced from year to year and handed down for generations, bringing back joyful memories and creating new ones. Christmas is also a time for pressure: keeping up with the hectic schedule of events, extra work load, spending time in stressful family situations, or longing for the joy of Christmases past and wondering if that joy will ever return.
The refrain of joy resounds throughout the entire biblical Christmas story. Mary responds to Gabriel’s announcement that she will bear the Son of the Most High by saying, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46–47). The angel of the Lord proclaims to the shepherds “good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10). The shepherds go and see the child and then return “glorifying and praising God” (Luke 2:20). When the Magi finally found the newborn King of Israel, “they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matthew 2:10). Their joy came from knowing Christ and being in his presence. The angels revealed his identity; he is the Son of the Most High, he is God come in the flesh, he is the Savior, he is the King, he is the One who brings peace. Then they were with him, and he with them. They could not help but rejoice. Everything else paled in comparison.
Is it not easy to get caught up with Christmas but not with Christ? If we cannot find joy in December, is it because we are too busy, haven’t been invited to the right party, or have not received the gift we most wanted? Or is it because we forget Jesus? Do we forget who he is, why he came, how he suffered for us, that he rose from the dead? Have we lost hope that he will ever return as he promised? An interesting thing about the Christmas story in the Bible: we are told very little about the circumstances of Mary’s, the shepherds’, and the Magi’s lives. We don’t know if they were successful, if they had financial struggles, or whether they had terminal illnesses. We don’t know if they had family issues, personal disorders, or problems with alcohol. What we are told is that they rejoiced. The Bible teaches us that while joy may seem elusive, Christ himself is not elusive. God has made him known. He is Emmanuel, God with us! Even now his invitation is open to all: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).
The theme of this year’s Lessons and Carols service is “Good News of Great Joy.” The Scripture lessons, homily, and musical selections will proclaim for all to hear the awesome news of who Christ is, why he came, and help us look ahead to his coming again. Several audience carols will offer the opportunity for joyful response! Please pray that God would use these services to reveal Christ the Savior to all, and that through believing and trusting in him men and women, boys and girls would come to have true and lasting joy in his presence.
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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By Colin Howland. © 2021 Tenth Presbyterian Church. Website: tenth.org