How many people in liturgical churches thought the appointed lessons were a tad incongruent with the recent tragedy in Newtown, CT and the slaughter of innocents? The first lesson from Zephaniah was: Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!
And the second lesson was from Paul’s letter to the Philippians: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. In fact the LCH Choir sang Henry Purcell’s setting of this text. [In the rush to cover the organ last week for the roof replacement, my copy of this anthem got misplaced and I couldn’t find it for our Sunday morning rehearsal. Alas, I found it after the service was over!]
That very question was written about eloquently by Pastor James K. Honig in his blog post, “Rejoice? How Can We?” and I highly recommend that you read it. He says, “To say the least, it feels out of character, even inappropriate, to encourage such joy-filled, upbeat celebrating when our hearts are so full of sadness at the unspeakable horror of the murder of so many innocents. How can we say what we will say, knowing what we know?”
And yet — a year ago I wrote about how the music of Advent can be a comfort to us in troubled times. That was the post about my playing for a candlelight service in memory of those who had died and could not celebrate the holidays with us. I wrote: Holidays are generally thought of as happy times for family and friends — but when you have experienced a death in the family, getting through the holidays can be painful and lonely. So long before we knew that our Advent season would be forever changed by this terrible event, I had planned a setting of “Comfort, comfort ye my people” for Sunday’s prelude:
Comfort, comfort ye my people; tell of peace so says our God. Comfort those who sit in darkness mourning under sorrow’s load. To God’s people now proclaim that God’s pardon waits for them! Tell them that their war is over; God will reign in peace forever.
Here’s what Pastor Konig writes: When we read these ancient texts on Sunday, we will stand in a long line of proclaimers who have spoken jarring words that bring hope in the midst of despair, rejoicing in the midst of sorrow, and life in the midst of death. We will have the audacity to proclaim what is at the center not only of these texts, but at the center of the Christian faith. That God’s love is not negated or overshadowed by tragedy, senseless violence, or the inexplicable horror that one human being might inflict on another. At the center of our faith is the truth that God is especially in these times and these places. These are the times and places when the comfort and hope of God’s coming speaks so forcefully.
Last night we celebrated the life of parishioner Paul Kath who was born to eternal life on December 7, 2012. Our prayers are with his family as they cope with their loss during this Advent season.