Happy New Year!
That's how we greeted each other at my parish yesterday. Why? Because although the calendar still reads 2008, this weekend marks the beginning of a new church year.
It also marks the beginning of Advent, the season of preparation for the birth of Jesus. So although I admit I am enjoying listening to Christmas tunes on the radio as I travel my usual paths, I will not experience the joyful singing of Christmas hymns in church with my brothers in sisters in Christ until Christmas Eve. And that is how it should be. The focus in our worship right now is properly not on the arrival of Jesus in this world, for according to the litugical calendar by which we order our year, He has not yet come. But we know that He is coming, and as we hear that promise over the next four weeks, we wait, and watch, and prepare.
The Paul Gerhardt (1607-76) hymn "O Lord, How Shall I Meet You" (LSB 334), which we sang yesterday, perfectly captures man's sinful state and his desperate need for and anticipation of His Saviour. Here are several stanzas ripe for meditation and prayer:
"O Lord, how shall I meet You, how welcome You aright?
Your people long to greet You, my hope, my heart's delight!
O kindle, Lord most holy, Your lamp within my breast
To do in spirit lowly all that may please You best.
I lay in fetters groaning; You came to set me free.
I stood, my shame bemoaning: You came to honor me.
A glorious crown You give me, a treasure safe on high
That will not fail or leave me as earthly riches fly.
Love caused Your incarnation; Love brought You down to me.
Your thirst for my salvation procured my liberty.
Oh, love beyond all telling, that led You to embrace
In love, all love excelling our lost and fallen race."
That Jesus came to honor me and that He could thirst for my salvation is a mystery that I in my unworthiness cannot comprehend. All I can do is be glad and welcome Him:
"Then fling the gates wide open to greet your promised king!
Your king, yet ev'ry nation its tribute too should bring.
So let your praise be sounding for kindness so abounding:
Hosanna to the Lord, For he fulfills God's Word."
("Prepare the Royal Highway," LSB 343, Franz Mikael Franzen)
We sang this one in church yesterday, too. I wish you could hear the way my husband plays it. His ability to highlight the text in his hymn-playing always amazes me. (And for you hymn experts out there, yes, I conflated a couple of stanzas of this one in order to highlight the words I wanted.)
As you spend the next few weeks shopping, decorating, mailing Christmas cards, watching Christmas programs and baking cookies, I pray that you will also find time to be quiet, reflect, repent, pray, and prepare for the Advent of Our Lord. He's coming! Get ready!